Russell F. Hirsch
Further Reading & Feminist Alternatives to the Hero’s Journey
Further Resources on the Hero’s Journey
I hope you’ve found my summary of hero’s journey plot lines useful, but there is really no substitute for reading the experts. I’ve mentioned a few story theorists in these posts and thought I would provide a run-down of their work so you can learn more if you are interested.
The main book I recommend to those interested in the hero’s journey is The Writers Journey (3rd Ed.) by Christopher Vogler.
Though the hero’ journey concept was first expressed by Joseph Campbell in the 40s, Vogler introduced many of Campbell’s concepts to Hollywood a few decades later and his book simplifies Campbell’s academic language and uses examples from films that are more accessible to most of us than Campbell’s references to mythology. Many of the terms and concepts I’ve used in the blog are straight out of Vogler’s book and my own copy has become a well-worn reference.
However, reading Campbell’s original work is also a great pleasure. He details the hero’s journey (or monomyth as he initially called it) in The Hero with a Thousand Faces using numerous examples from world mythologies. Campbell was also a fantastic lecturer and he gave a fascinating set of interviews about mythology on PBS in the 1980s with Bill Moyers. These are titled The Power of Myth.
The following videos provide quick summaries of the hero’s journey. The terms aren’t always the same as what I use, but the overall arc certainly is.
Iskander Krayenbosch – The Hero’s Journey
Matthew Winkler – What makes a hero?
These are striking and useful animations, though I find both put a bit too much emphasis on the physical feats of the hero. The hero’s journey is often criticized for being too macho, but it’s important to note that warrior figures represent only one sort of hero, as Campbell himself was usually quick to point out:
Carol Pearson wrote a book in the early 90s called Awakening the Heroes Within, which details personality characteristics of all sorts of different heroes, from warriors to lovers, sages to fools, each with their own unique strengths, weaknesses, and abilities.
I do strongly agree with much feminist criticism of Joseph Campbell’s work that suggests his hero’s journey is too male-oriented—not too “macho” or warlike as I have already noted—but too focused on male experience without properly accounting for how most women experience such transformative phases in life.
The first and most influential feminist reinterpretation of Campbell’s work came from Maureen Murdoch in her 1990 book The Heroine’s Journey. Murdoch is a psychotherapist and was using the hero’s journey concepts with many of the patients she counseled, but found it less effective with women than with men, so sought to redefine a sequence of events more attuned to female experience.
The Virgin’s Promise
In 2010, Canadian screenwriter Kim Hudson published a fascinating book called The Virgin’s Promise, which suggests that the hero’s journey is an archetypally masculine path (whether the protagonist is male or female) and that there is a counterpart feminine “Virgin” journey that characters can undertake (likewise whether they are male or female).
I could probably spend another 10 posts on the Virgin Journey, but I’ll try to summarize! Hudson suggests that the hero’s journey represents overcoming one’s Oedipus complex, leaving the womb of the familiar to venture into new circumstances and discovering something about oneself along the way.
In the counterpart Virgin plot line she presents, the protagonist already has a main inner passion, power, or desire but it is stifled by the surrounding society, only to eventually break through and transform that society if the protagonist remains true to oneself. (This is what is meant by “virgin”—true to one’s own nature, like a virgin forest. She also calls it a Prince/Princess plot line because one must remain “sovereign” over oneself.) Hudson says this Virgin/Sovereign plot line represents overcoming a Cinderella complex, no longer stifling the self in accordance with the wishes of surrounding authorities, but embracing one’s inner ability to transform and reorder one’s own life and community.
In Frozen, Queen Elsa goes through the Virgin plot line: she has an inner ability (being able to freeze things). However, in childhood, even her own parents encourage her to suppress this talent and when her kingdom discovers her ability she is feared and flees into exile. Eventually, she embraces her abilities, choosing to be true to herself. (“Let it go, let it go, don’t hold back anymore!”) Eventually, when she returns to the kingdom, her abilities are recognized as gifts and celebrated.
Her sister, Anna, goes through a hero’s journey: she leaves the Ordinary World of the castle where she has spent all her childhood on a quest to find her sister and comes to inner realizations about true love along the way.
I suspect one of the reasons the film was so appreciated by young girls is because they unconsciously realized it featured two female protagonists, respectively fulfilling both “masculine” and “feminine” quests.
Overall, in my posts I’ve striven to keep terminology very general. At their heart, all of these story structures are about processes of change and transformation, embracing new circumstances whether at home or far away from it, outward and inward, male or female.
Pics courtesy of:
And a shout-out and thanks to my friend Liberté for showing me the Krayenbosch video! Check out her tumblr at http://liberteoflondon.tumblr.com
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