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The origin of the term The Hero’s Journey””

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    Tiago Alves asked a question in one of the threads in COHO’s MythBlast forum that fits better in this forum as a topic of general interest, so I’ve excerpted his question and pasted it below:

    The question that brought me here is about the term “Hero’s Journey”. As you yourself pointed out, it is not used in “A Hero With A Thousand Faces”. I would like to know when it is incorporated into Campbell’s theory and started to be used to refer to the structure of the monomyth and in which Campbell’s work the term appears for the first time.”

    Good question, Tiago. The brief answer is that, apart from The Hero with a Thousand Faces, published in 1949 – the first book to appear by Joseph Campbell alone – in which he lays out the trajectory of what has come to be known as “the Hero’s Journey,” none of the rest of the work published during his lifetime specifically addresses the hero theme (though there are occasional passing references in a few of his later books to that particular story arc, he doesn’t identify it by that phrase, but usually with a longer descriptive term, such as “the mythological adventure of the hero”).

    It is true there’s a book “by” Joseph Campbell called The Hero’s Journey, which is actually a companion volume to a biographical film, consisting primarily of a collection of conversations with Campbell. Joe and others do refer to “the hero’s journey”as they talk, but that book appeared after Campbell’s passing. The same holds for Pathways to Bliss,  where Campbell does use the term – but that, too, is a posthumous work drawn from recorded lectures, which provides an important clue I’ll circle back to.

    In The Hero with a Thousand Faces, Campbell never specifically identifies this story arc as “the Hero’s Journey”; rather, he refers to it with a number of terms that are used interchangeably: the “monomyth” (perhaps his favorite, a playful moniker borrowed, as you know, from James Joyce), “hero-quest,” “hero-deed,” and, in a couple instances, “hero-journey” – and at another point he describes how “the hero journeys through a world of unfamiliar yet strangely intimate forces” (emphasis mine).

    So, though Campbell doesn’t call it “the hero’s journey” at this point, one can trace the term’s roots to The Hero with a Thousand Faces. 

    So where do we see evidence of Campbell transitioning to “the hero’s journey” as the primary description of this story pattern (and life pattern)?

    Recall I mentioned its appearance in Pathways to Bliss, which is edited from several different Joseph Campbell lectures (as well as the Q & A at the end, taken from question-and-answer sessions at an Esalen workshop); similarly, The Hero’s Journey film and book consist of conversations between Joe and a number of friends and associates (many of which occurred at Esalen). And I’ve recently completed editing a Campbell book drawn from nearly three dozen different interviews and Q & A sessions at the end of lectures, where Campbell regularly employs the term.

    So, as opposed to his written work, we find Campbell using “the hero’s journey” in lectures and interviews starting in the late 1960s, and with ever greater frequency  throughout the 1970s and 1980s. By the time of the Power of Myth interviews with Bill Moyers were recorded in the early to mid-1980s, the “hero’s journey” was a standard part of Campbell’s presentation. Of course, only a relative handful of people were familiar at all with Joseph Campbell prior to his passing, so it wasn’t until The Hero’s Journey documentary and The Power of Myth, both broadcast six months after his death over PBS in the spring of 1988, that the general public was introduced to the concept of “the Hero’s Journey.”

    I trust that helps, Tiago.

    Tiago Alves

      Thank you so much Stephen Gerringer!
      I am very grateful for your responses. Always dedicated to clarifying our doubts and expanding our knowledge about the work of this great master who was Campbell!


        Tiago and Stephen, this poses an interesting approach to how one thinks about and incorporates the idea or concept of the “monomyth’, or as is most often thought about with the term: “The hero’s Journey” in a number of ways. The reason is, as you have surmised, you have to go back to where Joseph deduced or formulated this concept as a personal approach, not just societal; and I would suggest 2 sources if you haven’t already pursued them. One at the top of the list would be his “evolving” idea of Jungian themes; (especially that of individuation); and the other would be that of: “Heinrich Zimmer”; whose ideas affected him profoundly. (After Zimmer died in 1943 Joseph spent 12 years transcribing and editing Zimmer’s work for publication to keep it from being lost. Joseph mentions in Michael Tom’s: “An Open Life”; on pages: 122-123; how he felt about them both; and that he was not a Jungian, but a “comparatist” who was more interested in cultural diffusion than Jung was but used him as a source for interpreting symbols.) He clarifies who he considered as his “guru” as Zimmer because Zimmer gave him the courage to interpret out of his own understanding of their commonality. But he saw Jung as his guide to let the myths and symbols speak or talk to him from what he had already gained from his own background of research by saying although you run a risk when doing so it is the risk of your own adventure instead of gluing yourself to what some else has found.

        One of the things that might be helpful when cross-referencing some of these terms like what the “hero” and the journey/adventure represent in a Jungian sense is the glossary link I am leaving: Daryl Sharps: “Jungian Lexicon”. This also includes definitions of “individuation”; (as a process); and other terms which might help give a better sense of Joseph’s thinking before he wrote: “The Hero with a Thousand Faces” in 1949.

        Also, the Foundation’s: David Kudler may be able to help add further background if he is able to stop by from his editorial duties. Stephen knows more about these things than anyone I know of, but from what little I know Joseph had not actually come up with the idea until his conversation luncheon with his friend: “Henry Morton Robinson”; and a book editor about writing a book on mythology. Campbell replied in the book and film: (The Hero’s Adventure): “I wouldn’t touch it with a 10-foot poll! The editor then asked: “What would you like to write about?”; to which Campbell replied: “How about a book on how to read a myth!” (Thus: “The Hero with a Thousand Faces” was born and came out of his lectures to his students in 1949. By 1971 Campbell was already writing things like the preface to the “Portable Jung” and many other notable scholarly works on a number of other related topics; (but as a “mythologist”; not a Jungian scholar or analyst); and a number of Zimmer’s works came out of this earlier editing of Campbell’s research such as “The King and the Corpse”; “The Philosophies of India”, “Myths and Symbols in Indian Art and Civilization”; just to name 3 right off the top as an example.

