The Hero With a Thousand Faces

Beowulf, Joseph Campbell and the Hero Archetype 12th Grade

The foundation text of English literature, titled Beowulf (meaning “man wolf” when translated into the modern language), presents readers with a hero named Beowulf who fights three different battles, each with its own monster. Beowulf’s first battle awaits him when he travels to present day Denmark to save the Danes from a monster named Grendel that has been wreaking havoc on King Hrothgar’s men. Grendel’s defeat leads to Beowulf’s second battle with Grendel’s mother, who avenges the death of her son. Once Beowulf saves the Danes from the monsters they faced, Beowulf returns home to rule his land until he meets his death in a battle with a dragon, signifying the monster that overcame him. Although Beowulf’s success in battle with his literal monsters would name him a hero in almost any circumstance, Beowulf’s life and the situations that led him to battle fall into place with the same ideals that name him a classic hero under Campbell’s hero archetype, where the hero must have a reason for departure, initiation through his defeat of an enemy, and a return from his journey. Beowulf’s journey of life, which was a battle until his death, relates to humans in the sense that although Beowulf’s monsters were real creatures, every...

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