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The hero’s journey that recurs in fiction

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Have you ever noticed that many hero stories follow virtually the same pattern? A new thesis examines how the theory of the hero’s journey, or Monomyth, which was first identified over 70 years ago, stands up in today’s popular culture.

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Houman Sadri
Houman Sadri.<br /> Photo: Johanna Hillgren
Photo: Johanna Hillgren

In his compilation thesis in English Literary Studies, which consists of five scholarly articles, Houman Sadri looks at the Monomyth, a narrative structure, or pattern, identified by Joseph Campbell in his book The Hero with a Thousand Faces, back in 1949, and how this theory is interpreted in contemporary popular cultural texts.

“The pattern is derived from mythological hero stories, and charts the development of the hero from young and innocent to the ‘Master of Two Worlds’. In short, the hero is called to adventure, encounters adversity and temptations and some form of authority, confronts their own death and rebirth and eventually attains – if the hero succeeds – some form of blessing or gift for themself and their world, which they must then return home with. The pattern has seventeen stages,” says Houman Sadri, who is a doctoral student at the University of Gothenburg.

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Houman Sadri
Houman Sadri.
Photo: Johanna Hillgren

Relevance in contemporary narratology

The overall aim of the thesis was to investigate the validity and relevance of the structure identified by Joseph Campbell within English-language popular culture. By studying how important stages in Campbell’s model of the hero’s journey can be discerned in selected contemporary texts, the thesis shows that the theory of the Monomyth still has relevance for our understanding of modern hero narratives.

“The theory itself is – or at least ought to be – outmoded, entwined as it often seems to be with concepts terms hardly used in the academy any longer, such as Jungian psychoanalysis and structural anthropology. But the pattern is often still discernible in our contemporary narrative fiction. This may be because it is related to a general narrative practice, especially when it comes to film and television. But the theory of the Monomyth has in fact proved useful in shedding new light on why and how certain stories are told in particular ways, and how and why certain narrative structures still survive today.

The study examines different genres and media within a popular cultural sphere: young adult literature, action films, comics about superheroes, and autobiographical narratives in graphic novels.

The thesis entitled Reconfiguring the Hero's journey. The Monomyth in Contemporary Popular Culture will be publicly defended on 15 September, at 10 AM in room C350 at Humanisten, Renströmgatan 6 in Gothenburg and digitally via Zoom.

Contact details:
Houman Sadri, Phone: +46(0)31-786 6556, +46(0)73-542 5525, e-mail: houman.sadri@sprak.gu.se