The Hero Within

Hi all! I know I’ve been MIA lately, with my wedding (it was June 10th and amazing; I’ll post about it soon, I promise), and grad school and whatnot, but here’s some work on classic myth that I hope you like, and if you are a writer, I hope y0u can gain some wisdom from it. Please note that it is a VERY concise version of the works cited, as I had to keep it under 8 pages long, and so there are many areas I had to gloss over; I HIGHLY recommend reading the source material, which is absolutely amazing, for more information. As always, if you chose to use any of this for your own work, please cite as needed. Thank you! ~MM

The Hero Within

Mythology as a Reveler of the Human Condition as Seen through the Works of Joseph Campbell and Valerie Estelle Frankel

“Mythology opens the world so that it becomes transparent to something that is beyond speech, beyond words, in short, to what we call transcendence.”

~ Joseph Campbell, The Hero’s Journey

It can be argued that the human is separated from the animal in many ways. It can also be argued that there is no separation at all, and that this idea is our own ego and nothing more. Yet it is that very thought that considers the truth within itself, as, insofar as we know at this time, human beings are the only living creatures on Earth who consider this question in the first place. We are a deeply thoughtful, curious, and finite race, continually striving for a deeper understanding of the universe, and all the while, painfully aware of our own mortality. In every human society, every continent on earth, every race, creed, gender and sect, we have always been and even now still are one in this way: we search for truth. And in that search, we have created mythos. These are legends of metaphor that move us beyond our own physical state into a state of spiritual, emotional, and universal transcendence, helping us to define the un-definable within and without ourselves and our reality. In this paper I will discuss this universal search for truth in mythology, as seen through the works of Joseph Campbell and Valerie Estelle Frankel.

In his famous work, The Hero with a Thousand Faces, Joseph Campbell gives the reader a unilateral map of the classic mythos of the hero. Likewise, in her work titled From Girl to Goddess: The Heroine’s Journey through Myth and Legend, Valerie Estelle Frankel takes the reader through a similar mapping for the feminine. For the sake of organization, I will follow their original mapping in this paper as well as I am able.

The beginning of every myth is what both Campbell and Frankel term “The Call to Adventure”. Campbell’s opening example is the classic fairy tale, “The Frog Prince” by Hans Christian Anderson, wherein the little princess drops her golden ball into the pond, and the frog agrees to get it for her in exchange for being allowed to be her constant companion. (Campbell 56-57) Frankel’s example is also a classic Anderson fairy tale, “The Wild Swans”, wherein the princess is given a task to complete at the opening of the plot, of freeing her brothers from a curse, and no matter how many successes she has – marrying a king, having babies – she must complete that original task before the story can end. (Frankel 191-241) This is the main plot. The story hinges on this call alone, even as other, smaller quests happen around it.

“The Call to Adventure” is defined by Campbell as, “a blunder—apparently the merest chance—reveal[ing] an unsuspected world, and the individual is drawn into a relationship with forces that are not rightly understood.” (Campbell 57) As Campbell goes on to say, this blunder is never happenstance, but a manifestation of repressed desires and conflicts within the hero(ine). This introduction of the central conflict that the hero(ine) has both created by his/her blunder and then must overcome echoes deeply within the human condition of search and struggle, and thus the reader is instantly connected on a spiritual level with the hero(ine). This blunder is not always such a blatant one – as in life, often the psychological implications of the Call to Adventure can be disguised as happenstance – but it is always the push of the hero(ine), conscious or not, that gets the adventure moving.

