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Literature / The Hero with a Thousand Faces

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Many things are Older Than They Think, and This Very Wiki is no exception. In the days of yore where the mere idea of the Internet was a pipe dream, and the secrets of the first computers were either lost to history or covered up by nervous post war governments, one Joseph Campbell published his seminal work in 1949: The Hero with a Thousand Faces, a comparison of classical mythology that focused on the archetypal hero and his journey. In essence, it's his attempt to render these stories down to their common tropes, then demonstrate how these tropes originate from archetypes encoded within the human brain.
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The work became a lot more well-known after George Lucas cited the work as a major source of inspiration when writing the first six Star Wars movies (which also served as a pretty big Colbert Bump for the work as a whole). Since then, it has become a major source of School Study Media for anyone involved in creative writing careers, and its themes are commonly discussed in many literature courses.


The Hero with a Thousand Faces discusses the following tropes:

  • Back from the Dead: The hero usually dies and returns, either literally or figuratively.
  • Big Bad: Every journey needs one to drive the plot.
  • Deity of Human Origin: Buddha, Jesus, and others become this after apotheosis.
  • Eternal Hero: This is what the phrase "hero with a thousand faces" describes, the idea being that all mythological heroes are facets or reflections of one heroic archetype.
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  • Eternal Recurrence: In many cosmologies the world is in cyclical decline and improvement.
  • I Choose to Stay: The heroes are tempted to but usually don’t and instead bring the boon back to their people.
  • Messianic Archetype: The classical heroes are often one or at least aid one.
  • Standard Hero Reward: The boon the heroes find is often represented by a woman.
  • The Underworld: The heroes might wind up here, either while spending time dead or entering it themselves without dying.
  • The Vamp: "The Temptress"
  • Vision Quest: Again, the heroes might find themselves on one.

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The Hero with a Thousand Faces has chapters or sections discussing the following tropes by name at length:


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