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Joseph Campbell and the Hero's Journey

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Joseph Campbell and the Hero's Journey

The epic hero's journey includes love, adventure, betrayal, and a quest.

Image © the Palma Collection/Getty Images

Folklorist and author Joseph Campbell is well-known in Pagan and Wiccan circles for his works on comparative religion and mythology. Born in 1904 to Roman Catholic parents, Campbell became intrigued by Native American culture as a child. This led to a lifelong interest in myth and folklore. Campbell earned degrees in English Literature and Medieval Literature at Columbia University in New York.

Campbell is perhaps best known for his work on the "hero's journey," found in so many pieces of literature and legend. This cycle of heroic adventure is the basis for a number of classic stories. The hero's journey, or monomyth, is summarized by Campbell in his book. The Hero With a Thousand Faces. He says, "A hero ventures forth from the world of common day into a region of supernatural wonder: fabulous forces are there encountered and a decisive victory is won: the hero comes back from this mysterious adventure with the power to bestow boons on his fellow man." The hero's journey includes a series of standard features, typically found in legends and myth of all cultures.

What's interesting about the hero's journey is that it's not only found in classic literature or mythology. It's become a staple of modern storytelling as well. Campbell himself pointed out that the Star Wars trilogy was a prime example of this particular story cycle. Luke Skywalker is the quintessential hero and his story falls into all of the themes of Campbell's theory. Even the supporting characters -- roguish Han Solo, lovely princess Leia, and the evil Darth Vader -- all appear in classic myth cycles.

Campbell died in 1987, and a year later, PBS aired a series in which he collaborated with Bill Moyers, called The Power of Myth. The series became a runaway hit, and looked at Campbell's ideas on religious archetypes, mythology, and the human psyche. A companion book, also entitled The Power of Myth, includes transcripts of the broadcasts, and is a staple found on many Pagan and Wiccan bookshelves today.

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