The Hero with a Thousand Faces, written by author Joseph Campbell, is deeply intertwined with elements of psychology and mythology and serves as a comparative analysis of the hero narrative. Breaking the narrative into three stages – departure, initiation, and return – Campbell differentiates these stages into 17 steps. As stated by the author, the purpose of the book is to “uncover some of the truths disguised for us under the figures of religion and mythology by bringing together a multitude of not-too-difficult examples and letting the ancient meaning become apparent of itself.”. Across the epochs, there are similarities among the various hero stories of different people, tribes, and religions. “Whether the hero is ridiculous or sublime, Greek or barbarian, gentile or Jew, his journey varies little in essential plan.”
The author effectively defines the hero as “the man or woman who has been able to battle past his personal and local historical limitations to the generally valid, normally human forms… they are eloquent, not of the present, disintegrating society and psyche, but of the unquenched source through which society is reborn. The hero has died as a modern man; but as eternal man – perfected, universal man – he has been reborn.”
What I find interesting is the theme of the hero’s ignoble place of origin. True to form, we see this lived out in the narratives of Frodo Baggins of the Shire, Luke Skywalker in Star Wars, and Harry Potter, to name a few. Without question, Jesus also fits this description, born in a manger and raised in Nazareth, a lowly town from which it was unlikely any good could come.
Though there are 17 steps, I will highlight just two of them. The first, the call to adventure, is the moment in the narrative in which the ordinary world of the soon-to-be hero is disrupted, demanding that they either accept or reject the invitation. The author states one of the pathways to this adventure is a “blunder – apparently the merest chance – [that] reveals an unsuspected world, and the individual is drawn into a relationship with forces that are not rightly understood.” Such is the path of hero-making – crucible bourgeoning the transformation of an unlikely individual into the hero they are to become.
The sixth step, the road of trials, is the first step in the initiation phase. Through various tests and challenges, these struggles initiate the transformation of the up-and-coming hero. Is this not the pathway of leadership or just growing up, for that matter? In my circles of discipleship, we often talk about the neglected theology of suffering. One passage that I think of often in this regard is Romans 5:2-5, which says, “And not only this, but we also exult in our tribulations, knowing that tribulation brings about perseverance; and perseverance, proven character; and proven character, hope; and hope does not disappoint.” Without trials, there is no development, and no heroes are forged.
At first glance, I will confess that I was not a fan of this book. Yet, the more I pushed myself to grapple with the text, the more I began to more meaningfully understand the author’s intent to plot the commonalities of the various hero narratives throughout history, spanning religions, time periods, and cultures. Reflecting on this circular storyboard of hero-making, it is evident that Campbell was on to something by identifying these marks in our world. Near the end of the book, the author states that we are still in need of heroes. He says,
“The modern hero, the modern individual who dares to heed the call and seek the mansion of that presence with whom it is our whole destiny to be atoned, cannot, indeed must not, wait for his community to cast off its slough of pride, fear, rationalized avarice, and sanctified misunderstanding. ‘Live,’ Nietzsche says, ‘as though the day was here.’ It is not society that is to guide and save the creative hero, but precisely the reverse. And so every one of us shares the supreme ordeal – carries the cross of the redeemer – not in the bright moments in his tribe’s great victories, but in the silences of his personal despair.”
For times such as these, marked by great polarity and division, heroes are needed. As Christ-followers, will we follow in His footsteps and live as though the day were here? Or will we give in to the pressures that surround us and succumb to apathy? Church, now is the time for us to lead!
 Joseph Campbell, The Hero with a Thousand Faces, 3rd ed., Bollingen series XVII (Novato, Calif: New World Library, 2008), xii.
 Ibid., 30.
 Ibid., 14–15.
 Ibid., 42.
 Mich.) Zondervan Publishing House (Grand Rapids, New American Standard Bible (Grand Rapids, Mich.: Zondervan, 2002).
 Campbell, The Hero with a Thousand Faces, 337.