The hero journey as theorised by Joseph Campbell in 1949 in The Hero With A Thousand Faces (reprinted 1993) has informed and influenced mainstream storytelling for more than half a century. In Campbell’s work, it is argued that the mythologies of the world all share essential features, and could therefore be seen as analogues of what Campbell terms a ‘monomyth’, a single, identifiable story that unites and defines disparate myths from around the world, illustrating to readers the form of the journey on which they themselves must embark to reach self-actualisation in their own lives. This notion of the monomyth is problematic, however, as Campbell’s theory and model have often been criticised for not being as universal as he imagined.
This study applies Campbell’s model and theories to show the manner in which Rick Riordan’s Percy Jackson and the Olympians saga, a re-imagining of the classical Greek myths, aimed primarily at adolescent readers of fiction, constitutes an example of the hero journey as Campbell describes it. Moreover, acknowledging the criticisms levelled against Campbell in the years since the publication of his seminal study, the study also argues that Riordan, aware both of Campbell’s hero journey theory and its shortcomings, skilfully first conforms to and then subverts the expectations and implications of the hero journey theory throughout his saga.
Riordan’s adherence to the hero journey formula is explored with reference to The Lightning Thief (2005), the first novel in the saga. Thereafter, the rest of the novels in the series are considered both collectively and individually to explore the ways in which Riordan’s titular character challenges patriarchal assumptions about the hero journey, heroism itself and what constitutes heroic responsibility, particularly with regard to a gendered coming of age. The study also explores feminist challenges to Campbell’s study, comparing and contrasting Campbell’s model to the second-wave feminist version of the hero journey described in The Female Hero in American and British Literature (1981) by Carol Pearson and Katherine Pope.
The study thus shows how Riordan creates characters who encounter an entirely different range of experiences and outcomes to those outlined by Campbell, thereby suggesting a possible model which is more inclusive of adolescents who do not conform to Campbell’s prescriptive mode of representation. The hero journey itself, then, is arguably revised by Riordan to become a more efficacious means of reaching this particular audience.
Finally, through an exploration of adaptation and appropriation theory, the Percy Jackson saga is interrogated to illustrate how Riordan’s conscious changes to character and focalisation challenge and deconstruct Campbell’s original model, which is representative of much mainstream storytelling’s patriarchal assumptions, to make it more relevant and closer to the frame of reference of contemporary readers. The conclusion of this study suggests that what Campbell (based on the theories of Carl Jung) believed to be the essential power of myth can be reawakened for a modern audience by Riordan’s flexible re-workings of Greek myth. It is suggested that Riordan’s retelling makes both the hero journey and mythology relevant to modern readers.