This article is an excerpt from the Shortform summary of "The Hero with a Thousand Faces" by Joseph Campbell. Shortform has the world's best summaries of books you should be reading.
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Why is the hero’s journey important? How does the hero’s journey apply in real life?
When you recognize that the hero symbolizes the godly potential within all of us, you will recognize why the hero’s journey is important. All cultures and individuals make sense of the world they live in by telling stories. The hero’s journey tells us who we are, and what destinies we are here to fulfill.
Read on to fully discover why the hero’s journey is important.
The Importance of the Hero’s Journey
The Hero With a Thousand Faces is an exploration of the power of myth and storytelling, from the ancient world to modern times, and spanning every human culture across the world. When you recognize that all peoples, and indeed, all individuals, make sense of the world they live in and grapple with the experience of living by telling stories, you will see why the hero’s journey is important. Myths are the foundation of all human physical and intellectual pursuits, be they religious, economic, social, or cultural, and the hero’s journey shows us that these myths tell us who we are and what destinies we are here to fulfill.
The Composite Hero
The heroes of mythology, whether it’s King Arthur, Odysseus, the Buddha, the Chinese emperor Huang Ti, or Moses, share similar characteristics.
They are often figures who have unique talents or gifts and hold an exalted position within their society—they are renowned scholars, warriors, or kings. But the opposite can also be true: the archetypal, or composite hero can also start out as an obscure figure of humble origins, on the fringes of society. But whether they start out as prince or pauper, they set out on their journey to address some sort of need, to fill some kind of spiritual void. In simple romance tales or fairy tales, this can be nothing more than obtaining a golden ring or the hand of the fair princess, while in myths with deeper theological undertones (like the story of Christ), the hero sets out to redeem and renew the spiritual life of the entire world and save it from falling into ruin.
When the hero returns with their newly obtained powers (earned through great physical and spiritual trial), we see that this spark of divinity was within the hero the whole time—but it could only be discovered through the journey. We see this in tales where the hero is revealed to have been “the king’s son,” and is now ready to assert his powers for the good of the kingdom. This speaks to the inherent reason why the hero’s journey is important: the hero symbolizes the godly potential within all of us.
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Here's what you'll find in our full The Hero with a Thousand Faces summary :
- How the Hero's Journey reappears hundreds of times in different cultures and ages
- How we attach our psychology to heroes, and how they help embolden us in our lives
- Why stories and mythology are so important, even in today's world