Joseph Campbell distilled “the hero’s journey” when analysing the great classic stories. It is the story of the hero who receives a call, and - after reflection - leaves his known world . Within his quest, his suffering on a physical and psychological level leads up to a solution for the danger that threatens his community. Transformational heroes are driven by ideals, an inner need, while transactional heroes prefer instrumental action and seek pragmatic solutions. Both types keep the dream alive that collective happiness can be installed. Because they possess admirable qualities, we - as audiences - want to emulate them.
The hero is archetypal and universal, but at the same time he has a thousand faces. For the classics the hero was a God-man or a king’s son. The hero has been democratized in the Enlightenment and deconstructed in postmodernity. He was replaced by the failing antihero, who translates the confusion and disappointment of the audience. But today, the hero has made his comeback. More and more popular narrative genres (science fiction, horror, rom-com) centre their story around the re-building of new societies or around the question of how to survive after a major mishap. Within more realistic contexts, however, that collective imagination seems to lead to heroizations that are infected with a moral ambivalence. Many academics are rather critical of the hero because of his prototypical manliness or as an exponent of a meritocratic worldview.
The dreams nor the desire are dead, and the need to mirror oneself in heroes is still strong, but the role and face of the contemporary hero itself has become thoroughly problematic. "Facing the hero" wants to explore which faces (personae) the hero has to put on in order to make an appeal to the present and future generations. To what extent can a critical approach of the concepts hero" and "hero’s journey" inspire young drama students and artists from other programs – through interdisciplinary research - in order to reflect and create?


  • Geert Kestens (project leader, KU Leuven/LUCA)
  • Benjamin Van Tourhout (NUNC)
  • Kris Cuppens (LUCA)
  • Geert Vandenbroele (LUCA)

Research unit: Music & Drama

Duration: 2015 - 2019