Have you ever wondered why so many stories are similar, despite coming from different cultures and time periods?
Joseph Campbell sought to answer this question in his book, The Hero with a Thousand Faces.
Campbell explored the idea of the “monomyth” or “the hero’s journey” – the idea that all myths and stories throughout history follow the same narrative structure.
He argued that each culture expresses this structure differently, but the underlying themes remain the same.
Let’s take a closer look at Campbell’s book and its impact on our understanding of mythology.
The Monomyth Structure
Joseph Campbell’s most famous work is The Hero with a Thousand Faces (1949).
In it, he famously argued for the existence of a common monomyth structure that underlies all myths and stories across different cultures and eras.
This monomyth follows a three-act structure: departure, initiation, and return.
The departure is when the hero leaves their world; they may be called to an adventure or compelled by fate.
In the initiation stage, they face trials and tribulations as they grow into their heroic role.
Finally, in the return stage, they come back home changed by their experience with newfound skills or knowledge to share with their people.
Impact on Hollywood Movies
Campbell’s work has had an outsized influence on popular culture over the past few decades—especially in Hollywood movies.
After reading The Hero with a Thousand Faces in the 1970s, filmmaker George Lucas was inspired to create Star Wars (1977), which followed this monomyth narrative structure closely.
Since then, many other filmmakers have been influenced by Campbell’s ideas; Steven Spielberg has cited him as an influence for his films E.T.: The Extra-Terrestrial (1982) and Indiana Jones (1981).
Even Disney movies such as Aladdin (1992) have been heavily influenced by Campbell’s theories about storytelling structures.
Joseph Campbell’s book The Hero with a Thousand Faces revolutionized how we think about myths and stories from around the world—showing us that these tales often have similar underlying structures despite coming from different cultures and time periods.
His work has had an indelible impact on popular culture as well; countless filmmakers have used his ideas to craft classic movies like Star Wars, E.T., Indiana Jones, and more.
If you’re interested in exploring mythology further or want to understand how narratives work across cultures, then The Hero with a Thousand Faces is definitely worth checking out.