Joseph Campbell’s Hero Quest Outline


I have a confession to make. I like to take shortcuts when I write papers. And now that my paper-writing days are coming to a close, I’d like to share one of my techniques with you, the world. I’ve always been interested in mythology and the hero quest, and I wrote a few papers on the subject in my undergrad days in English. One of the most famous theorists on the subject is Joseph Campbell, who wrote the book, Hero with a Thousand Faces. It’s quite structural, but that’s a good thing for you, the undergraduate writer. Why? Because it’s that much easier to use and apply to papers. What I did early on–I think it was sophomore year–was create a universal paper outline on the Hero Quest. I analyzed Campbell’s book, typed out the most relevant citations for each step of his hero quest, and saved it as a separate file. When the time came to write a paper (and if I was running short on time), I’d pick a book that we had studied in class and analyze it according to the Hero Quest outline I already had developed. Voila. Finished in no time. And now, I’m presenting the outline to you in its entirety. Don’t overuse it, but it’s usually good for at least a paper a year, if you’re an English undergrad. Even if you’re just trying to get through a GE class, it could come in handy. If you have questions about it, email me and I’ll be happy to answer them.

The Outline

  • The initial qualification of a mythic hero according to Campbell’s definition is the Call to Adventure. “This first stage of the mythological journey… signifies that destiny has summoned the hero and transferred his spiritual center of gravity from within the pale of his society to a zone unknown” (Campbell 58).
  • The second step in the Departure phase of the mythic quest is for the hero to attain supernatural aid. A protective figure provides the questor with the items he will need to succeed in the new realm, often through the form of magical items or amulets (Campbell 69).
  • The third and final part of the Departure step Campbell terms “the crossing of the first threshold” (Campbell 77) and the descent into the “belly of the whale” (Campbell 90). “Such custodians bound the world… standing for the limits of the hero’s present sphere, or life horizon. Beyond them is darkness, the unknown” (Campbell 77). “The hero, instead of conquering or conciliating the power of the threshold [the stump], is swallowed into the unknown, and would appear to have died” (Campbell 90).
  • Initiation is the second phase of Campbell’s checklist. This is a period laced with a “succession of trials” (Campbell 97).
  • The goddess or temptress constitutes a large part of a hero’s mythic quest, and Shane is no exception. As goddess, the woman represents the “ultimate adventure… represented as a mystical marriage” (Campbell 109). At the same time, the woman is a temptation–the enticement to give into lust rather than the loftier ritual of marriage (Campbell 121).
  • The mythic hero must not just be unified with the goddess, but must also become one with the father figure. There is a tendency of man to view the Father with something akin to dread, but when understood properly, the Father is a great help (Campbell 129-131). The hero must face the Father and overcome that dread, thus becoming one with Him. attains Apotheosis–deification, another step in initiation of Campbell’s quest (Campbell 150-151).
  • The last step of initiation is the attainment of the Ultimate Boon. This gift that the hero can bestow on others is achieved by defeating the final monster, usually in a manner that shows the supremacy of the hero (Campbell 173).
  • The final phase of the mythic journey is that of the Return. Here the hero goes back to his old world, only to find that the old and new worlds are in reality one and the same (Campbell 217).
  • With the realization that the old and new worlds are in fact the same, the hero also discovers that he is master of both worlds, able to cross freely between the two now (Campbell 229). The final result of the hero’s victory is that he is free to live as he sees fit (Campbell 238).


Campbell, Joseph. The Hero with a Thousand Faces. New Jersey: Princeton University Press. 1968.