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Haleth's avatar

Why is the Hero's Journey plot so appealing?

Asked by Haleth (19538points) December 21st, 2015

The hero’s journey is basically as follows. An ordinary person is peacefully going about their everyday life. Suddenly, they find an ancient artifact/ a lost message/ a call for help etc which causes them to leave their home and journey out into the wider world. Along the way, they go through trials and tribulations and meet new friends who help them in the fight. Just when the situation seems darkest, the hero saves the day. During their adventures, they grow as a person and often find love/ take on a more grown-up, responsible role in life.

This exists in storytelling from all over the world and from many different time periods. Beowulf and Star Wars: A New Hope are examples. The book Seven Basic Plots goes much more in depth about this and other archetypal plotlines. There’s a related idea called the monomyth seems to be an even earlier, more archetypal story of this type.

Why are stories about the hero overcoming all odds and coming of age so common? They’re blockbuster movies now, and probably our ancient ancestors sat around a fire telling this storyline. Why do we like it so much?

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4 Answers

Hawaii_Jake's avatar


We can see ourselves in this plot. We can imagine it happening to us. We can put ourselves into the story, and we can live through the characters. It’s identification.

(I’m sorry that is so flippant. I am at work and cannot write more at the moment. I look forward to following this discussion.)

ibstubro's avatar

If this question was not inspired by a piece on NPR this week, then you should look it up and listen, @Haleth. Very good.

Honestly, I think the plot of The Hero’s Journey is as old as, and the inspiration for, religion. You stumble along, you find God, you grow into a better person, and you’re loved and rewarded.

THJ is also the way we all think our life should lead, particularly when we’re young. We all hope to be called to greatness, I think.

Jeruba's avatar

Joseph Campbell, who articulated the concept of the Hero’s Journey and the monomyth, taught that every culture has a mythology incorporating some or all of the salient features of that cycle. He explained how mythology is the way that members of a society transmit wisdom and an understanding of life and death from generation to generation. It resonates with everyone because it reflects what’s basic and universal about the experience of being human.

Campbell talked about the loss in recent times of the anchor that traditional cultures provide. Movies like the Star Wars series fulfill an important purpose by passing along the myth in modern garb.

George Lucas actually used the Hero’s Journey as the blueprint for his Star Wars saga. He’s not the only one to draw on it directly. Neil Gaiman, for instance, uses a lot of mythological motifs and Jungian archetypes in his fiction. Christopher Vogler showed how writers could draw on that essential model for an endless number of stories.

A great way to spend a few hours is to watch the six-part series The Power of Myth, a 1988 interview (series of interviews) of Joseph Campbell by Bill Moyers. It’s as accessible as it is illuminating, and it’s worth repeat viewings.

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