        In the larger context of Campbell’s thinking my suspicion is Joseph was looking for a common symbolic motif that kept re-appearing in myth after myth that crossed cultural boundaries but was “psychological” in nature, and in Jungian terminology could be recognized as “The Self”; not to be confused with the ego; but as the central archetype or regulating center of the entire psyche which is seeking to know itself throughout the evolving life stages from birth to death. In other words: “The Hero” as individual; whether male or female, not to be confused with the “archetypal images” through which this process is engaged or summoned forth; (aka, the call to adventure), in whatever life crisis or zeal of the heart presents itself or is made known. In other words, “you as yourself” are the Hero; not the forms in which it reveals in you symbolically; but the essence of you to know and express that which is within you as your highest and unique potential.

        If you are already familiar with some of these concepts, then I hope my humble and rather clumsy attempt is not too confusing; but this is my understanding of Joseph’s Hero Journey motif. We all have our individual “Grail adventures throughout our individual Journeys”; and your quest to find “this particular origin” is a noble one indeed. I hope this is helpful in some small way. Best of luck to you; Sir Knight!  Namaste


          So as not to confused thread paths I am attempting to clarify my own post with an addendum. One of my favorite aspects of the hero quest joseph often refers to is Parsival, “the fool” who doesn’t know what he is doing; and by following his own heart instead of what others may think he attains the Grail which others do not. This symbolizes the individual journey out of one’s own inner world to find the source the heart is calling for. “Any” of us are vulnerable to our own misconceptions and misinterpretations we are often affected by; and it is by the humility and compassion as well as the courage of the quest the cloth that covers the grail cup is lifted. Metaphorically speaking that is, and sometimes this journey can take a lifetime; and no one is exempt from its’ passage; (at least symbolically as far as I can tell); and this was one of Joseph’s favorite motifs. It’s not a destination; but an ongoing process as best as I can surmise. (The mid-life crisis as in: “enantiodromia”, would be a good example.) But back to the question at hand of the template origin.

          Tiago Alves

            Thank you Jamens.

            My question was much more about the term itself, than the concept it addresses and encompasses.
            In Primitive Mythology, Campbell speaks of the trikster as a hero and the shaman as a representation of this archetype and stipulates the process of death and rebirth in much the same way as the 3 stages of the “Hero’s Journey”: Initiation, Separation and Return. It’s clear for me, the hero myth and his journey as metaphor for a self “journey” for a high consciousness level. The hero archetype is a key concepet on Jung’s theory and I have no doubt about the relation of Campbell’s Hero’s Jouney and Jung’s Individuation Process. In Campbell’s biography “A Fire in the Mind”, there is an account in one of his diaries, from 1937, if I’m not mistaken, where he makes an illustration with the archetypal pattern of the heroic journey, where he even represents the whale, or the whale belly, as a representation of the whole aspect of diving into the unconscious. In addition to references and approaches from the heroic journey perspective in relation to the work of Jung, Leo Frobenius, Van Gennep, Zimmer and several others, I particularly like the book
            The Innateness of Myth: A New Interpretation of Joseph Campbell’s Reception of C.G. Jung” by Ritske Rensma, which articulates Campbell’s work in a much deeper way, than Robert Segal, for example.
            But my curiosity was, really about, to know when the term “Hero’s Journey” starts to be used by Campbell himself, since, as Stephen well presented, he doesn’t even use the term in “Hero”.

            My best regards and and a wonderful journey!


              Tiago, your reply was beautifully articulated and as I said I hope my response was helpful in some small way. I wish you much luck on furthering your quest. Warmly, James


                Tiago, I happen to think there might be something of interest to you in: “Joseph Campbell Correspondence 1927-1987”; where in the chapter: “Overture – About Joseph Campbell – On the Occasion of His Centennial” on page, xxxi:

                “His first, full length, solo authorial endeavor, The Hero with a Thousand Faces (Bollingen Series XVII: 1949), was published to acclaim and brought him the first of numerous awards and honors: The National Institute of Arts and Letters Award for Contributors to Creative Literature. In this study of the myth of the hero, Campbell posits the existence of a Monomyth (a word he borrowed from James Joyce), a universal pattern that is the essence of, and common to, heroic tales in every culture. While outlining the basic stages of this mythic cycle, he also explores common variations in the hero’s journey, which he argues, is an operative metaphor, not only for an individual, but for a culture as well. The Hero would prove to have a major influence on generations of creative artists—from the Abstract Expressionists in the 1950s to contemporary film makers today—and would in time, come to be acclaimed as a classic.”

                (That’s all it said word for word that I could find, but I am no research scholar, and the book was published by the Joseph Campbell Foundation in 2019. It’s over 400 pages that tracks much of his career if you are not familiar with it, but I hope this little bit of information is helpful for your query.)

                Tiago Alves

                  Thanks again Jamesn.

                  I have Joseph Campbell’s “Correspondence 1927-1987, but I haven’t actually read it completely.
                  As I have the e-book version, I search for keywords, but sometimes a deeper discussion on a specific topic escapes.
                  Here in Brasil I coordinate the Mythological RoundTable® Group from Belo Horizonte, in addition to teaching courses in the Mitosphere project ( I also coordinate an official research group at the Federal University of São João Del Rey, on Campbeel’s work, for the production of academic articles.

                  Thank you for your cooperation

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