Whenever you watch the original trilogy, particularly A New Hope, and wonder why this movie has aged so well despite being almost 40 years old, it's because the storytelling is timeless. It's well-documented that George Lucas cites Hero with a Thousand Faces as the inspiration for the story structure of Star Wars. Be sure to watch the documentary Empire of Dreams for more on this.
But what exactly is this book? It's a non-fiction analysis of how archetypal characters from myth and legend that have passed down the ages, regardless of whether they originated from Biblical tales, Ancient Greece, Celtic folklore, the Far East, the Wild West, wherever, all share certain traits and stages to their hero's journey.
The Hero with a Thousand Faces lays out exactly what those stages are, full of examples classical and modern, from Jesus to Neo, Hercules to Luke Skywalker. It's an eye-opening read, one that makes you realize just how much shared DNA tales and their protagonists have in common. Moreover, it's a great way of looking at your own work and realizing how much (or how little) of the Hero's Journey is present in your own work. And if you're anything like me, you'll realize just how much you follow the Hero's Journey subconsciously.
After first reading the Hero with a Thousand Faces, I couldn't help but retrace my steps through the books and novels I had enjoyed up to then, to see the same steps play out in radically different settings. But if you fear that it's the kind of book that spoils how you view stories, like how studying music ruins your casual enjoyment of listening to it, then don't worry: these classic stages that Campbell outlines have stood the test of time for good reason, and there's a huge amount of legroom for interpretation anyway.
Besides, one of the most difficult obstacles new writers must overcome is the sheer lack of rules to the process. Oh sure, you here general tips bandied out - I've even dished out a few myself on my 'Off The Shelf' series - but most of those guidelines are instantly defied by instant classics that fly in the face of that advice and are critically acclaimed. But, if there ever was a rulebook for building the scaffolding to a your own story, then The Hero With A Thousand Faces is it. If you are writing a classical-style novel, then it's a great way to build that as well as diagnose the problems you may be encountering as you write. Or if you're writing something that is innovate and deliberately against-the-grain, then you know what they say: 'you've got to know the rules before you break the rules'
The Hero with a Thousand Faces is essential reading for writers everywhere, both as an analysis of the ingredients of a protagonist's development and as a rich pool of knowledge and ideas for what to do with that development and where to take it.