In narratology and comparative mythology, the monomyth, or the hero’s journey, is the common template of a broad category of tales that involve a hero who goes on an adventure, and in a decisive crisis wins a victory, and then comes home changed or transformed.
The study of hero myth narratives started in 1871 with anthropologist Edward Burnett Tylor’s observations of common patterns in plots of hero’s journeys. Later on, others introduced various theories on hero myth narratives such as Otto Rank and his Freudian psychoanalyticapproach to myth, Lord Raglan’s unification of myth and rituals, and eventually hero myth pattern studies were popularized by Joseph Campbell, who was influenced by Carl Jung’s view of myth. In his 1949 work The Hero with a Thousand Faces, Campbell described the basic narrative pattern as follows:
A hero ventures forth from the world of common day into a region of supernatural wonder: fabulous forces are there encountered and a decisive victory is won: the hero comes back from this mysterious adventure with the power to bestow boons on his fellow man.
Campbell and other scholars, such as Erich Neumann, describe narratives of Gautama Buddha, Moses, and Christ in terms of the monomyth. While others, such as Otto Rank and Lord Raglan, describe hero narrative patterns in terms of Freudian psychoanalysis and ritualistic senses. Critics argue that the concept is too broad or general to be of much usefulness in comparative mythology. Others say that the hero’s journey is only a part of the monomyth; the other part is a sort of different form, or color, of the hero’s journey.
Campbell borrowed the word monomyth from Joyce’s Finnegans Wake (1939). Campbell was a notable scholar of James Joyce‘s work and in A Skeleton Key to Finnegans Wake (1944) co-authored the seminal analysis of Joyce’s final novel. Campbell’s singular the monomyth implies that the “hero’s journey” is the ultimate narrative archetype, but the term monomyth has occasionally been used more generally, as a term for a mythological archetype or a supposed mytheme that re-occurs throughout the world’s cultures. Omry Ronen referred to Vyacheslav Ivanov‘s treatment of Dionysus as an “avatar of Christ” (1904) as “Ivanov’s monomyth”.
The phrase “the hero’s journey”, used in reference to Campbell’s monomyth, first entered into popular discourse through two documentaries. The first, released in 1987, The Hero’s Journey: The World of Joseph Campbell, was accompanied by a 1990 companion book, The Hero’s Journey: Joseph Campbell on His Life and Work (with Phil Cousineau and Stuart Brown, eds.). The second was Bill Moyers‘s series of seminal interviews with Campbell, released in 1988 as the documentary (and companion book) The Power of Myth. Cousineau in the introduction to the revised edition of The Hero’s Journey wrote “the monomyth is in effect a metamyth, a philosophical reading of the unity of mankind’s spiritual history, the Story behind the story”.