Grimm, Joseph Campbell’s A Hero’s Journey and Machiavelli’s The Prince



In 1949, mythologist and writer, Joseph Campbell, known for his work in comparative mythology and religion, took the archetypal hero’s journey found throughout world mythologies and fairytales/stories and called it the Monomyth. In his book The Hero with a Thousand Faces, Campbell lays out the monomyth from the Adventure of the Hero through a number of stages upon which the hero will embark while on his journey. The four stages are: The Departure, Initiation, The Return and Keys. In each stage there are anywhere from five to six levels the hero must complete in order to reach the next stage and finally his boon.

These stories became triumphal or tragic episodic adventures often with a hero, heroine and villain. Man’s fascination for these stories became popular over time because it allowed him to revel in the struggles and ultimate great achievements of the hero. In Why Fairy Tales Stick: The Evolution and Relevance of a Genre, Author Jack Zipes agrees with the fascination because “…their hybrid formation was intimately tied to the manner in which human beings sought to articulate their thoughts and feelings about everyday life, crucial information about conflicts, and possible solutions to these conflicts. In this regard, fairy tales have always been part of culture or a civilizing process.” (130). With the Monomyth, Campbell clearly defines an important aspect of storytelling that attracts Everyman—that of the hero’s journey and eventual triumph against all odds.

An excellent example of this is evident in NBC’s Grimm, a police procedural fantasy television drama series that takes place in a world in which characters; from the Grimm Fairy Tales (originally called the Children’s and Household Tales (German: Kinder- und Hausmärchen), consisting of 209 fairy tales (published in 1812) by the Grimm brothers, Jacob and Wilhelm), come to life and live underneath a human façade in Portland, Oregon.

The originality of Grimm lays not only the modernization of the Brothers’ Grimm stories, but how the show uses the monomyth concept as well as the approach to cunningness and duplicity ideas from Niccolo Machiavelli’s The Prince, a 16th-century political treatise to bring stories of despair, fear, and struggles into the light of hope and triumphant. While these two concepts are often used in films; we do see it early on in such literary pieces as the Wizard of Oz and the Count of Monte Cristo. Way before Campbell’s Monomyth.

The hero is homicide investigator Nick Burkhardt (David Guintoli) of the Portland Police Department. He is accompanied by secondary characters who also experience their own calls to adventure—an added bonus that creates multi-layered, often complicated characters whose journeys add dimension often lacking in other shows. Characters each faced with their own struggles, such as Captain Sean Renard (Sasha Roiz), a royal bastard in exile, who strives to regain his birthright. In addition there is Martin Meisner (Damien Puckler), a mercenary out for revenge, hiding a pained heart of gold, who often joins causes in order to quench his thirst for both vengeance and justice. Grimm’s multiple overlapping story lines and multidimensional characters create more scope for the writers to create interesting stories that keep the viewers interested, guessing and coming back for more in the hopes of joining the hero and his journey.

The pilot episode, begins with Campbell’s stage one of “The departure” and level one “the call to adventure” where the hero receives his calling, as Nick does when he begins to see people woge (the German word for surge or wave) as a wave overcomes the faces of these creatures prior to changing into their true form. The creatures can see the dark void in his eyes causing them to woge often in fear. Grimms are known for their swift kills regardless of whether the creatures are deadly or harmless, and they are charged with keeping balance between humanity and the mythological creatures called Wesens: the German word for being or creature. Throughout the series, Nick battles an assortment of dangerous creatures, with help from his reformed Wesen friend Monroe (Silas Weir Mitchell), a blutbad (the big bad wolf) and his partner Detective Hank Griffin (Russell Hornsby).

Confused that his world has been turned upside down, Nick asks Monroe (his supernatural aid) how he can get rid of the Grimm inside of him. In stage one and level two, Nick rejects the calling. “You can’t” Monroe replies, thus Nick has no choice but to accept his calling.

According to Campbell, “Once the call is acknowledged, the hero embarks on his journey through a list of tasks and/or trials. On some occasions he will have to face these trials alone, but not always. He will be provided with assistant from a supernatural creature. It is at the most intense point of his journey, that the hero must survive a severe challenge, often with the aid of this supernatural creature.” In level three of stage one, Nick’s supernatural aid comes in the form of Monroe. Unlike his ancestors Monroe does not kill humans or animals. He is the comic relief and his dialogues are often witty, if not brilliant. But aside from those aspects, Monroe is the reformed big bad wolf that provides Nick with the supernatural aid he needs as he embarks into the unnatural world of the Wesen community.

