Review of “The Hero with a Thousand Faces” by Joseph Campell

The Hero.

He’s the reason you are drawn to stories, look to certain people for advice, and are motivated to become a stronger person.

The one who goes out and takes risks that most people consciously avoid, has gone to dark places (in the mind, spirit, or the outside world), and come out with a unique perspective.

Someone that has traits that you would like to possess and are hoping to gain by studying his words and actions.

If you are on a search for identity, meaning, or wholeness then you have the potential to become a hero.

Maybe you are already there and are wondering just why the hell people are looking up to you.

The world is more desperate for heroes now more than ever, we are living twisted times and its difficult to find those who have the ability to cut through the bullshit and speak Truth.

I recently came across a book that breaks down exactly what it means to be a hero, why humans are so drawn to the character, the many paths/personalities a hero can take on, and describes exactly why he is necessary and important for a fulfilling life.

The Hero with a Thousand Faces by Joseph Campell.

I’m surprised I never read this before, I’ve always been an avid reader, studied literature/psychology in college, and love crafting stories in which, as Bukowski said, “Hey baby, when I write, I’m the hero of my shit”.

The Hero with a Thousand Faces is one of those books that spoke right to me, gave me a better understanding of myself and my desires, and communicated thoughts and ideas about stories that I understood in the back of my mind but could never articulate.

Plus it allowed me to make more sense of my own life choices/actions, and make the path I’m following more clear and manageable.

It acted as more as a self-help book than a text on mythology and story.

I’m a hero goddamnit, even if reluctant to accept it.

The first work of the hero is to retreat from the world scene of secondary effects to those causal zones of the psyche where the difficulties really reside, and there to clarify the difficulties, eradicate them in his own case (give battle to the nursery demons of his local culture) and break through to the undistorted, direct experience of…”the archetypal images”.

A lot of the descriptions of the hero resonated with me because they reminded me of moments in life when I was ‘transformed’ during my experiences with therapy, hypnotism, self-searching, coming to terms with the past, the raging battle I had during a psychotic episode, and the wars I went through while under the influence of peyote and ayahuasca.

When I coach, most times it turns about to be much, much more than just meeting girls and we have major discussions about self-discovery.

The hero is the man who has been able to battle past his personal and local historical limitations…such a one’s vision, ideas, and inspirations come pristine from the primary springs of human life and thought. Hence they are eloquent, not of the present, disintegrating society and psyche, but of the unquenched source through which society is reborn. The hero has died a modern man; but as eternal man–perfected, unspecific, universal man–he has been reborn. His second solemn task and deed therefore is to return to us, transfigured, and teach the lesson he has learned of life renewed.

A hero also has a need for adventure, challenge, and obstacles to overcome.

During the search for meaning, attempting to understand yourself, straining to be at peace with the past, is not going to be fun, and you will have to go through much of it without assistance.

Most aren’t willing to go through with this.

The dreamer is a distinctly operatic artist and like all who have elected to follow, not the safely marked general highways of the day, but the adventure of the special, dimly audible call that comes to those whose ears are open within as well as without…had to make his way alone, through difficulties not commonly encountered…he has known the dark night of the soul, and the sorrows of the pits of hell.

The reason why being an observer of the world is a source of creativity and power:

…hero follows the pattern…a separation from the world, a penetration to some source of power and a life-enhancing return…the really creative acts are represented as those deriving from some sort of dying to the world…so that he comes back as one reborn, made great and filled with creative power.

And this is as close to a description of the meaning of life as I’ve seen:

The effect of the successful adventure of the hero is the unlocking and release again of the flow of life into the body of the world.

The book goes into great detail outlining the very popular map of the ‘Hero’s Journey’ that you can see played out in any meaningful story.

(or quest for self-actualization)

The book also explains the many forms/transformations a hero must take as he embarks on the journey:

  • Warrior
  • Lover
  • Emperor/Tyrant
  • Redeemer
  • Saint

If you have ever studied psychoanalysis or read the works of Freud and Jung, you will recognize many of the stages of personal development in mythological hero stories.

The book does a great job of connecting real matters of the psyche with why we are drawn to stories with Universal themes.

And so, to grasp the full value of the mythological figures that have come down to us, we must understand that they are not only symptoms of the unconscious (as indeed are all human thoughts and acts) but also controlled and intended statements of certain spiritual principals, which have remained a constant throughout the course of human history as the form and nervous structure of the human physique itself.

…the metaphysical realm=the unconscious…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 creating 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 living death.

And sums up why it is up to each person to figure his own self out before attempting to help others.

The problem of mankind today, therefore, is precisely the opposite to that of men in the comparatively stable periods of those great co-ordinating mythologies which are now known as lies. Then all meaning was in the group, in the great anonymous forms, not in the self-expressive individual; today no meaning is in the group–none in the world: all is in the individual. But there the meaning is absolutely unconscious. One does not know toward what one moves. One does not know by what one is propelled. The lines of communication between the conscious and the unconscious zones of the human psyche have all been cut, and we have been split in two.

The modern hero must be that questing to bring to light again the lost Atlantis of the co-ordinated soul.

It is not society that is to guide and save the creative hero, but precisely the reverse.

And so everyone of us shares the supreme ordeal–carries the cross of the redeemer–not in the bright moments of his tribe’s great victories, but in the silence of his personal despair.

This was one of those rare books that got me excited to dig deep and reflect after each passage.

Although it does get a bit dry at times and becomes very dense towards the middle, the gems that are buried within the mountains of text are worth digging out for yourself in context.

It is an important work, and something that is more relevant now than ever before.

Purchase The Hero with a Thousand Faces here (I highly recommend you get the hard cover version).

*And buy a bunch of other stuff you need on Amazon through the link, I could use some gas money on my Hero’s Journey around the South this July.

If you want more recommendations from my very carefully curated selection, go here.

**My first book, Go Forth is a Hero’s Journey in every sense of the word. I had no idea before writing it that it was the case, and reading about how uncanny the resemblance was sent chills down my spine.

Get Go Forth here (its a good one).

Or in paperback on Amazon here.

About Goldmund

Goldmund grew up a wild-child and was constantly being disciplined. Using ancient rituals and game, he broke free from the shackles of his mind and the norms of this backwards society. He frequents bars in Brooklyn, mountains in Mexico, and retreats to the desert. His passions are nature and women.

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