The Hero with a Thousand Faces was first published in 1949. With it, author Joseph Campbell established the monomyth, a theory that all heroic stories followed a single and common narrative. Some people consider it to be the most influential book of the 20th century. Surely George Lucas would agree.
Campbell was a smart guy who devoted his life to studying literature and world mythology. But his treatise on the hero’s journey had one conspicuous flaw. It never acknowledged a woman’s unique monomyth.
“Women don’t need to make the journey,” he infamously said at one point. “In every mythology, the woman is already there. All she has to do is to realize that she’s the place that people are trying to get to.”
In other words: sit tight, ladies. Your hero will return to the hearthfire when he’s done squashing Grendel (Beowulf) and the Galactic Empire (Luke Skywalker).
Sadly, it’s true. The list of female action heroines who are at the center of their worlds and carry the largest burden of agency throughout their narrative is pretty short.
We can’t blame Campbell for this, of course. But we can blame him for the idea that “women don’t need to make the journey.” The belief that female stories do not matter has led to the disempowerment of women as a social group.
The female voice is horrendously absent or muted in the most influential forms of global cultural expression. Think about it. If women’s stories don’t matter, how easy is it to conclude their dignity and even their lives are equally irrelevant?
That’s the argument made by Satine Phoenix and R.K. Syrus, the authors of The Action Heroine’s Journey. Part writing manual and part feminist dialectic, Phoenix and Syrus (with the help of Christopher Vogler) revisit Campbell’s 17-step hero’s journey and whittles it down to 12 basic elements that are specific to the female monomyth.
The guide takes writers from the heroine’s initial awakening (her call to adventure) to her hierarchy of needs and to her ultimate “boss fight.” It ends when the action heroine builds her sheltering love.
Throughout the process, the authors compare and contrast the heroine’s journey to the hero’s journey. They’re careful not to negate Campbell’s initial theories, but they vigorously argue for the action heroine’s place in mythic storytelling. “Action heroines have it the same, but different,” they conclude.
Says Phoenix: “Like Ellen Ripley (Alien), Katniss Everdeen (The Hunger Games), Buffy Summers (Buffy the Vampire Slayer), and Sarah Connor (The Terminator), our champions will have many identities and guises. She will have 1001 faces, and that is how we will recognize her each time she appears to us.”
[The Action Heroine’s Journey / By Satine Phoenix and R.K. Syrus / First Printing: June 2016 / ISBN: 9781910890035]