I'm curious as to whether or not there was one story seen as the 'first' example of the Hero's Journey.

Most Googling returns academic theory (Campbell's steps) rather than examples. But I'm curious if there are any early stories from either East or West culture that contain the basic story structure and laid the foundations for later examples.

We could cite the story of Krishna (and later the story of Christ) for examples of death/resurrection or later Lord of the Rings for a very typical journey structure, but I'm wondering if there are any examples that were popular/influential in making the structure end up being repeated so often? (e.g. as the damsel in distress trope was popularised in part by King Kong, and Star Wars took existing character archetypes and put them into forms repeated in other media)

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    Your assertion that "Star Wars codified character archetypes into repeatable trends" is incorrect. Lucas used already existing archetypes to write a story which was so universal. The entire point of Campbell's book Hero with a Thousand Faces was that these steps and archetypes date back as far as people have told stories. The monomyth in and of itself may not be universal, but many varying bits and pieces appear across cultures. Commented Nov 26, 2017 at 22:00
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    @LaurenIpsum By 'codified' I meant Lucas put it in a popular form that has been copied, not that he created it (poor word choice on my part). Possibly this question is too broad for a single answer?
    – peanut
    Commented Nov 26, 2017 at 22:06
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    No, Lucas did not. What is being copied is Campbell's codification, that is where the academic work was done, including stories from five and as much as ten thousand years ago, and it is what Lucas used. A copy of Lucas is a copy of a copy of Campbell, it is not fair to give Lucas credit for something he did not do. He simply created another story from Campbell's template, he did NOT create a new template.
    – Amadeus
    Commented Nov 26, 2017 at 23:25
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    It was Christopher Vogler that codified the Hero's Journey for Hollywood, not George Lucas. en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Christopher_Vogler Star Wars was the great exemplar of the method, but it was Vogler who introduced the method.
    – user16226
    Commented Nov 26, 2017 at 23:47
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    The Hero's Journey being such an old structure, you might try just looking for the oldest known stories of mankind and see which fits the narrative. Maybe start out with the Epic of Gilgamesh.
    – Pahlavan
    Commented Nov 27, 2017 at 7:05

1 Answer 1


That first story is long lost in the mists of time. Indeed, it could reasonably argued that it is the first and universal story. In a very real sense, this is the story written in the human heart, and the art of the storyteller is not creating this story but discovering and serving the need that exists in our natures.

There is far far too much emphasis on originality today. This is ironic given that we live in an age in which it seems that every vein of art has been so thoroughly explored that there is really nothing new left to invent, discover, or exploit. But perhaps that is why we are so concerned with originality.

If we regard art as a response to a fundamental need of the human heart, however, we realize that originality is bosh. There is no part of the human heart that remains to be explored by artists, no new ground to be exploited. The value of art lies not in its originality, but in its poignancy, its pointedness, and its ability to feed the universals of the human heart in the guise of particular modern sensibilities.

I hate to come back to the same examples, but in the interests of illustrating the point with a universal reference point, Harry Potter is a hugely derivative work. (If you did not grow up in the tradition of classic English children's literature you might not recognize all of its derivations, but if you have, they are plain as day.) But it's being derivative is not a complaint against it. (I have other complaints, but they are not germane to the point here.) What virtues it has, which account for its enormous popularity, lie in interpreting ancient tropes for modern readers.

In short, we are not in the telling business, but in the retelling business. Our job is not to break new ground, but to make ancient ground accessible to modern audiences, to tell again the ancient tales for modern ears.

The hero's journey is the story. The only story. It is told a million times. Our job is to tell it again.

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