Joseph Campbell’s take on the Hero’s Journey is maybe a little sexist (skip to the end for a different version), but it is reflected in centuries of great storytelling. The hero’s journey is so prevalent in film and books that it makes a great jumping off point for a comparative literature study, and these texts are a great place to begin.
Ishmael signs on for a three-year journey on the whaling ship Pequod, entering Campbell’s belly of the whale as he cuts himself off from the known world to pursue a literal white whale through the Atlantic, Indian, and Pacific oceans.
When she leaves her beloved Mr. Rochester and Thornfield Hall, Jane enters the English countryside equivalent of the Underworld: penniless, friendless, and fraught with trials and temptations.
Jim—with his combination of river knowledge and complex commitment to superstition—serves the role of Huck’s wise companion on their journey down the Mississippi River.
Frank Herbert takes a subversive approach to the hero’s journey, following its patterns but raising questions about the nature and value of heroes. “The bottom line of the Dune trilogy is: beware of heroes. Buch better rely on your own judgment, and your own mistakes,” said Herbert.
Morpheus stands in for the father in Neo’s journey into the real world, and Neo can’t achieve full consciousness to fulfill his destiny until he understands his father’s teachings.
A tornado sweeps Dorothy across the threshold and into the land of Oz, where she must follow a literal Road of Trials (paved in yellow brick) to complete her hero’s journey.
Like Odysseus, on whom he’s based, Ulysses Everett McGill can only end his journey when he’s reunited with his family and his home is restored.
This fantasy twists traditional gender roles as a teenage girl takes up the hero mantle and is tempted by a Goblin King—played by David Bowie, which makes it easy to sympathize with how hard he is for our heroine to resist.
Who knew a picture book could be so epic? But you can trace Max’s journey from the call to adventure to the freedom to live (and eat supper).
A group of kids follow the hero’s journey in this film, which ties its happy ending into the literal treasure the children bring back from their Underworld adventure.
George Lucas sets the hero’s journey in space, but Luke Skywalker’s journey from farm boy to savior of the galaxy echoes the classic journeys of Gilgamesh, Beowulf, and other epic heroes.
Scout may be just a kid, but she heeds the call to adventure aided by the guidance of her wise mentor father.
For a feminist exploration of the hero’s journey, pick up From Girl to Goddess: The Heroine's Journey through Myth and Legend, which explores multicultural myths and folktales with female protagonists.
This was originally published in the spring 2017 issue of HSL.