For many, The Hero With a Thousand Faces was the story structure that started it all. Campbell wanted to figure out what narrative structure is shared in myths around the entire world, even between cultures that never interacted. He found many commonalities, and distilled them into what’s now known as the Hero’s Journey. Famously, George Lucas used this story structure with a great attention to detail when writing the first Star Wars movie.
Call to Adventure: The hero experiences something that beckons the plot to come.
Refusal of the Call: The hero refuses to go on the adventure.
Supernatural Aid: However, with the help of a mentor or God-like figure, they realise that going on the adventure is the right thing to do.
Crossing the First Threshold: The hero embarks on the adventure.
Belly of the Whale: The hero is in a place where they are not comfortable, showing their commitment to the adventure.
Road of Trials: A series of obstacles intended to stop the hero.
Meeting with the Goddess: The hero experiences a love that changes their worldview.
Temptation: The hero experiences a series of temptations.
Atonement with the Father: The hero must confront whatever holds the most power in their life.
Apostasis: The hero experiences a death, or someone close to them dies.
The Ultimate Boon: The hero achieves the goal of their quest, but at what cost?
Refusal of Return: The hero has found bliss in the new world, and is reluctant to return to where they started.
Magic Flight: The hero escapes from the foreign world with the ultimate boon.
Rescue from Without: A powerful guide helps the hero return to their normal world.
Crossing the Return Threshold: The hero returns to their normal world with the knowledge of the other.
Master of Two Worlds: The hero demonstrates power through their mastery both of their old world and the new.
Freedom to Live: The hero experiences bliss in their new equilibrium.
Pros and Cons
Very popular. Chances are if you talk with another screenwriter they will know something about The Hero with a Thousand Faces.
The theory appeals to a primal level of storytelling. There is something reassuring about seeing how storytelling remains the same across vastly different cultures. Getting in touch with this more atavistic narrative structure is refreshing.
It’s quite difficult to parse this structure without fully reading the book. Many of the beats have metaphorical names that represent a kind of moment in a story rather than a specific story beat.
It’s not screenwriting focused. This shows in Campbell’s interest in oral storytelling, so some of the lessons many not be applicable.
It’s hard to follow beat for beat. The second act is jam-packed with large scale beats to hit. Whenever I’ve tried to follow this structure I found that my second act became seriously inflated.
Difficulty Level: Moderate
Use Case: It is hard to write a story that sticks fully by this structure, but if you’re a writer who loves Save the Cat this may be a logical next step that gets into the finer details of how story works.
The Hero With a Thousand Faces by Joseph Campbell can be found on Amazon here.
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