The Role of Landscape in the Hero’s Journey Myth

Page 5 of The Mythic Roots of Western Culture’s Alienation from Nature. Adams and Belasco. Tapestry Institute Occasional Papers, Volume 1, Number 3. July, 2015. Outline / List of Headings available here.

The Role of Landscape in the Hero’s Journey Myth

Academic Jungian myth analysts define the Hero’s Journey Myth as an outward manifestation or expression of an inner and psychological journey of self-actualization. This point is vital to understanding how Western culture’s mythic view of nature impacts its actual relationship with nature.

Jung differentiated “his theory from Freud’s by asserting that there are fantasies and dreams of an ‘impersonal’ nature that cannot be reduced to experiences in a person’s past. Jung then asserts that the similarities among myths are the result of the projection of the collective rather than the personal unconscious onto the external world. Finally, he comes to the conclusion that myth originates and functions to satisfy the psychological need for contact with the unconscious – not merely to announce the existence of the unconscious, but to let us experience it.” (20) While some people actually engage in real-life actions where they brave physical dangers, travel long distances under challenging circumstances, and found a new religion, a new city, or a new way of life — Campbell calls these “legendary” Heroes — the point of understanding myth in the Jungian system is that it empowers ordinary people to engage in a more metaphorical quest for their own authentic and actualized lives (21).

Western scholars see the Hero’s Journey Myth as universal rather than gender-specific or culture-specific because they see it as a projection of the human mind biologically common to all people. Jungian Myth analyst Sam Keen usually applies this idea in writings geared towards men: “The great mono-myth of ‘the hero with a thousand faces,’ about which Joseph Campbell wrote, converts the process by which we break out of the constraints of mind and spirit imposed upon us by our society and become self-transcending persons into a dramatic narrative of a literal quest in the external world. . . We are travelers on a journey to an unknown destination. Some longing, some missing fulfillment, keeps us searching for a holy grail that is hidden just beyond the mist.” (22) Clarissa Pinkola Estes applies the Jungian understanding of Myth similarly to women: “My life and work as a Jungian psychoanalyst, poet, and cantadora, keeper of the old stories, have taught me that women’s flagging vitality can be restored by extensive ‘psychic-archeological’ digs into the ruins of the female underworld. By these methods we are able to recover the ways of the natural instinctive psyche. . .” (23) The assumption of cultural universality is even stronger than that of gender-commonality. Campbell’s book The Hero With A Thousand Faces (ref. 16) uses the Jungian Hero’s Journey Myth to analyze stories from a variety of cultures around the world and show that the Hero’s life and story are the same everywhere.

In the Jungian view of Myth, the desert shown in the opening scenes of Lawrence of Arabia is therefore less important to the story as an actual, ecological desert than it is as a symbolic desert through which the Hero must journey to find himself. So although T. E. Lawrence was a historical figure, and the film (and the memoire on which it’s based) depict events that really took place in some form, in the Western view of myth all that is of secondary importance. What matters is the symbolic or metaphoric ways in which Lawrence’s story allows viewers who are “longing, . . . missing fulfillment, . . . searching for a holy grail that is hidden just beyond the mist” (Keen) to vicariously come along for the ride. The real desert through which that ride is taken becomes the metaphorical “world of fire, of original experience” (Campbell) that gives the Hero the chance to “break out of the constraints of mind and spirit imposed upon us by our society” (Keen).

Film-makers who are members of the dominant culture produce movies within the Western cultural worldview of Myth, and many consciously construct movies around specific myths such as the Hero’s Journey (24). They also study successful films to discover the myths within their structures that engaged viewers’ unconscious minds in a powerful and psychologically meaningful way (25). Even documentaries are designed so their structures engage viewers as participants in Mythic story (26). The story being told, regardless of its factual reality, is seen as successful when it metaphorically engages the viewer’s own life and the things happening there.

Campbell’s choice of words for the mythic landscape of challenge in the Hero’s Journey Myth is extremely significant. He calls it “the dark forest . . . the world of fire.” Campbell did not come up with these landscapes by chance or conscious choice, either one. The second of the two – the world of fire – is the “burning, fiery furnace” desert we saw in both Lawrence of Arabia and Silverado. In the Jungian view of Myth, both the dark forest and fiery desert landscapes Campbell specifies as integral parts of the Hero’s Journey come straight out of the collective unconscious. They are therefore archetypes. Because these two landscapes are archetypes, they express a Mythic view of nature itself in Western culture. We are calling that mythic view of nature common to people of Western culture the Dark Forest, Fiery Desert Myth.

This myth is separate from, but overlaps with, the Hero’s Journey Myth. We’ll finish exploring the “fiery desert” first by seeing how the archetype is displayed in Lawrence of Arabia and Silverado. Then we’ll explore Western culture’s mythic representations of the “dark forest” in stories from other sources. And finally we will use the information from these analyses to identify and articulate the key elements of the Dark Forest, Fiery Desert Myth. This is the Cultural Myth that underlies Western culture’s Idyllic and Ruthless views of nature, and the four major motifs of human-nature relationship within those: Best Friends, Animals Only/Pristine Wilderness, Fear, and Master (Figure 1).

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References, Notes, and Credits
The Role of Landscape in the Hero’s Journey Myth

20. Robert A. Segal. 1998. Jung on Mythology. Princeton University Press, Princeton. Quote is from the introduction, available online at Accessed June 25, 2015.

21. Joseph Campbell and Bill Moyer. 1988. The Power of Myth. Doubleday, New York. p. 138.

22. Sam Keen. 1992. Fire in the Belly: On Being a Man. Bantam Books, New York. 288 pages. Quote is from Sam Keen. 2013. “The Questing Mind: Opening Up to New Possibilities.” Omega. (Omega Institute for Holistic Studies Website) Available online at Accessed June 25, 2015.

23. Clarissa Pinkola Estes. 1992. Women Who Run With the Wolves: Myths and Stories of the Wild Woman Archetype. Ballantine Books, New York.

24. Pen Densham, pers. comm., 2000. Oscar Nominated writer-producer-director and founding partner, Trilogy Entertainment Group.

25. Stuart Voytilla. 1999. Myth and the Movies: Discovering the Myth Structure of 50 Unforgettable Films. Michael Wiese Productions. See also Christopher Vogler. 2007. The Writers Journey: Mythic Structure for Writers, 3rd Edition. Michael Wiese Productions.

26. Sally Dundas, pers. comm., 2001. Oscar Nominated documentary film producer.