The paradigm of the hero’s journey tells of a character’s physical quest that promotes a spiritual awakening in society. Campbell writes in his book Hero With a Thousand Faces, “The standard path of the mythological adventure of the hero is a magnification of the formula presented in the rites of passage: separation-initiation-return” (47). Campbell used the literature of authors like Edmund Spenser to articulate his argument based on the collective way that their characters cultivated the stages of their journeys. As the hero progresses through his journey, readers come to realizations that often promote social, moral, or spiritual beliefs about the people or society that they live. Analyzing The Faerie Queene’s Knight of the Red Crosse will show that Spenser influenced studies of the hero because his character follows the journey with a call to adventure (separation), initiation, and return to his society promoting a political and religious awareness for the society that Spenser lived.
The first stage of the hero’s journey is a separation where he accepts his call of his journey. Campbell writes, “A blunder-apparently the merest chance-reveals an unexpected world, and the individual is drawn into a relationship with forces that are not fully understood” (56). Spenser’s characterization of the Knight of the Red Crosse is naïve in that he only envisions love and immortality, but he fails to realize any danger. Spenser writes, “Fierce warres and faithfull loves shall moralize my song.” (The Faerie Queene 7-9). The author portrayed that an adventure was forthcoming, but it was also to offer the idea that readers would immortalize the character because of his journey. It infers the that this would be a battle of good and evil because of the character’s association with religion. The Knight of the Red Crosse represents faithi and holiness, and the story begins in how he sees the world through that lens as a protector of his religious belief system without fully realizing that there were others who did not.
The initiation of the hero’s journey consists of the introduction of important characters that will aid him in his journey where worldly realizations are gained after defeating his foe and saving his maiden. Campbell writes, “With the personifications of his destiny to guide and aid him, the hero goes forward in his adventure until he comes to the ‘threshold guardian” (68). The knight soon meets his guardian when Spenser writes, “That greatest Glorious Queene of Faerie lond …A lovely Ladie° rode him faire beside, Upon a lowly Asse more white then snow,” (The Faerie Queene 21, 28-29). The use of language like ‘snow and White” represents the idea of purity and innocence that reinforces the theme of religion. Readers also learn of the The Knight of the Red Crosse’s adversary. Spenser writes, “Upon his foe, a Dragon horrible and stearne” (The Faerie Queene 27). At this part of the poem, readers realize that the stanzas have introduced a hero who is defending religion, a maiden (Una) who represents innocence, and a foe representing evil (Archimago). Because it is difficult to fully tell the entire adventure with the use of stanzas, Spenser uses language like perill, foule, monster vile, serpent, glooming light, effraide, bloody wound, and rage that personifies the elements of his battles (Spenser). The use of the language enhances the physical battles of the hero to the figurative battles of political and religious persecution in England during the 16th-century.
The third part of the hero’s journey is the return where the hero teaches his society a lesson he learned through his journey. Spenser demonstrates that even kings can not break their countrymen from their faith in their religion. The end of the journey leads to a happy-ever-ending as Spenser writes, “Thrise happy man the knight himselfe did hold, Possessed of his Ladies hart and hand, And ever, when his eye did her behold, His heart did seeme to melt in pleasures manifold” (The Faerie Queene 357-360). The theme teaches that if you hold true to your religious beliefs, you will live happily-ever-after irrespective of the battles society puts you through.
Spenser’s use of the hero magnified the importance of spirituality and religion in his English society. The story also helps to teach people how immorality and corrupted souls can lead people astray which is still applicable in society today. Campbell sums up the role of the hero perfectly with, “And so it is that, throughout the world, men whose functions it has been to make visible on earth the life-fructifying mystery of the slaying of the dragon have enacted upon their own bodies the great symbolic act, scattering their flesh, like the body of Osiris, for the renovation of the world” (80). By using the archetype of the hero’s journey, authors can influence their societies by creating adventures that promote social beliefs that are relevant to the people they mirror.
Campbell, James, “Hero With a Thousand Faces,” Princeton University Press. 1949.
Spenser, Edmund, (1590), “The faerie queene,” The Norton anthology of English literature
(9th ed.), New York, NY: W.W. Norton & Company, Inc. 2012.