Joseph Campbell’s “The Hero with a Thousand Faces” is one of the most cited pieces of comparative mythology referenced in literature and film discussion. It posits that eras-old myths from around the world all share core fundamental similarities, and those similarities are the foundation of countless narrative works of fiction, from “The Odyssey” to Star Wars (1977).
The idea is summarized by Campbell in the book’s introduction, saying, “A hero ventures forth from the world of common day into a region of supernatural wonder: fabulous forces are there encountered and a decisive victory is won: the hero comes back from this mysterious adventure with the power to bestow boons on his fellow man.”
The Wizard of Oz (1939) is a solid example of The Hero's Journey at play. Dorothy (Judy Garland) is whisked away from the comforts of Kansas by a tornado that transports her to the magical land of Oz. Thus, her adventure begins, and she’s unable to go back to where she started without pressing forward. It’s not long before she meets Glinda (Billie Burke), a fairy godmother-type “good witch” who serves as her guide as a protective figure. Glinda gives aid to Dorothy via the ruby slippers and a kiss on her forehead, injecting her with powerful resources that help her on her journey. Dorothy meets helpers in the form of the Scarecrow (Ray Bolger), Tin Man (Jack Haley) and Cowardly Lion (Bert Lahr) that raise her odds of success and give her emotional support along the way.
Along her journey, Dorothy endures a number of tests and trials that challenge her mettle and explore the fears and desires of a child entering adulthood. In an ironic turn of events, the innocent Dorothy defeats the Wicked Witch, and her tiny dog Toto is responsible for uncovering the fraud of Oz. Truly the two meekest characters rise to defeat evil and reveal their way home, as Dorothy is granted a reward for her efforts in the knowledge that clicking her heels will return her back to Kansas.
Of course, Dorothy’s entire journey was just a dream, but its path along Campbell’s narrative outline and its significance on Dorothy’s character are very distinct. She wakes from the experience with a renewed appreciation for her family and her existence, while still harboring wonderful memories and delight at knowing there’s a rainbow-colored world of adventure waiting for her.