Shrek as an Epic Hero Character Analysis

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Although most people find the film “Shrek” to be just a comical film, it actually fulfills the requirements needed to prove that Shrek is indeed an epic hero. “Shrek” is a 2001 computer-animated fantasy-comedy film based on William Steig’s fairytale picture book, “Shrek!” He has all the characteristics of an epic hero archetype, regardless of his hideous and vulgar appearance as an ogre. Shrek is brave, loyal, and lives up to the standards our society expects and appreciates. Shrek presents himself as evil and mean but on the inside he is actually compassionate and gentle. Campbell’s Monomyth and the process for an epic hero that includes the departure, the initiation, and the return are all present in Shrek’s journey making him an epic hero.

The process of a myth begins with the character’s departure into their journey. Shrek finds his isolated life bothered when thousands of different fairytale characters are banished into his swamp by order of the obsessive, evil, fairy-tale hating Lord Farquaad. This is Shrek’s first call to adventure. Campbell claims, “One may be only casually strolling when some passing phenomenon catches the wandering eye and lures one away from the frequented paths of man.” This is sort of what happened to Shrek in that he was just living his life when the fairytale characters entered his swamp. Shrek announces to the fairytale creatures that he will go to see Farquaad to move them out of his swamp and back to where they came from. Shrek crosses the first threshold to go see Lord Farquaad and brings along a talking donkey.

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Upon arriving at the castle, Shrek and Donkey see a guard that represents the threshold guardian, but the guard runs away fearful of the ogre. Campbell speaks of the threshold guardian when he stated, “Beyond them is darkness, the unknown and danger.” Shrek and Donkey enter the mysterious castle and proceed to an arena. They realize they are now in the middle of a tournament. After defeating a few knights in the tournament Farquaad tells Shrek that he will give him back his swamp if he brings back a princess (Princess Fiona). After refusing to do so (refusal of the call) Shrek finally agrees to accept the mission. The final separation or belly of the whale is when Shrek and Donkey walk out of the castle and enter the sunflower field to start their journey. By crossing the field Shrek shows willingness to undergo a metamorphosis.

Campbell had a strong point when he wrote, “The idea that the passage of the magical threshold is a transit into a sphere of rebirth is symbolized in the worldwide womb image of the belly of the whale. The hero, instead of conquering or conciliating the power of the threshold, is swallowed into the unknown and would appear to have died.” This is what Shrek goes through as he realizes he is about to enter an unknown world on the quest he is about to take. Although Shrek doesn’t inherit a supernatural aid, he is born with unnatural strength and uses it effectively in battle and on his journey. The departure of an epic hero is influential in that it introduces the character and can foreshadow future events.

The initiation is the second part of the monomyth process. After crossing the sunflower fields, Shrek crosses many different landscapes on his way to the princess. As Shrek and Donkey look over the mountain they know they are entering the road of trials. A rickety old bridge overlooking a lava lake is the dangerous crossing that many myths contain. Donkey is resistant to the crossing but he is pushed into the road of trials by Shrek forcing him across. Another frequent symbol is the warning before the danger. The warning in this tale is the skeleton that lay in front of the steps. Shrek finally finds the princess locked away in the highest point of the tower. Shrek meets the romantic challenge as he and Fiona develop their relationship. The action of the movie then takes place as Shrek, Donkey, and Fiona escape the fire-breathing dragon, barely making it over the bridge.

Fiona believes that Shrek is there to rescue her from the castle and be her prince. Fiona requests that Shrek take off his helmet so that they can kiss demonstrating the meeting of the oracle. Shrek resists the seizing of the sword and will not take off his helmet. They go back and forth until Shrek resists the journeying to the sword and picks up Fiona and carries her away. Shrek has a near death experience as he battles Robin Hood and ends up with an arrow in his butt. The atonement of the father is revealed when Shrek and Fiona fall for each other. The apotheosis of the monomyth is when Donkey finds Fiona and realizes that she turns into an ogre at night.

The ultimate boon could be one of two things in this tale. At first Shrek planned on the ultimate boon to be getting Fiona back to Lord Farquaad. However, right when he is about to return her, his ultimate boon is to get her to love him back. In Campbell’s book the ultimate boon is described as, “What the hero seeks through his intercourse with them is therefore not finally themselves, but their grace.” For the most part the initiation is the capturing of the princess and escaping the dragon. However, the return of the hero mixes in with the initiation due the journey not being complete.

Since there are two climaxes to the movie, the return can either be after the capture of the princess or after Fiona declares her love for Shrek. The refusal of the return is Shrek not wanting to bring Fiona to Lord Farquaad due to him falling in love with her. Campbell explains the refusal as, “When the hero-quest has been accomplished, through penetration to the source, or through the grace of some male or female, human or animal, personification, the adventurer still must return with his life-transmuting trophy.” The magic flight is when the hero escapes with the boon. This is presented in Shrek returning Fiona to Lord Farquaad and going back to his isolated home. Rescue from without is a crucial part of this movie in that Donkey visits Shrek to tell him that Fiona loves him and not to quit on his mission.

Campbell clarifies this by stating, “The hero may have to be brought back from his supernatural adventure by assistance from without.” Shrek is brought back to his secondary journey with help from Donkey. Donkey also has good news for Shrek when he tells him that he has fallen in love with the fire-breathing dragon and they are going to fly back to Farquaad’s castle on her. This action is the crossing of the return threshold. Due to there being two semi-journeys in this tale, the ending of the movie can be two different monomyth processes. Right as Lord Farquaad is about to marry Fiona Shrek stops the wedding and confesses his love for Fiona.

The antagonist (Farquaad) reveals himself as only wanting to marry so he could become a king. The sun goes down and Fiona turns into an ogre again. The hero and antagonist battle occurs when Shrek fights the guards as they try to take Fiona away. The dragon eats Farquaad proving a victory for the hero. The master of the two worlds is the entire ending of the movie because Shrek stops being stubborn and confesses his love for Fiona, completing his metamorphosis.

Campbell’s Monomyth and the process for an epic hero that includes the departure, the initiation, and the return are all present in Shrek’s journey making him an epic hero. Shrek conquers his inner and romantic challenge when he tells Fiona, “I love you.” He now has the freedom to live and the marriage is the celebration and ceremony. Shrek most definitely follows the characteristics of an epic hero. He is an ogre, making him supernatural or special. He is given a quest to complete and completes it. He goes through trials and challenges designed to test his strength and intelligence. He goes to unnatural worlds that others are too fearful to enter. He gets help from companions even if they are not godly. Shrek fights through the low points and is restored to the right place. These qualities help prove that Shrek is indeed an epic hero on the justification of Joseph Campbell’s Monomyth.

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Shrek as an Epic Hero Character Analysis. (2016, Jun 16). Retrieved from

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