The Female Hero

The Female Hero

Monday, November 7, 2016

The Monomyth: Key to all Mythologies

Because I teach literary criticism as well as science fiction and science fiction films, I noticed there were many literary analogues to Campbell's schema.  The diagrams below compare the three main phases of the hero's quest with Aristotle's description of the structure of tragedy in The Poetics as interpreted by Northrup Frye in his Anatomy of Criticism, with the process of individuation described by Jung, with the topography of Blake's poetic universe (as derived from Frye and Harold Bloom), and with the outline of the female hero's quest as described by Pearson and Pope in their The Female Hero in American and British Literature.  There are many other versions available; for instance, Jungian analyses of the greater arcana of the tarot deck outline a similar spiritual journey.

Versions of the Female Hero's Quest

This little chart shows some of the variations possible in the female quest.

Illustrated Charts of Male and Female Journeys (Old)

These two charts were made in the olden days, on a DOS-based computer system and so are scans of xeroxes, but they still provide pretty clear maps of the contrasting journies

Comparative Chart of Male and Female Hero

 Campbell's Hero                        Female Hero                  Aristotle & Frye


Innocent World
grey world;   imprisonment in domestic  enclosures
 Fall/ Peripetia

Call to Adventure
  --Refusal of Call
  --Preemptory  Answer
Call to the quest
--Refusal of Call
-- recognize guides as captors take on role of spiritual orphan

 Supernatural Aide
Supernatural Aide
   --No Weapon
    --No Mentor or flawed

Gathering of Companions
Maybe one-- not a group

Crossing the  Threshold
 --Threshold  Guardians
   -- Inn on the Borderlands
slay dragon of virginity myth

Belly  of the Whale
Green World

Road of Trials
Agon (struggle)
Pathos (suffering)

Brother Battle
--Failed Hero
 --Enemy's  Skin
Green World Lover

 Meeting With the Goddess
Light Man Vs. Dark Man

Temptation Away  from Quest
Re-entrapment in domestic enclosures

Abduction/ Night
 Sea Journey

Dragon Battle  (Rutual Death/  Dismemberment)
slay dragon of romantic love; discover qualities she needs are within her
Sparagmos (ritual death/dismemberment)

Atonement / Recognition by the Father
Failure of False Father

Anagnorisis (recognition of identity)

 (becoming a God)
A Woman is Her Own Mother

Ultimate Boon  Granted
Discovers that she has  qualities she needs inside herself

Refusal of Return
Denoument (resolution)

Magic Flight

Rescue from
Rescue by heroic mother

Crossing the
 Return Threshold

Master of Two
The New Family , Or
       A Community of One

Marriage/ party/ dance -- acceptance into new community

Freedom to Live
Rebirth of Creativity
         The World Transformed

  • Aristotle, Poetics
  • Campbell, Joseph, The Hero with a Thousand Faces
  • Frye, Northrop. The Anatomy of Criticism.
  • Pearson, Carol and Katherine Pope. The Female Hero in American and British Literature. New York: R.R. Bowler Co., 1981.

Female Hero Print and Explanation

"The Female Hero" Silkscreen on Blind Embossment, 2003

The Female Hero – the Print
E. K. Sparks

·      Diagram at the center of the print is from Joseph Campbell’s Hero with a Thousand Faces, the section called “The Keyes,”  pp. 245.

·      The quest begins in the upper left (about 11:00)  The figure here is from The Book of Thel by William Blake, a poem about a young woman who refuses the call to adulthood and chooses to stay instead in a haven of stultified innocence (which eventually will turn into Ulhro, Blake’s hell of solipsism) (Here's a link to an illustrated summary of the poem:

·      The next phase is Alice crossing the threshold into Wonderland, through the mirror

·      After the threshold has been crossed in the lower rt hand corner is a detail from Remedios Varo’s painting “Exploration of the Sources of the Orinoco River,” which depicts a woman journeying through a swamp in a boat made out of her own overcoat.

·      At the bottom of the circle, or the nadir of the quest is an image of a young girl asleep in the jaws of a dragon by a Swedish (?) illustrator whose name I can no longer remember.  This is a reference to a passage from Rilke in Letters to a Young Poet, where he asks:

How should we be able to forget those ancient myths about dragons that at the last moment turn into princesses; perhaps all the dragons of our lives are princesses who are only waiting to see us once beautiful and brave. Perhaps everything terrible is in its deepest being something helpless that wants help from us. "
It is also a reference to the lyrics of a song “Hills of Morning” by Bruce Cockburn on the album  “Dancing in the Dragon’s Jaws,” which for complicated reasons I believe references both Charles Williams and T.S. Eliot: 
And just beyond the range of normal sight
This glittering joker was dancing in the dragon's jaws

·       At about 5:00 on the circle is an image from The Wizard of Oz of Dorothy confronting the “False Father” figure of the Wizard (one of the notable differences btw the male and female quest is that typically the male hero receives recognition and atonement from the father --“Luke, you have saved me”—while the female hero finds out that the father figure is a fraud and imposter and she must either seek out her mother or become her own parent)
·      The image above that at the crossing of the return threshold is another I cannot recover.   Think it is Persephone or Psyche, returning from her quest, with arms full of fruit.    Ah, found it—Botticelli, from the Life of Moses in the Sistine Chapel – clearly not what I had thought, but still pastoral and fruitful.
·      The last image is off a greeting card, and again, I don’t know the artist—but it returns to the image of the dragon at the nadir, and for me is an image of wholeness, the woman now nurturing the dragon that once threatened her.