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Obviously, many stories told fit "A Hero's Journey" - that's the whole point of it.

George Lucas was famous for explicitly making the Star Wars story based on Campbell's checklist and acknowledging that fact.

What was the first work of literature (that wasn't a Star Wars script :) which explicitly used Campbell's "A Hero's Journey" as a checklist, as acknowledged by the creator?

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  • Related: Why is the hero's journey so ubiquitous across cultures (spoiler: it's not).
    – user111
    Jan 23, 2017 at 0:05
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    The Star Wars script was already years into composition before Lucas read Campbell. The hero's journey influenced the final drafts and structure, but Lucas's later claims to have begun the script with Campbell in mind are exaggeration, contradicted by the timeline and his own other claims.
    – BESW
    Jan 23, 2017 at 0:15
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    @BESW - next thing you'll tell me that 9 episodes and Midichlorians and Vader being Luke's dad weren't there from the start :(
    – DVK
    Jan 23, 2017 at 0:40
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    For those who don't understand DVK's comment about Lucas's various contradictory statements, see scifi.stackexchange.com/a/17964/4918 "Weren't there originally going to be nine Star Wars films?"
    – b_jonas
    Jan 23, 2017 at 18:17
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    Please provide the "checklist", so that those not familiar with Campbell can better understand the question. It would be interesting if an author wrote about using Campbell's analysis as a checklist. Chuck Palahniuk's early novels were, according to lore, said to be be based entirely on a formula taught by Tom Spanbauer. (When I lived in Portland, OR, the specific workshop was being promoted with that claim.)
    – DukeZhou
    Feb 25, 2017 at 23:34

1 Answer 1

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Giles Goat-Boy, which was published in 1966, by John Barth is an early example, though perhaps not the earliest, of a novel that consciously uses the Hero's Journey as a structuring principle.

In his essay, "Mystery and Tragedy: The Twin Forces of Ritual Heroism", Barth remarks how he studied comparative mythologists Otto Rank and Joseph Campbell, after a reviewer suggested that his novel, The Sot-Weed Factor was a "parodic implementation" of Lord Raglan's "Wandering Hero Myth." Barth read Rank's Myth of the Birth of the Ritual Hero and Campbell's The Hero with a Thousand Faces in preparation for his novel, Giles Goat-Boy (Clavier 166).

Giles Goat-Boy features a miraculous birth (George Giles is a boy raised as a goat). He has some revelations about the truth of his birth, which is his call to adventure, and he faces many trials on his way to New Tammany College.

Even earlier perhaps, relative to The Hero with a Thousand Face's 1949 publication date, is William Gaddis's The Recognitions from 1955, which, in the introduction to the Dalkey Archive edition, William Gass compares its structure to the Hero's Journey, monomyth, or urmyth. Though, I cannot find an explicit reference that Gaddis has made regarding consciously using the Hero's Journey to structure his novel, he did read James George Frazier's The Golden Bough during the composition of The Recognitions, which is known to have been influential on Joseph Campbell as well.

Critic, Steven Moore also makes a similar argument to Gass's about The Recognition's monomythic structuring in the foreword to his reader's guide to the novel, but I do not have the source available at the moment.

The case for Giles Goat-Boy's indebtedness to the Hero's Journey is stronger than The Recognition's, but there may be an even earlier text that more explicitly references the Hero's Journey that I am unaware of.

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  • Dune (1965) also follows the Hero's Journey remarkably closely, but I can't find any evidence that Frank Herbert was consciously using Joseph Campbell's work for plot structuring. If I can find a citation for that, then Dune would bump Giles Goat-Boy by a year for earliest.
    – osterzone
    Feb 24, 2022 at 0:58

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