Friday, January 28, 2011

Spiderman and the Monomyth

The MONOMYTH is, as we have discussed, a narrative template of unusual power and resonance. The idea, which is clearly an ancient one, received its first modern scholarly study in Joseph Campbell's 1949 book, The Hero with a Thousand Faces (Campbell borrowed the term from Joyce's Finnegans Wake).

You can find more information about Campbell's ideas, and my adaptation of them, by clicking here.

In class yesterday the question was raised: is the SPIDERMAN legend (specifically as we see it in the SPIDERMAN films) a Monomyth? Put another way: is Spiderman a Monomyth hero?

Bear in mind that this question grew out of a previous one: can the 'faithful sidekick' turn into the 'adversary' in a Monomyth narrative?



  1. Spiderman is definitely has some aspects of being a monomyth. For example, he is a male on the brink of manhood and just starting to make his mark in society. He has a wise counselor, his late uncle Ben, who gave him the words "With great power comes great responsibility" which can serve to be the talisman because of how powerful those really are. Also, his uncle Ben does fit the description of being an older man who makes a cameo appearance, preventing him from surpassing the hero. Spiderman's faithful sidekick is his aunt who sticks with him through thick and thin and even when he has problems with his power. It is because of her that he finds the will to get himself back together. His katabasis is in the third movie when he descends into the power of Venom and becomes 'evil' for a while, he descends into his own psychological darkness and evil nature, but eventually returns a changed man as he discovers the truth behind the murder of his wise counselor, the uncle. His reward or victory is in the form of Mary Jane, the woman he loves and eventually comes back to him in the end. His "impossible" task is keeping the city safe from criminals like the Green Goblin, the Octo guy, the Sandman, and Venom, and every other villan that Spiderman comes across. He has an adversary in the form of the villans and his own psychological darkness which he does overcome. Trebling does occur in the third movie with the three heroes. Peter as Spiderman, his friend as the 'good' Green goblin in the end, and the reporter who is trying to get his girlfriend back and his life back together, and does so by using the power becoming Venom gives him. Peter succeeds in this task, his friend does to an extent, but the reporter fails in his battle. Also, the last part of the monomyth criteria is identification. Any high school student that is classified as 'nerdy' would agree that being bullied was a major part of their high school experience and would look for a way to escape that stigma as Peter does in the movie.

  2. The legend of Spiderman possesses quite a few of the qualities of the monomyth story. Yet, I feel that there are a few aspects that are lacking or not entirely there. While Spiderman is a hero, the journey he undertakes is a bit unclear. Is it saving the city from the bad guys? Or could it be the struggle he has trying to balance his normal life with his superhero one? Maybe he has multiple smaller journey's as opposed to one large one such as Odysseus has in the Odyssey? Because his journey is unclear, that makes his ultimate "impossible task" murky as well. I do think that his Uncle serves as a good wise counselor and his aunt as his faithful sidekick. The exact talisman Spiderman is given is also up for debate. It could very well be the famous words from the story, "with great power there must also come great responsibility" but how he uses this to vanquish his ultimate adversary and complete his "impossible task" is also unclear. Spiderman faces many villains or adversaries throughout his career, but I think Venom stands out from the crowd as number one and if his story is a monomyth, probably the best choice. His katabasis could very well be his stint with the power of Venom, but I see that as more of overcoming his personal flaws than a symbolic death of his character. Just as Spiderman has many journey's, he also has many victories. Hence, the exact journey, task and reward are still unclear. I think many people can identify with Spiderman, especially since the story revolves around a troubled high school kid. Splintering could explain the lack of one major journey, reward and so on, but that seems a bit drastic for a monomyth tale. Overall, I believe Spiderman could be a monomyth hero depending on how strict you are with the rules one must follow to be labelled as such.