The Archetypal Hero

The one cruel fact about heroes is that they are made of flesh and blood.
- Henry Arthur Jones, The Liars, Act I -

The following are excerpts from The Power of Myth --- a transcript of Bill Moyers' series of interviews with Joseph Campbell (1904 - 87). Campbell's scholarly studies of the world's mythologies and character archetypes have had a powerful influence on popular culture. In particular, The Hero with a Thousand Faces is a book that is oft quoted by filmmakers such as George Lucas and George Miller as the source of inspiration and guidance. All the quotes below are Campbell's.
The Beginning | The (Un)Intentional Journey | Into the Fire | Transformation | Sacrifice | The Archetype

The Beginning

The usual hero adventure begins with someone from whom something has been taken, or who feels there's something lacking in the normal experiences available or permitted to the members of his society. This person then takes off on a series of adventures beyond the ordinary, either to recover what has been lost or to discover some life-giving elixir. It's usually a cycle, a going and returning. [P. 152]

The (Un)Intentional Journey

There are both kinds of heroes, some that choose to undertake the journey and some that don't. In one kind of adventure, the hero sets out responsibly and intentionally to perform the deed. For instance, Odysseus' son Telemachus was told by Athena, "Go find your father." That father quest is a major hero adventure for young people. That is the adventure of finding what your career is, what your nature is, what your source is. You undertake that intentionally. Or there is the legend of the Sumerian sky goddess, Inanna, who descended into the underworld and underwent death to bring her beloved back to life.

Then there are adventures into which you are thrown --- for example, being drafted into the army. You didn't intend it, but you're in now. You've undergone a death and resurrection, you've put on a uniform, and you're another creature.

One kind of hero that often appears in Celtic myths is the princely hunter, who has followed the lure of a deer into a range of forest that he has never been in before. The animal there undergoes a transformation, becoming the Queen of the Faerie Hills, or something of that kind. This is a type of adventure in which the hero has no idea what he is doing but suddenly finds himself in a transformed realm. [P. 158]

Into the Fire

[On the neuroticism of heroes, visionaries and leaders] They've moved out of the society that would have protected them, and into the dark forest, into the world of fire, of original experience. Original experience has not been interpreted for you, and so you've got to work out your life for yourself. Either you can take it or you can't. You don't have to go far off the interpreted path to find yourself in very difficult situations. The courage to face the trials and to bring a whole new body of possibilities into the field of interpreted experience for other people to experience --- that is the hero's deed. [P. 49]


If you realize what the real problem is --- losing yourself, giving yourself to some higher end, or to another --- you realize that this itself is the ultimate trial. When we quit thinking primarily about ourselves and our own self-preservation, we undergo a truly heroic transformation of consciousness.

And what all the myths have to deal with is transformations of consciousness of one kind or another. You have been thinking one way, you now have to think a different way. [P. 154-155]


A hero is someone who has given his or her life to something bigger than oneself. [P. 151]

In Hawaii some four or five years ago there was an extraordinary event that represents this problem [of self-sacrifice]... CONTINUE

The Archetype

[...] there is a certain typical hero sequence of actions which can be detected in stories from all over the world and from many periods of history. Essentially, it might even be said there is but one archetypal mythic hero whose life has been replicated in many lands by many, many people. A legendary hero is usually the founder of something --- the founder of a new age, the founder of a new religion, the founder of a new city, the founder of a new way of life. In order to found something new, one has to leave the old and go in quest of the seed idea, a germinal idea that will have the potentiality of bringing forth that new thing. [P. 166-167]
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