Finding Joe –The Hero’s Journey is in All of Us

January 13, 2012 § 4 Comments

Finding Joe—“an exploration of famed Mythologist Joseph Campbell’s studies and their continuing impact on our culture.” (from

Separation: hero leaves warm comfy home to venture into the cold night.
Initiation: hero navigates unknown territory—where in Nob Hill will she park—and faces her dragons­—here she is, out on a Saturday night alone and surrounded by couples, again.
Return: hero gains wisdom and returns home to share newfound knowledge with others.

A stretch? Not according to the premise of Finding Joe, which is that the hero’s journey, the basis of every great myth, book, and movie all over the world, is also true in our own personal lives.

Cover of

I first heard of Joseph Campbell when Bill Moyers interviewed him for the PBS Power of Myth series (and I still adore the scene in a Gilmore Girls episode where Rory and Paris are on spring break in Florida and want to stay in their hotel room to watch Power of Myth instead of join the pool party outside their door).

I started utilizing Campbell’s mythical plot structure when I read an article in a Children’s Writer newsletter titled “Perfect Plots for Mere Mortals,” which offered a simplified breakdown of Campbell’s hero’s journey. I remember telling my boyfriend at the time the steps of the mythic plot and he said, “you just described Star Wars.” Then, last summer, propelled by having circled too long in the dreaded plot sinkhole of my novel, I hunted down a used copy of The Hero with a Thousand Faces and studied Campbell’s circle diagram and historical and psychological exploration of each step. Finally, I finished outlining a path of my heroine’s journey that will work. At least, I think it will.

English: This image outlines the basic path of...

Finding Joe, the movie, explains that the circle of separation, threshold crossing, dragon battle, tests, flight, and return, is a mechanism that we humans have devised and used to navigate our own life trials. The dragon is really an external projection of our own inner demons. That scene in The Empire Strikes Back where Luke goes into the cave to battle Darth Vader and cuts off Vader’s head, only to see the black mask peel back to reveal Luke’s own face, is a perfect illustration of this concept.

People interviewed in this movie described struggles of overcoming childhood assault, losing excessive weight, and quitting law school to coach sports for disadvantaged youth. So the hero’s quest can be conquering the evil empire or standing up to the paralyzing “what will they think of me?” anxiety. This is good news for me, since the heroine of my novel does not hunt serial killers or compete in to-the-death games or slay vampires. She fights with an overbearing father, copes with a broken heart, and tries to finish college while conflicted between duty and dream.

For you and me, the hero’s journey is what we do in our own life when things go wrong or we decide we just aren’t happy with our current state and do something crazy like start writing a book.

I’m just not quite ready to quit my day job. I think I have a few more dragons to slay.

“I don’t believe people are looking for the meaning of life as much as they are looking for the experience of being alive.”—Joseph Campbell.

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