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Monday: June 20, 2011


Heroes (Part 2)



Certainly stories transform and mutate with each telling, however, the Hero archetype describes a pattern of behaviours, 'an instinctive

trend', which suggests that no matter what the details are, a story of a Hero is effectively the one story. That concept is support by such

commentators as Joseph Campbell, an American mythologist, who wrote extensively on the matter, including in his book "The Hero with

a Thousand Faces". In that text Campbell explores the archetype of the Hero in its myriad of representations which transcend human

history and tribal borders.


Campbell describes a three-phase process elemental to the Hero’s 'Journey'. The first phase is

'Separation' whereby the Hero awakens from the drudgery and despair of their lives to a 'Call to

Adventure'. The next phase is 'Initiation', during which time the Hero encounters a series of tests

known as 'The Road of Trials'.  The final phase is the 'Return' when the Hero has finished his quest

and returns to his home with his new-found knowledge of adventure to share with others, although

sometimes the Hero decides that his home will not be able to comprehend his knowledge and so

he decides to take refuge in his newfound world free from the burdens of mundane life.










On the right, we show a depiction of the great Indian Hero, Rama, from the

suite prepared by Warwick Goble for "Indian Myth and Legend" (1913).


Warwick Goble - 'Rama spurns the Demon Lover' from ''Indian Myth and Legend'' (1913)


Kay Nielsen - 'St George and the Dragon' from ''Red Magic'' (1930)

This describes the common elements of the Hero’s 'Journey' but what of the changing face of the Hero?


In times of antiquity, the Hero was epitomized as the strong, brave, and clever man, usually a knight or

warrior. 'Hero' was definitely the domain of man which was in keeping with the cultural trend towards

holding a greater reverence and regard for men than women, who only up until recent times were still

classed as being goods and chattels. Additionally, a child might be a hero but only if he is a boy and

an especially clever one such as Jack from 'Jack and the Beanstalk'. However, modern history

storytelling shows a socially evolving concept of Hero.









To the left, we show a depiction of the heroic figure of

St George in 'St George and the Dragon' by Kay Nielsen

from his suite for ''Red Magic'' (1930).


A brief analysis of the portrayal of Heroes within popular movies of the West describes an interesting cultural shift towards a broader scope

or inclusion within the Hero profile.  Although each era is not discreet, the last six decades reveal a dramatically evolving trend as to who

can be a Hero:



in the 1940s he was a war Hero, typically of the higher military rank such as officer or captain;


in the 1950s the Hero was an underdog of war either still at the frontline or a social misfit unable to adjust to the social changes

that took place (including women entering the workforce during his absence at war);


in the 1960s, with the dust of war settling, the Hero was exemplified by the lethal secret agent who moved seamlessly through

the upper social class in order to foil super villain plots to destroy the world, such as James Bond;


in the 1970s the Hero merged into the super cool street smart and righteous operator on the fringe such as Shaft or Dirty Harry -

this was also the start of the tough female hero such as Ripley in "Alien" although it should be noted that women were still

typically 'spraining their ankles' for a few decades yet;


in the 1980s Heroes emerged from nerdy guys who were sweet and sensitive to the needs of women - think "Dead Poet’s Society"

or "Back to the Future";


in the 1990s the Hero had nominal social power but spoke with a social conscience aimed at rising up against the injustices of

the dominant paradigm, such as the whistle-blower in "The Insider "or Sister Helen in "Dead Man Walking"; and


the 2000s saw a great re-emergence of the Superhero (no doubt facilitated by advances in CGI in the moviemaking industry), who

was typically someone who was so great that he or she had to hide his or her special talents from the world with an alter identity,

such as "X-Men", "Iron Man", "Fantastic Four" and "Elektra" - that alter ego trend is mirrored in real life by the fantasy personas

that more and more people are taking up with their virtual reality lives facilitated by the internet and super-graphic computer games.


The culminative effect of this evolution is the possibility that almost anyone can be a Hero including the most unlikely of individuals: the

girl-child as portrayed in movies such as 'Hit-Girl' in "Kick Ass"; or, 'Hanna' in the movie "Hanna". If we look into the future, as illustrated by

modern movies, we see a post-apocalyptic wasteland populated by zombies and bands of marauding villains so maybe we all are being

groomed to be Heroes for hard times to come.


In our next Blog, we will discuss the nature of the female Hero archetype.




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Blog Archive


• Saturday, 30 July, 2011

• A Brief History of the Illustrated Book


• Friday, 22 July, 2011

• Masculinity and Femininity (Part 2)


• Saturday, 16 July, 2011

• Masculinity and Femininity (Part 1)


• Monday, 27 June, 2011

• Heroes (Part 3)


• Tuesday, 14 June, 2011

• Heroes (Part I)


• Friday, 7 June, 2011

• Archetypes


• Friday, 27 May, 2011

• Morality through Narrative


• Monday, 16 May, 2011

• "The Sea Battle" by Arthur Rackham

• and comparisons between Buccheim's

• variant and the description of Thor's

• battle with the Midgard Serpent in

• the original from the "Norse Edda of

• Snorri Sturluson"


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