By now, everyone and their pet Rancor knows that George Lucas officially stated that he intentionally based Star Wars on Joseph Campbell's concept of "The Hero's Journey" from his seminal "The Hero with a Thousand Faces".

Obviously, plenty of SFF works consciously or unconsciously followed this model (there's a reason Campbell described the archetype), and just as obviously, plenty do NOT follow it.

What I'd like to know is, who was the first SFF author who explicitly stated that their work did NOT follow Campbell's Hero's Journey model for a specific reason (not simply "because that's not how I write" or "because this story is not THAT kind of story", but an actual specific reason to reject the model in a work where it could plausibly have been used).

I'm only interested in work created after Campbell published his book (or for a bonus round, after Lucas publicly referenced the book vis á vis Star Wars), and those where the creator specifically explicitly talked about his decision to avoid using the Hero's Journey model - using the HwaTF or Campbell by name - and stated the reason to do so.

  • @Richard - if the story is meant to deconstruct things in a way that protagonist becomes a villain as a central point of it, I would strongly posit that it does NOT fit the "could plausibly have been used" criteria. But I wouldn't necessarily reject such an answer outright. What I'm after is mainly the creator saying "I changed things up from HJ model because $reasons" Jan 1, 2016 at 2:15
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    Why is this being DVed? Is it because of ignorance or spite? It's a valid question! Jan 1, 2016 at 6:45
  • @deer I know the answer to that q too ;) Jan 1, 2016 at 7:46
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    A lot of writers have written stories that run counter to or outright mock the standard "Heroes Journey" archetype - Harlan Ellison, James Tiptree, Ursula Le Guin, many others - but I don't don't if they've ever explicitly stated that was their intent.
    – Joe L.
    Jan 1, 2016 at 8:25

2 Answers 2


Michael Moorcock's Elric Saga was a direct refutation of the Hero's Journey as stated by Moorcock himself. Moorcock had grown tired of watching the traditional hero's journey (in the form of the popular barbarian heroes, of whom Conan typified at the time) and wanted to tell a story the exact opposite of those tales.

  • In the typical hero's journey, the hero starts poor, is usually unwilling to go out into the world, is challenged, grows more powerful and eventually returns home to either rule the land or meditate on his explorations in the world wiser for the experience.

  • In his Prince Elric saga, Moorcock deliberately subverts the trope by having Elric start off as the Emperor of a tiny but powerful nation which has, up until Elric takes the throne, effectively ruled the world for ten thousand years.

  • Rather than fearing magic, Elric is arguably one of the greatest sorcerers to have ever lived. He has pacts with numerous gods and god-like beings on speed dial.

  • Instead of having incredible strength and vitality, Elric is an albino, pale and weak. He is only able to move about with the help of herbal supplements he creates using his magical and alchemical knowledge. Did I mention he was also a genius?

  • Where most barbarian heroes used any sword in a storm, Elric was bound to a terrible soul-destroying weapon named Stormbringer. As it consumed souls it lent its power to Elric making him stronger, more powerful and bloodthirsty.

Over the course of the novel series, Elric would be driven from his home, wander the Young Kingdoms, become embroiled in a scheme to sack his home, destroying it to prevent his cousin from ruling in his stead. Satisfied with the destruction of his homeland, he sought nothing but peace and to be left alone. This does not happen and in the end, Elric does not redeem his world, his home, his family or himself. He instead destroys everything he holds dear.

Moorcock evinced his displeasure with the fantasy genre during this series of books and Elric was his favorite foil by which to jab at the characterizations of fantasy heroes as they were being depicted at the time. Many of Moorcock's creations had similar themes and indeed, most of the Eternal Champions of whom Elric was a signature member of all had lifestyles which tended to run counter to the standard hero's journey as outlined by Campbell's work.

  • Nice answer, but can you find a quote by Moorcock where he talks about wanting to reject the hero's journey? Was he specifically aware of Campbell's version of it or did he just notice the similarities in heroic narratives independently and want to subvert them?
    – Hypnosifl
    Apr 17, 2016 at 0:48
  • very nice example! Moorcock mentioned this in many interviews and in several essays. anyone can be an example
    – SteveED
    Jun 11, 2016 at 3:40

Someone has mentioned Michael Moorcock in the comments, and he's usually a good source of anti-tropes. Moorcock wrote a novel called The Golden Barge as a teenager in 1958.

Ironically, a refutation to the Hero's Journey is probably going to be a Hero's Journey ...of a sort, where things don't work out precisely as planned. The Golden Barge fits the bill -- Jephraim Tallow goes off on a quest that peters out after it gets lost in digressions and becomes increasingly irrelevant.

Moorcock's comments in the preface when this novel was finally published in 1980 do sound like the refutation you are looking for. But that may have represented his 1980 attitude than his 1958 one.

But I think we could go further back to the Source of the Nile in this instance -- Mervyn Peake, whom Moorcock claimed was his teenage inspiration. No declarations, but between Steerpike and Titus Groan the Gormenghast cycle has more than its fair share of non-heroes' un-journeys.

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