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Visual Storytelling: Introduction: The Hero's Journey

The Hero´s Journey

Carl Jung famously theorizes that myths are none other than the dreams of the collective mind. He went to demonstrate this idea by noting how all dreams and myths in history are populated by the same heavily standardized figures, which he called archetypes. He believed these characters and the roles they play, in every collective story and individual dream, were common to the entire human species because they were bequeathed through the collective unconscious. Based on his reasoning, these types, each with their epitomized attributes, are a prosopopoeia of all the parts of ourselves who live in the penumbra of our psyche.

Greek hydria depicting Achilles dragging the body of Hector. 510-520 B.C.

A few decades later, Joseph Campbell, an expert in comparative mythology and religion, tries to further develop Jung’s theory. In his book, The Hero with a Thousand Faces, he analyses a plethora of ancient myths and stories from every corner of the earth through the lens of the archetypes’ argument and finally demonstrates the constant existence of several identifiable figures in all epic and legendary narratives. There are numerous archetypes, but Campbell ascertained that there are a few notable stronghold figures, such as 'the Hero', 'the Mentor', 'the Shadow', 'the Shapeshifter', 'the Ally' and 'the Trickster'. He however took his analysis a step further as he found that there is a specific template guiding the design of stories which almost resembles a planned script. The protagonists, he noticed, all follow a similarly-paced heroic path; every hero faces akin challenges in the same order and with undeniably similar timing. He defined the cornerstones of the Hero’s adventure, effectively discovering the lines of a pattern which he named 'The Hero’s Journey'.

Campbell’s theories, on the common universal structure of every tale, myth, story and narration, became a crucial axiom in the artistic field. The delineation of this narrative framework, which Campbell considered to be “[…] a blueprint to leading an audience through a profound, transformative experience” (1949, p.14), gained the essential role of becoming a pillar for cinematographic and visual screenwriting.

The screenplay-oriented guide to the Hero’s Journey is definitely laid down by Christopher Vogler in his book, The Writer’s Journey. He sums up both Jung and Campbell’s theories and he proves that movies and television products, just as plays, fairy tales and epic sagas, have unconsciously maintained the portrayal of these archetypes and the narrative structure of the Hero’s Journey (Vogler, 2007, p. XXVII).