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What Is the Monomyth?

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  • Written By: S. Ashraf
  • Edited By: A. Joseph
  • Last Modified Date: 21 September 2016
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"Monomyth," or hero’s journey, is a term used to describe a basic narrative pattern that is commonly found in many myths or stories told in a variety of cultures from around the world. The monomyth pattern was first described by Joseph Campbell in his book The Hero With a Thousand Faces. Campbell noted that numerous myths from a variety of regions and historical times have some fundamental stages and structures in common. In all, he identified 17 different steps in a monomyth.

Only a very few myths include all 17 steps. Some myths might have many of the steps, and others have only a few. The 17 steps of the monomyth can be grouped into different sections. One of the most common groupings used is to divide the 17 steps into three stages.

The first stage is called departure. It begins when the hero becomes aware of a world outside the area where he or she has always lived. Usually, the hero receives a quest from a messenger who acts as a guide. Although a hero might refuse the quest, eventually he or she will be forced to leave either by events or supernaturally.

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Once the hero's journey starts, he or she might meet with a messenger who gives the hero magical powers or a weapon. Next, the hero will need to cross a threshold, possibly guarded by a gatekeeper who must be defeated. After crossing the threshold, the hero finds himself or herself alone in a new world.

The second stage of the monomyth is referred to as initiation. In the new world, the hero faces a number of challenges or tests that make him or her more self-reliant by polishing his or her skills and improving his or her character. A male hero likely will encounter a woman who will either teach him the power of unconditional love or force him to overcome his selfishness and return to his quest.

In this stage, the hero might meet a father figure or mother figure with whom the hero needs to reconcile in order to understand himself or herself. As a result of these encounters, the hero reaches a new understanding of the purpose of life and himself or herself. At this point, the hero usually becomes a selfless person who puts others before himself or herself.

The final stage of the monomyth is return. After the quest is accomplished, the hero begins a return journey, usually accompanied by a protector. To complete the journey home, the hero must cross the threshold again and defeat another gatekeeper to become reborn. Upon return, the hero will have balanced his or her mind and character by understanding the differences between his or her home and the new world.

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