Guardians of the Galaxy and the Hero’s Journey

I’ve written a little bit about Joseph Campbell’s monomyth, the Hero’s Journey, before on this blog (here and here). While I’ve never read Campbell himself, I’ve read plenty of articles on the results of his study, and I recently noticed an interesting quirk the Guardians of the Galaxy had in regard to the Hero’s Journey. I just wanted to write something up and see if anyone else noticed this, or if I’m totally off the mark.

Before I jump into GuaGuardian's of the Galaxy and the Hero's Journeyrdians, though, if you’ve never heard of either Campbell or the Hero’s Journey, here’s a brief summary.

Historian Joseph Campbell did a survey of the mythology of all sorts of different cultures. He looked at the stories they told and the themes and archetypes that popped up in all of them. He recorded his findings in his book, “The Hero With A Thousand Faces.” In essence, what he found, was the Hero’s Journey.

The Hero’s Journey is a story archetype that emerges in all sorts of different cultures and mythologies. The best explanation I can give would be: think Star Wars, Episode IV, “A New Hope.” That plot is the Hero’s Journey to a T.

This is a great article if you want a more in-depth look at the various aspects of the Hero’s Journey, but I want to focus on just one thing that I noticed while recently watching Guardians of the Galaxy. See, the Hero’s Journey is, in one sense, all about an individual setting out on an adventure, being changed along the way, and coming back to his home at the end.

The return home, ideally, is an emotional moment, since the Hero is finally reckoning with who he was and who he has become. In other words, the return home is the moment the Hero realizes just how much he’s changed. An alternative to the Hero changing is the Hero’s home changing. In this version of the Hero’s Journey, when the Hero returns home, it’s still an ideally emotional moment because the Hero is finally reckoning with what he wanted to come back to, and what his home actually has become.

The second you start looking for this aspect of the Hero’s Journey, you start seeing it everywhere. Guardians of the Galaxy followed the Hero’s Journey, by and large, throughout, but pulled a rather interesting twist at the end. If you recall, the main character, Starlord, has his ship rebuilt at the end of the film.

Earlier in the film, on the previous version of his ship, a character tells him his ship is filthy. At the end, when he comes back to his rebuilt ship, it’s not only been made better, it’s clean. This, of course, mirrors his change from outlaw to sort-of superhero.

In other words, much like The Lord of the Rings, Guardians of the Galaxy has both the Hero and his home change at the end. I don’t know if it worked as well in Guardians of the Galaxy as it did in Lord of the Rings, but the twist on the Hero’s Journey is worth thinking about. So what do you think? Am I totally off the mark, or did Guardians pull this twist off? Any other stories you can think of that have both the Hero and his home change?


4 thoughts on “Guardians of the Galaxy and the Hero’s Journey

  1. This is fascinating. I do think you are correct … although I think Guardians left room for the “ultimate” home of “Star Lord” to be the discovery of his father and his father’s planet.

    I was wondering which homecoming you were referring to from Lord of the Rings? Aragorn’s homecoming to the kingship of Gondor? The book’s version of the hobbits’ homecoming – to a Shire that had to be cleansed and redeemed? Or… the movie’s version of the hobbits’ homecoming – to a virtually unchanged Shire where Frodo was not able to really be “home”? Bilbo and Frodo’s journey away from Middle Earth with the Elves to seek a new “home”? There was more than one Hero’s Homecoming in LOTR – and more than one version of the same homecoming depending on where you are looking 🙂

    In any event … as you say, it’s very interesting to look at stories through this lens. The TV series “Firefly” (and the wrap-up movie, “Serenity”) would be another example of a spaceship becoming “home” for the heroes of the story.


  2. Thanks for the comment! The homecoming I had in mind while writing was Frodo, Sam, Merry, and Pippin’s within the book. This includes the Scouring of the Shire chapter, in which the Shire has to be, as you say, cleansed. The result is that while the Shire is still the Shire, it too has changed, along with Frodo and the others.

    Interestingly enough, though, I’m not sure LOTR (the book) shows us any of the character’s homecomings, excluding Sam, Merry, and Pippin. Aragorn, as I’ve read it, doesn’t come home so much as he reclaims a kingdom. I suppose I simply never got the sense that Gondor was his home, as much as it was his Kingdom. While we know that Gimli returns home, we never actually see it, if I recall correctly. And in a sense, we never see Frodo come home.

    “I [Frodo] tried to save the Shire, and it has been saved, but not for me. It must often be so, Sam, when things are in danger: some one has to give them up, lose them, so that others may keep them.” –”The Grey Havens”

    In the act of saving the Shire, both through destroying the ring and liberating it from Saruman, Frodo seems to be saying that he lost the home of the Shire. So, while see Frodo going off to a place where he truly is home, we never actually see him arriving. The same goes for Gandalf and the Elves, who travel with him.

    All of that to say, as a bit of an aside, the specific homecoming I was referencing was Sam, Merry, and Pippin’s return to the Shire in the book. I’m glad you enjoyed the post, and thanks again for the comment!


    1. I don’t remember where I read this … it was a book I picked up several years ago … but, the author claimed that JRR Tolkien saw Sam as the real hero of LOTR. Which, if you think about that, it would make sense within the framework you are exploring, that – if Sam is the real “hero” of the story – his homecoming is the one that *should* be explored and fulfilled most completely in the end.

      That is actually one of the few major problems I have with the movie version – I WANT to see the hobbits come home and redeem the Shire. It makes the need to deal with evil more … personal.

      Anyway! Enjoyed your thoughts on this. Thanks!


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