Inside a Writer's Mind

Inside a Writer's Mind
“To live is the rarest thing in the world. Most people exist, that is all.” -- Oscar Wilde

Monday, 28 May 2012

The Hero With A Thousand Faces

I've been reading and rereading 'The Hero With A Thousand Faces' for a while now.

Originally I sought it out as a another 'How to...' writing book. I'd read references to it in a variety of places, and heard that George Lucas had borrowed from it the mythical 'Hero's Journey' structure, as a basis for the plot of Star Wars.

I already have Christopher Vogler's 'The Writer's Journey: Mythic Structures For Writers', which is based largely on Campbell's book, and I wanted to read the original work.

Before I go on, I'll outline the stages of the 'journey' as ammended (to suit a narrative structure) and described by Vogler in his book. It is as follows:

Act One                                                 

Ordinary World                                                          
Call to Adventure                                                                                         
Refusal of the Call                                             
Meeting the Mentor
Crossing the First Threshold

Act Two

Tests, Allies, Enemies
Approach to the Inmost Cave


Act Three

The Road Back

Return with the Elixir

Campbell's book has turned out to be a revealing read in many ways.

In addition to providing a fiction writer with an effective template for a narrative structure (Steven Spielberg and George Lucas can't both be wrong), Campbell has also given us ample 'spiritual food' for thought -- or at least directions to the larder.

I'm not sure what your spiritual bent is, but I believe what we write (the stories we tell) is imbued with our deeply held (individual and cultural) beliefs: about life and death (and their respective meanings) and sex and parenting and God and many other things.

Campbell touches on all these and looks at how they are manifest and interwoven in diverse ancient mythologies from all around the world. There are a surprising number of commonalities in these myths and Campbell has gone to great lengths to illustrate them.

He suggests these mythological similarities are evidence that all human beings, in effect, share not only the same fears and questions about life and death, but also a collective subconsciousness, and that we have an intuitive understanding of the nature of our existence (or at least did have). And an awareness of where we have come from and will return to: the 'superconciousness' (you might say: God, or the place from which all life as we know it emanates from and eventually returns to). Campbell draws on a wide variety of ancient mythologies and religious texts and makes a compelling argument. He provides many poignant examples to support his assertions and along the way maps out 'the hero's journey'.

I would like to leave you with a quote that I found both thought provoking and intuitively accurate.

"...the birth, life, and death of the individual may be regarded as a descent into unconsciousness and return. The hero is the one who, while still alive, knows and represents the claims of the superconsciousness which throughout creation is more or less unconscious. The adventure of the hero represents the moment in his life when he achieved illumination -- the nuclear moment when, while still alive, he found and opened the road to the light beyond the dark walls of our living death."

What are your thoughts?


  1. I believe that in everything we write, we give away a little bit of ourselves, mostly without ever realising it...

    I understand the narrative structure as outlined above, however in practice I'm a panster, I don't plot, or follow any road map. Yes, I get in a mess. But then I truly believe that somewhere inside us, there is a part of us that will find the story.

    Its already been written internally, and is hidden, and we are just the tool used to get it out, and get it written down.

    I wrote a very fast first draft of a story, having no idea where it came from, I now find myself 'wading through treacle' in second draft, trying to make sense of it all!

    I'll find it...I shall dig deep.

    1. Thanks for sharing your approach and insights into writing Maria. Stephen King said something very similar to you about 'excavating the story' within; I think there's something to that.

      I’ve tended to be more a pantser myself (that’s partly why it’s taken me so long to get my first novel ‘right’) but this structure holds appeal to me for the reasons I outlined in the post. I think writing is like life and that we should approach it in the way that suits us best as individuals at that moment.

      All the best with your current project; I’m sure you’ll dig deep and come up with diamonds.