Of course, that way of reading Campbell is something so many critics miss. It doesn’t occur to them one can’t simply apply for the position –”hero” is not a career.
In most hero tales, the hero is not conscious that s/he is a hero, at least not as their story unfolds. Arthur has no ambition to be King of the Britons – he just wants to save himself a few steps and a bit of time while fetching a sword for his step-brother; Gilgamesh wants to bring his dead best friend back to life; Heracles does not think himself a hero when he undertakes those herculean Labors – he is performing penance for the murder of his wife and children while in the throes of madness; and Vasilisa encounters the terrifying Baba Yaga as the culmination of a series of tasks assigned her by a cruel stepmother. None know they are heroes – but what all have in common is a focus that is not on fulfilling their personal desires, along with a willingness to brave the unknown.
But many of the critiques of Campbell I’ve read in recent years don’t seem to grasp this sense of the hero’s journey. A number of respected critics seem to assume a hero has consciously decided to be a hero; they often vociferously voice their opposition to what really is their own understanding of Campbell’s description of the Hero’s Journey as encouraging people to set themselves up as saviors – as if “hero” were a title. Much criticism gets that all tangled up with privilege and power dynamics, thinking it’s an ego trip. Their issue is with a common stereotype of the hero, rather than an archetypal pattern that will manifest no matter what we call it.
But, at least in general, the returning hero doesn’t so much save society, as bring back a contribution to his/her/their community – which is one reason why Campbell focuses on re-integration rather than conquest.