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“The Hero With a Thousand Faces” by Joseph Campbell

A hero strikes one as an individual whose personal attributes elicit admiration both before and after their death. Mythology presents a hero as one with great strength and courage, one who is widely celebrated for bold exploits. Making such a unique character entails a process as Joseph has explained in his book The Hero with a Thousand Faces. His book has summarized the fundamental structures shared by a majority of myths that have been in circulation for years. The outline contains an acknowledgment of the fact that all storytelling, whether done consciously or not, in part follows the ancient patterns of myth, which may be in form of jokes, children’s literature, or even novels (Vogler 352).

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The stories may not encompass all stages outlined by Campbell, but most fall in one or more of those stages. The book has influenced the professional lives of artists such as musicians, poets, and filmmakers in the contemporary world, forming a basis for their storylines. While following the steps, one has to do it prudently to avoid attracting attention to the structure itself, thus avoiding excessive predictability (Spiritual Emergency par 3).

The twelve stages involve the hero starting in an ordinary world, followed by a call to adventure, which is the unusual world. If the hero accepts to join the adventure, he faces challenges and probably gains help along the way. Survival of the hero at this stage may earn him a gift-‘boon’, after which he decides to return home with his gain. He again comes across challenges on the return journey and in case he achieves this successfully; the gift is utilized to improve his world. These stages can be reduced to three major phases being: departure, which is the separation from the ordinary world to adventure. Second is the initiation phase which entails the hero’s adventures in the alien world, and lastly the return, which entails the hero’s return to his home, having earned vital knowledge or powers in the course of the journey.

The monomyth of the hero’s journey in The Hero with a Thousand Faces, puts more emphasis on the masculine journey, although not entirely as exhibited in the princess of the Grimm’s, ‘ The Frog Prince’ and Inanna’s Descent into the Underworld (Campbell 23).

This paper seeks to discuss how the stages outlined in ‘The Hero with a Thousand Faces’ are utilized in the film ‘Finding Nemo’.

Finding Nemo is an American computer animated movie written by Andrew Stanton and produced by Pixar Animation Studios for Walt Disney pictures. The movie hit the market in 2003, even though its preproduction had been done in 1997. It has a record for being the highest sold out in the opening weekend for an animated feature.

In a recap, the movie revolves around the life of ‘fish’, a neurotic Marlin who is overprotective towards his son Nemo. At school, Nemo’s friends have teased him of his father’s over-protective attitude towards him. Nemo goes out to prove to his friends that he can swim without his father’s aid. He is however captured by a scuba diver and his widowed father, Marlin, has to trace him with the help of Dory a fish experiencing a short-term memory loss. They both set off to Sydney, Australia, and everyone else in the oceans is willing to help them in whatever way, as news of their search has spread rapidly. In the meantime, Nemo is taken to a fish tank by the diver who happens to be a dentist. The other fish in the tank learn that Nemo is to be given to the dentist’s niece Darla, who is known to kill her pets. They try to devise ways for Nemo’s escape, where they even soil the tank with the hope that they would be taken out of the tank to facilitate the escape. The dentist however installs a high-tech cleaning filter while the fish are asleep rendering their efforts futile.

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In the meantime, Marlin and Dory have arrived in Sydney and are taken by a friendly penguin, Nigel to the dentist’s office, just as he is about to give Nemo to Darla. Nemo pretends to be dead, something that his father Marlin assumes to be true, and causes commotion in the dentist’s office. This state of tumult buys time for Nemo. Gill, the leader of the tank fish helps Nemo to escape through a drain.

Meanwhile, Dory and Marlin separates when they get back to the sea. Dory then meets Nemo and though experiencing some memory lapses, she remembers what Marlin’s objective was, and guides Nemo back to his father. In the end, they are reunited although Dory is later caught along with a group of friends in a fishing net. Nemo helps them out using a trick taught by Gill and other fish in the tank. The three go home with Marlin less protective towards his son, more so because he is now aware of his son’s abilities. He is also praised by the fish community, for being an outstanding father. Nemo’s adventures are a delight to the other children and they are now more receptive of his personality (Rotten Tomatoes 1).

The first step of the hero journey is being present in the ordinary world. Others will put it as birth. Special circumstances in the hero’s life at conception, birth or their childhood define their pedigree which greatly makes up their monomyth cycle. In the ordinary world, the hero lives within his normal surroundings which later provides a basis for contrast when he or she goes to the alien world. In the film Finding Nemo, we will consider the heroes as both Nemo and Marlin. The first thirty minutes present Marlin in an ocean which is his ordinary world. He loses his wife and a number of their other eggs after an attack by a shark. The one egg that survives makes him so protective of it in a bid to honor his mate’s wish of taking good care of their only son.

