A Simplified, Literature-based Version of Campbell’s Quest
from Discoveries: Fifty Stories of the Quest by Schechter and SemeiksBased
on Campbell’s description but user-friendly, this text does a good job
of describing the hero’s quest and gives modern short story examples of
each step. I recommend it highly to those of you with the
aspirations to write a bestseller.
are on the brink of a great change. Some are desperately unhappy
while other are okay with their surroundings even though they are a
wasteland. The hero may blunder into the quest, but usually they
are called to it by a herald—a friend, relative, stranger, event,
object, or even himself. In myth the romantic hero has qualities beyond
the normal human, but in literature, the hero who undertakes a journey
can be quite average. The hero sees the danger in not answering
the call to adventure and realizes change is an unavoidable part of
life necessary for enjoying it or sometimes surviving.
double or alter ego is a man or woman who may be the hero’s best friend
or a complete though oddly familiar stranger. The other has a
personality that is completely the opposite of the hero’s, but in time
similarities are found. The “evil twin” episodes on TV shows
provide trite examples. He or she embodies the hidden shadow side of
the hero’s personality. The meeting with the other always
symbolizes the possibility of increased self-awareness, and even though
the hero may shun the other initially, the reader becomes aware that
the two characters cannot exist without the other. When the hero
cannot accept what they have in common with the other, they
suffer. Conversely, when they do, they gain understanding of
themselves and benefit from it armed with self-awareness on the
dangerous path ahead. They must accept or make friends with their
shadow to succeed. If they can’t, they self-destruct.
journey centers on the struggle the hero experiences once he has left
his familiar surroundings and entered the mysterious world where he
must survive a series of ordeals Campbell calls the “road of
trials.” As in myths, the setting for the journey often has
a mildly nightmarish element in it and is at least a symbolic “voyage
to hell.” The hero’s capacity for heroic action is tested as he
learns important truths about himself, his society, and human
nature. To do this the hero must shed his old ideas and adopt new
ones, making the quest a form of initiation, an initiation into a new
life. Consequently, a symbolic death often takes place.
Sometimes the knowledge the hero gains is representative a
psychological journey into his own heart and soul. As in life,
since the journey is so hard, the victory can be huge.
Helpers and Guides
assist the hero materially or spiritually. Whereas in myth, the
helpers could be talking animals or human, in literature are usually
older, more experienced people, often archetypes known as the Good
Mother and the Wise Old Man. The Good Mother can be an actual
mother or a female of any age that offers motherly support and material
aid like the Witch of the North in The Wizard of Oz. The Wise Old
Man, conversely, is a father figure with special knowledge and skills.
He goes with the hero on the journey or simply appears when
needed. The Wise Old Man sets the hero on the road to becoming
all he can be.
The Treasure The
treasure may be monetarily valuable, sentimentally valuable, or
spiritually valuable—like gold, a cheap bracelet, knowledge or even a
person. The treasure is never easily obtained and always
valuable to the quester. It can improve their economic life,
their position in society, their inner self. Although sometimes
the treasure changes the hero’s life in unsuspected ways, the treasure
remains an irresistible challenge for the true hero.
order to gain the treasure, the hero changes or is “reborn.” By
gaining it, the hero has changed his life and himself forever.
Often the transformation is one of initiation—a passage from childhood
to adulthood. Some heroes, like some people, fight this
transformation and some welcome it and fight for it. By accepting
the “treasure,” the hero is reborn.