The next stage of the journey, called “The Refusal of the Call” by both Campbell (61), and Frankel (324), is self-defining: the hero(ine), at this point, refuses to go on the adventure for one reason or another. While this refusal is not always a step of every myth-adventure, it is a potent one in those which it exists. Campbell states that this Refusal turns the myth to a negative bent. (Campbell 62) This negative turn can often become the very drive of the myth itself. In her example of the Refusal, Frankel uses the Icelandic/Norse myth of Brunnhild and Siegfried, wherein, faced with expulsion from her home and family, the valkyre Brunnhild begs her father Wotan to put her into a deep sleep until she is awakened by a great hero. “This sleep is a defensive maneuver, allowing the self to deal with the insurmountable stress of change. Thus, heroines appear surrounded by shrouding thorns or rings of fire, forcing away all interlopers.” (Frankel 377) In this way, the heroine’s refusal to take on the adventure of leaving her home and family behind then drives the rest of the myth, allowing Siegfried to take on the mantle of hero, and save the day. As Frankel points out, the psychological, humanistic piece to this is purely defensive. Campbell, too, discusses how the Refusal parallels in metaphor our own life experience: “The literature of psychoanalysis abounds in examples of such desperate fixations… an impotence to put off the infantile ego, with its sphere of emotional relationships and ideals.” (Campbell 62)

If the call is not refused (and sometimes even when it is), the next step in the hero(ine)’s journey is what Campbell calls “Supernatural Aid”, (65) and Frankel calls “The Mentor”. (442) This is the emergence of the protector, the wise one, etc, who will guide and help the hero(ine) on the adventure. This person can be male or female, but they are almost always old and wise, and often possess both knowledge to bestow and magic and/or talismans of power that they use to help the hero(ine), for varying reasons. Campbell names many examples of this character, including Spider Woman of the Southwest American Indians and the Virgin from Christian texts. (66) Frankel’s example comes from the Vietnamese myth “Cam and Tam”, a similar story to the classic Cinderella tale in which The Blue-Robed Goddess of Mercy helps the abused Tam in various ways to free herself from the horrible life she leads as a servant to her stepmother and stepsister. (Frankel 450-515)

The next stage, both Campbell (69) and Frankel (749) call “The Crossing of the First Threshold”. This is when the hero(ine) makes the choice to set out on the adventure, having been prepared by the Mentor for the ordeals ahead. “Beyond… is dark less, the unknown, and danger…” (Campbell 69). This crossing over is symbolic of the human condition of fighting against the self-preservation instinct in order to grow and become more than we are. Crossing the threshold is the first real, conscious step towards becoming a true hero(ine) in every sense of the word. Where most people – and characters – are happy to stay where they are and live passive, safe lives, the hero(ine) feels a call they cannot fight – the call of destiny. Campbell uses tribal fears of the unknown lurking past the safety of their village as an example of the Threshold. (70) Frankel’s example of the Crossing is a Samoan myth titled “Hina, the Fairy Voyager” (749), in which a young girl, tired of home, goes to find the King of all Fish in his Sacred Isle. She has many trials to get to the Isle, but in the end she is rewarded handsomely for her willingness to cross the threshold.

The next step in the hero(ine)’s journey Campbell calls “The Road of Trials” (82), while Frankel names it “Allies and Enemies”. (863) A conglomeration of this step for both hero and heroine would describe it as the place where the hero(ine) meets new friends, learns of his/her enemies, and adventures around the new World wherein he/she has found themselves, touching on small but significant quests and trials. In this step, the myth deepens for both hero(ine) and reader, as they get to know the adventure as it unfolds. Campbell uses Psyche’s quest for Cupid as an example of the Road of Trials. (Campbell 82-83) For her example, Frankel cites the Mayan myth of Ix Chel, a goddess who, though great trials against her abusive husband the Sun, became the strong protector of women. (Frankel 863-883)

Here is where Campbell and Frankel part ways somewhat, with Campbell’s next steps titled “The Meeting with the Goddess” (Campbell 88), “Woman as the Temptress” (93), “Atonement with the Father” (96), and “Apotheosis” (climax) (107), while Frankel’s are “Taming the Beast: The Shapechanger as Lover” (981), “Unholy Marriage: Confronting the Father” (1166), “The Deepest Crime: Abuse and Healing” (1297), “With This Ring: Sacred Marriage” (1455), and “Of Carpets and Slippers: Flight and Return” (2051). For the sake of clarity and concision, I will discuss these steps together.

