Thursday, July 22, 2010

Carl Jung, Modern Media & the Hero with a Thousand Faces

In the long run, the most influential book of the 20th Century may turn out to be Joseph Campbell's THE HERO WITH A THOUSAND FACES. It's certainly true that the book is having a major impact on writing and story-telling, but above all on movie-making. Aware or not, filmmakers like John Boorman, George Miller, Steven Spielberg, George Lucas, and Francis Ford Coppola owe their successes to the ageless pattern that Joseph Campbell identifies in the book. The ideas in the book are an excellent set of analytical tools.

There's nothing new in the book. The ideas in it are older than the Pyramids, older than Stonehenge, older than the earliest cave painting… older than dirt. Campbell's contribution was to gather the ideas together, recognize them, articulate them, name them. He exposed the pattern for the first time, the pattern that lies behind every story ever told.

Campbell is a mythographer… he writes about myths. What he discovered in his study of world myths is that THEY ARE ALL BASICALLY THE SAME STORY …retold endlessly in infinite variation. He discovered that all story-telling, consciously or not, follows the ancient patterns of myth, and that all stories, from the crudest jokes to the highest flights of literature, can be understood in terms of the "HERO MYTH"; the "MONOMYTH" whose principles he lays out in the book.

Campbell was a student of the Swiss psychologist Carl Jung, and the ideas in THE HERO WITH A THOUSAND FACES are often described as Jungian. The book is based on Jung's idea of the "Archetypes" constantly repeating characters who occur in the dreams of all people and the myths of all cultures. Jung believed that these archetypes are reflections of the human mind… that our minds divide themselves into these characters to play out the drama of our lives.

The repeating characters of the hero myth, such as the young hero, the wise old man, the shape-shifting woman, and the shadowy nemesis, are identical with the archetypes of the human mind, as shown in dreams. That's why myths, and stories constructed on the mythological model, are always psychologically true. Such stories are true models of the workings of the human mind, true maps of the psyche. They are psychologically valid and realistic even when they portray fantastic, impossible, unreal events.

This accounts for the universal power of such stories. Stories built on the model of THE HERO OF A THOUSAND FACES have an appeal that can be felt by everyone, because they spring from a universal source in the collective unconscious, and because they reflect universal concerns. They deal with universal questions like "Why was I born?" "What happens when I die?" "How can I overcome my life problems and be happy?"

The ideas in the book can be applied to understanding any human problem. They are a great key to life as well as being a major tool for dealing more effectively with a mass audience. Christ, Hitler, Mohammed, and Buddha all understood the principles in the book and applied them to influence millions.

If you want to understand the ideas behind the HERO MYTH, there's no substitute for actually reading the book. It's an experience that has a way of changing people. It's also a good idea to read a lot of myths, but it amounts to the same thing since Campbell spends most of the book illustrating his point by re-telling old myths.

- Adapted from and inspired by Chris Vogler

Those interested in the works of Joseph Campbell are encouraged to visit the Joseph Campbell Foundation.