Tuesday, February 10, 2009


Joseph Campbell (1904-1987)

Is there an underlying story that connects all myths, across all cultures? Do we respond to this "monomyth" in modern stories and films? Do we follow "the hero's journey?"

Campbell interviewed by Bill Moyers, "The Power of Myth, Part 1"

Joseph Campbell was a writer and lecturer on comparative religion and mythology. Campbell studied myths and origin stories, and noticed certain characteristics and archetypes that repeated across all cultures. In "The Hero with a Thousand Faces" (1947), Campbell presented an underlying "monomyth" that contained intriguing familiar characters, places and situations. There was the reluctant hero, the call to action, the guardians at the gate, and so on, repeating again and again.

-from the documentary"The Hero's Journey: The World of Joseph Campbell."

Campbell's work has inspired legions of "mythologists" tackling the wide range of stories, and one of my favorites is Christopher Vogler. Vogler wrote "The Writer's Journey: Mythic Structure for Storytellers and Screenwriters" based on the principals of Campbell's work. Here he discusses the elements of the monomyth as shown in the film, "The Matrix."


Anonymous said...

Nice post. I enjoyed the interview with Bill Moyer.

Rick Suble

Bob Rini said...

Thanks, Rick. I've always been fascinated with the underlying structure of stories--partly because I'm writing a novel of my own, and partly because I simply enjoy a cracking good yarn. In a work of any length, it's critical to have a sturdy frame under the surface just as you would when building a house. Sure, you could just wing it, and I'm sure some writers do, but you might end up with a shoddy lean-to. The Victorian novels have elaborate architectonics--and today we have a streamlined skeleton below the surface, but the fact remains that we enjoy a story that "works" and this craftsmanship helps. Go back to the Greeks--read the Poetics, and see that there were always certain requirements of drama. Either the playwright was aware of that, and worked consciously to satisfy those requirements, or he stumbled upon it instinctively, but either way maximum impact came from certain things happening on stage. At best, these are just "rules," but more like principals that emerge naturally from a good story--whether an origin myth or a Hollywood blockbuster. Campbell is the man.