Within each of her steps, together which she calls “Meeting the Other”, Frankel steers towards uniquely feminine trials, while Campbell, in his parallel steps, concentrates on the culmination of the quest as a whole, starting with the goddess, and ending with the epoch of the story, wherein the hero finds his inner power and defeats the evil he has sought to this point. To Campbell, the goddess-image is “… mother, sister, mistress, bride… the comforting, the nourishing, the ‘good’…” (Campbell 88) However, she is also “…the fullness of that pushing, self-protective, malodorous, carnivorous, lecherous fever”.(Campbell 94) Thus, the feminine is the prize that the hero wins, as well as the temptation of the ages. She stands for peace and war, prosperity and want, warmth and cold, life and death, often in-tandem. Similarly, for the hero, the Father is both protector and rival, and the hero must come to a peace with this ancient, unending struggle. Frankel, on the other hand, sees being feminine as a trial in and of itself. The heroine’s fight is similar to the hero’s, but her goal is often very different. The hero wants to restore peace to his world, and that peace is personified in the feminine, while the heroine wants peace within herself, and that peace is embodied not in the masculine, but in her own ability to control her life and her destiny. This is very telling of humanity’s psychological struggle for what ultimately becomes the same goal – peace and prosperity. Unsurprisingly, it is a theme that resonates in myths from around the world, far back into antiquity.

It is of interesting note that here Frankel adds steps that are not included separately in Campbell’s analogies, though each holds a place somewhere within his theory as a whole. These steps, which Frankel puts under the overarching title of “Facing the Self”, (Frankel 1606) are deeply emotional and personal for the heroine. They are called, in order, “The Endless Summons: Descent into Darkness” (1606), “I’ll Get you, my Pretty: Confronting the Deadly Mother” (1752), “Ceasefire with the Self: Healing the Wounded Shadow” (1872), and “The Elixir of Life: Reward”. (1995) Though Campbell does have a separate step for the Reward, this is an inner, emotional prize for Frankel, who also cites a physical reward step as well, discussed later in this paper. “By listening to the whole self, and to others, she becomes a wisewoman and nurturing queen”. (Frankel 2020) By creating specific steps for the emotional, Frankel outlines how the heroine battles inwardly and outwardly often in two different arenas, while the hero, whom Campbell reflects in his meeting of the physical and emotional as one within his steps, battles all things, inside and outside, at the same time.

In the next step, Campbell and Frankel again merge, with Campbell’s step titled “The Ultimate Boon” (117), and Frankel’s titled “Forever Cycling: Rebirth”. (2166) Both steps describe the ultimate physical success of the hero(ine), which is to gain the powers of the god(dess) – often taking the form of a kind of talisman or magic weapon. “To achieve the greatest success, the heroine becomes a ‘goddess’ herself. In this way she achieves enormous power and becomes a guardian for the next generation.” (Frankel 2216) Campbell uses examples from many cultures, from Hebrew Yahweh to Polynesian Maui, to describe this Ultimate Boon. In achieving his or her goal, the hero(ine) transcends beyond him/herself, becoming more than human, and paving the way for the ascension of the next generation. This is a mirror to the human psyche’s quest to become more than it is.

Then comes Frankel’s final step, which she calls “Apotheosis: Mistress of Both Worlds” (Frankel 2274). Campbell, however, splits this final step into chapters, under the simple title of “Return” (Campbell 127). These chapters are titled “Refusal of the Return” (127), “The Magic Flight” (133), “Rescue from Without” (138), “The Crossing of the Return Threshold” (142), “Master of the Two Worlds” (148), and “Freedom to Live” (152). Both stress the importance of the hero(ine)’s return to their own world, and the bringing of the Boon into it for the greater good of all. But this Boon is not the only change in their world. The hero(ine), too, has changed and grown, and transcended their base, mortal ways. “The hero is the champion of things becoming, not of things become, because he is.” (Campbell 154) This ends the hero(ine)’s journey, reflecting the circle and cycle of psychological and spiritual growth for all humanity, yet strengthening that circle for the next journey to come.

Works Cited

Campbell, Joseph. The Hero with a Thousand Faces. Princeton: Princeton University Press, 2004. Pdf file.

Frankel, Valerie Estelle– From Girl to Goddess: The Heroine’s Adventure through Myth and Legend . Jefferson: McFarland & Company, Inc. Publishers, 2010. Pdf file, Kindle Edition.


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