The Hero with a Thousand Faces by Joseph Campbell

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Published: 1949
About the author: Joseph Campbell (March 26, 1904 – October 30, 1987) was an American professor of literature at Sarah Lawrence College who worked in comparative mythology and comparative religion. His work covers many aspects of the human experience. Campbell's best-known work is his book The Hero with a Thousand Faces (1949), in which he discusses his theory of the journey of the archetypal hero shared by world mythologies, termed the monomyth. Since the publication of The Hero with a Thousand Faces, Campbell's theories have been applied by a…

This is a book that will make anyone look at their life path in a different lens because regardless of where you are in your life journey, you will feel like it was written for you as it has answers that most of us seek. Joseph Campbell looks at large numbers of “heroes” from different cultures—some real and some mythical—and describes their archetypal journeys through life. He denotes that a “hero” is a perfect person who always gets things right, instead he describes a hero as:

“A hero is someone who found or achieved or did something beyond the normal range of achievement, and who has given his life to something bigger than himself or other than himself.”

Campbell states that heroes don’t begin as heroes; they just become them because of the way one thing leads to another. Meaning they typically start out leading ordinary lives in an ordinary world and are then drawn by a “call to adventure.” This leads them down a “road of trials” filled with battles, temptations, successes, and failures. Along the way, they are helped by others, often by those who are further along the journey and serve as mentors, though those who are less far along also help in various ways.

He mentions that heroes gain allies and enemies, and learn how to fight, often against convention. Along the way, they encounter temptations and have clashes and reconciliations with their fathers and their sons. They overcome their fear of fighting because of their great determination to achieve what they want, and they gain their special powers (that is, skills) from both battles that test and teach them, and from gifts (such as advice) that they receive from others. Over time, Heroes both succeed and fail, but they increasingly succeed more than they fail as they grow stronger and keep striving for more, which leads to ever-bigger and more challenging battles.

Heroes inevitably experience at least one very big failure (that Campbell calls an “abyss” or the “belly of the whale” experience) that tests whether they have the resilience to come back and fight smarter and with more determination. If they do, they undergo a change (have a “metamorphosis”) in which they experience the fear that protects them, without losing the aggressiveness that propels them forward. With triumphs come rewards. Though they don’t realize it when they are in their battles, the hero’s biggest reward is what Campbell calls the “boon,” which is the special knowledge about how to succeed that the hero has earned through his journey.

Late in life, winning more battles and acquiring more rewards typically becomes less exciting to heroes than passing along that knowledge to others—“returning the boon”. Once the boon is returned, the hero is free to live and then free to die, or, as I see it, to transition from the second phase in life to the third phase (in which one is free to savor life until one passes away).

This summary is an extract from one of my favourite books “Principles by Ray Dalio”. When I first saw this, I knew I had to share it as its one of those once in a lifetime type of finds and only people who truly believe that they are heroes will relate to this book. This book is one that builds character as it allows one to introspect their entire existence and acknowledge that their life is bigger than their current situation. We must strive to make a meaningful contribution on this earth, because a legacy is more than a statue but more about the lives you have touched, and that’s what makes heroes.

The book is available on Amazon.

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