A Hero's Journey

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A Hero's Journey

By Alison Moritz, Director of The Magic Flute

“The fates lead him who will; him who won’t they drag.”

- Joseph Campbell

The Hero’s Journey, as examined by mythologist Joseph Campbell, includes twelve classic stages. They include a call to adventure, the refusal of the call, meeting with a mentor, tests, an ordeal, a reward, the road back, and resurrection. There are countless examples from literature and popular culture that adhere to the pattern of a classic hero’s journey – in fact, adventures from Beowulf to Batman can be interpreted to follow this paradigm. For a brief, fun explanation of the twelve stages – check out this animation via TedEd:




When I began research for this production of The Magic Flute, I was curious to see how Tamino’s path to find Pamina and undergo the trials in the temple of Sarastro would align with the twelve stages. Honestly, I expected the libretto to align pretty seamlessly with the classic pattern of adventure, trials, and reward. But, instead, what I found was the answer to a question I’d had for a very long time.


Why does Papageno have to go on this adventure with Tamino? The Queen of the Night’s Three Ladies order Papageno to accompany Prince Tamino into Sarastro’s castle to rescue Pamina – but why? Papageno is, of course, a delightfully comic foil to the noble Prince, but what function does he serve in the development of the plot? While Tamino is lead forward by the gods, Papageno is memorably dragged alongside him.

As it turns out – neither Tamino nor Papageno completes the full Hero’s Journey. But, when you intertwine their two narratives (as the libretto of The Magic Flute does so brilliantly!), all of the twelve stages of the adventure are completed. In this sense, Tamino and Papageno are two sides of the same coin – together, they show us the strengths and frailties of mankind. Which is the true hero – the prince who braves all danger to gain his ideal? Or the everyman who knows what he wants and does not stray from his own true nature? Perhaps there’s another answer – Tamino and Papageno need one another to reveal the path that each man must follow.

Watch the video linked above and come see Opera Memphis’ production of The Magic Flute tonight and tomorrow night to see if you can spot all twelve stages of a classic Hero’s Journey!

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