Nemo, on the other hand, is born to a single father who is overly protective. This information is spread to his school mates who make fun of his circumstances, and Nemo is determined to prove them wrong. The ordinary environment of the heroes is that of an ocean, consisting of dangers to be overcome. This however, does not hinder Nemo’s zeal to show his capability in swimming and independence.

The second outlined stage is the call to adventure which again is depicted in the lives of Nemo and Marlin. The heroes are presented with a challenge, adventure or a problem. They may choose to join the adventure willingly or reluctantly. Similarly, they may choose to tackle a problem or challenge because they have an obligation to do so. Marlin goes through the trouble of rescuing Nemo but the latter is blown back into the boat by the divers. Marlin has no option but to follow after his son. Nemo on the other hand ventures into unsafe waters willingly, to simply prove his friends wrong. His adventure starts with the divers’ trap, something he was not prepared for. These two stages encompass the departure, under which we meet the heroes’ ordinary world and their invitation to adventure.

Third, hero Marlin meets the wise woman/man. The special helper is meant to give the hero power, maybe through a protective amulet or weapon for the journey. A mentor is introduced who perhaps disappears at some time. Finding Nemo has Dory as this special woman. She brings encouragement to Marlin and offers to swim along with him. Though she experiences memory loss, her reading ability is invaluable. She also plays a vital role in the return journey where she leads Nemo back home after she is separated from Marlin.

The fourth exemplified stage is meeting with helpers, enemies and tests alike. In the new world, the hero is forced to make friends and enemies who define how successful he is going to be in the tests that might follow. Marlin meets Bruce who is in a group of recovering fish eaters. He however reverts to his old ways and Marlin and Dory have to run for their lives. They again have to run away from an angler fish who also threatens to eat them. They meet a friendly moonfish who directs them to Sydney, when they are lost, and have to evade some deadly jellyfish. Marlin finally meets a resourceful pelican, Nigel who leads him to the dentist’s office.

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Nemo also meets good friends in the aquarium who are willing to help him escape. Gill is one of them, and he eventually leads him out. As for tests, Nemo almost dies while trying to disable the water filter in the tank. His live was also threatened by Darla. The last two steps entail the initiation stages that lead to them to obtaining their goal.

Fifth is the resurrection phase. Heroes in this stage come off their ordeals transformed by what they have gone through. Marlin, having been an overly protective father meets Crush who gives his children freedom to do what they wish, an opportunity to learn from their mistakes. He also learns the essence of trusting those willing to help other than being cynical of their motives. Nemo learns how to break traps from the tank fish, and ultimately becomes independent.

Last but not least is the return with the elixir. Heroes here come back to their ordinary world with some treasure or boon without which their adventure would have been wasteful. It may be knowledge, love or a treasure itself, which differentiate him from his initial personality. Marlin has learnt his lesson; he lets Nemo free having recognized his abilities. Nemo has acquired the most valuable of lessons. He comfortably saves Dory and the other fish trapped in the fishing net, an antic he learnt from Gill while in the tank.

In conclusion, the films we have today are only an upgrade of the steps outlined by Campbell, a way of story telling and more particularly story making. The outline is so flexible; it can be applied by all genres in all classes, and yet entertain and educate.

Works Cited

Campbell, Joseph. “The Hero with a Thousand Faces.” Novato: New World Library. 2008. Print.

Rotten Tomatoes. “Finding Nemo (2003)”. Web.

Spiritual Emergency. “The hero with a Thousand Faces”. 2010. Web.

Vogler, Christopher.”The writer’s journey: Mythic structure for writers” Studio city: Michael Wiese Productions.1998. Print.

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StudyCorgi. (2021, November 25). “The Hero With a Thousand Faces” by Joseph Campbell. Retrieved from https://studycorgi.com/the-hero-with-a-thousand-faces-by-joseph-campbell/

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StudyCorgi. (2021, November 25). “The Hero With a Thousand Faces” by Joseph Campbell. https://studycorgi.com/the-hero-with-a-thousand-faces-by-joseph-campbell/

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1. StudyCorgi. "“The Hero With a Thousand Faces” by Joseph Campbell." November 25, 2021. https://studycorgi.com/the-hero-with-a-thousand-faces-by-joseph-campbell/.


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