The Hero Myth

I was introduced to this at the last meeting of the Early Birds, the critique group I have been with since 2009. I’d never heard it expressed quite as succinctly and it turned out that one of our group was taking a course on just this. Perhaps you are aware of this, and if so, you can stop reading here!

The hero myth is an analytical tool with which you can compose a story to meet any situation, from comic books to novels. The principles are based on The Hero with a Thousand Faces by Joseph Campbell. This book is non-fiction, a seminal work of comparative mythology. Chris Vogler wrote a Practical Guide to this book when he was a story consultant at Walt Disney Pictures, and it has had a major impact on writing, story-telling and movie making, specifically Disney movies.

You can read a lot more than I will write in this blog at:

In a nutshell (taken from his article): “The hero is introduced in his ordinary world, where he receives his call to adventure. He is reluctant at first but is encouraged by the wise old man or woman to cross the first threshold, where he encounters tests and helpers. He reaches the innermost cave, where he endures the supreme ideal. He seizes the sword or the treasure and is pursued on the road back to his world, He is resurrected and transformed by his experience. He returns to the ordinary world with a treasure, a boon or an elixir to benefit his world.”

I then compared the two books I have written to this guide, substituting truth for the sword or the treasure. It was an interesting discovery that I had, without knowing it, generally followed the guidelines.

I’d be interested to know: Have you read Campbell’s book? Are you familiar with the Hero Myth and the guidelines? Have you used them in your writing?



7 thoughts on “The Hero Myth”

  1. I haven’t heard of this book but I was well aware of the hero trope from an early age, even if I called it a formula then. It’s most obvious if you compare Frodo with the girl from His Dark Materials, and I stopped reading David Eddings because his were even more transparently formulaic. And I probably stopped reading David Eddings when I was 22 since I remember which library I borrowed them from!
    A year or two ago (after I’d published my first book) I saw a list of 50 things that make your fantasy story … obvious, let’s say, since I can’t remember exactly what the list was. Things that made it predictable or boring, probably. Traps to fall into… I was happy I’d avoided nearly all of them.
    So, if my Creative Writing tutor says we can always rewrite stories from the Bible if we’re stuck, at what point does writing become plagiarism? Or are there just no original stories left?

    1. I definitely don’t want to become formulaic, but it’s nice to know what works. Hard to know with ALL of the writing out there, when a piece becomes plagiarism. However, a friend of mine who published a textbook where 70% of the book was plagiarized by another author lost his lawsuit – he was told it had to be 90%!

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