After accepting his calling, Nick begins the crossing of the first threshold: As a cop who believes in the justice system, he will bring a different role to his calling as a grimm, different from his predecessors. Even, his mother is shocked upon learning that a Blutbad and Fuchsbau (a fox-like creature) are his friends. Nick’s form of the “swift kill”, unlike previous ancestors who killed these creatures whether harmless or dangerous, is bringing in the perpetrators to justice—alive if necessary. His ideals make him a hero even among the Wesen community—those who are law abiding Wesens, who just want to co-exist with their human counterparts in peace. These Wesens come to learn and trust Nick. There is hope that a refreshing change is coming in their favor and perhaps they no longer need to fear a grimm. After all these people are very much like their human counterparts in that they live in a society where they too struggle to make ends meet. These are blue and white collar workers striving for a better life and place to live: like Bud the plumber. When you look at society today, who is fighting for those that have been wronged? Of course we have the law, but that has been known to fail us. With the show Grimm if the law fails its citizens there is always the grimm to take care of the situation.


Grimm Cast: Claire Coffee, Sasha Roiz, Bree Turner, Silas Weir Mitchell, David Guintoli, Bitsie Tulloch, Russell Hornsby, and Reggie Lee

As mentioned earlier, Grimm is full of heroes, both male and female, both human and Wesen who embark on their own journeys, as they assist the hero. There is even the usual boon (an object or something that brings great benefits) in fairy tales, as is the case with the seven royal families who vie for power. In their strife for this power, there are seven missing keys that will unlock a great power, and whoever finds these keys will acquire the boon. By the middle of season 5, Nick has obtained five of the seven keys. In this quest, he and his friends become targets of the royal families, as they try to either have him or his friends killed.

If the hero survives and accomplishes all of the stages of the monomyth he will receive the boon that will help him continue on his journey often this is the discovery of important self-knowledge. Once the task is fulfilled the hero must then decide if he should return to his world. If successful in returning, the gift can be used to make the world a better place. This quest is something that viewers can relate to as they also face struggles, with the hope that their struggles will make them better people and equip them to do more good in the world. With this new perspective Grimm fulfills Everyman’s dream of being a hero.

The world of Grimm is multi-layered. In addition to the Wesens, there are other creatures in this magical world… The creatures from Grimm range from Blutbads, Hexenbiests (a witch-like mummy creature with great powers) to the harmless Beavers. However, the Hexenbiest, is one of the worst kind of creatures of the show. According to the Grimm Wikia, Hexenbiests “…are able to casually overpower a grown man and rip him apart, but they can only access these powers in their Hexenbiest form and not their human one. They are not as strong as Grimms, as on three separate occasions, Grimms were able to gain the upper hand in a fight with Hexenbiests. However, Hexenbiests are physically powerful enough to give Grimms a degree of trouble.”

Episode after episode, viewers sit in anticipation as they ride along with the Grimm, the Prince, the Mercenary and other players; including the young woman grimm, Theresa Trubel (Jacqueline Toboni), who represents the Amazonian archetype—a warrior woman. Trubel was alone and had grown fearful upon learning that she was seeing things that she could not explain. Humans would change in front of her and then they would want to kill her. She met Nick and her world changed from being all alone and knowing nothing to having a family in Nick, Juliette, Monroe and Rosalie, and even Adalind and in the process learned all about being a Grimm. Sub-plots are thrown in, and intricately woven into creating a multi-colorful world that makes viewers wish they could enter into the fantasy world of Grimm and experience its wonders.

The Prince (Sasha Roiz): known as Captain Sean Renard and Nick’s boss; is the illegitimate son of a European King. Banished from his country, he works and lives in Portland, Oregon. The captain’s home is perched on a cliff-side with a view of Portland. Like a balcony from a castle he often stands at night surveying his city (his kingdom). Renard is one of the most complex and multifaceted characters in the show. In the pilot episode, he tries to have Nick’s aunt killed. But in a later episode he is shown to be very protective of Nick and the men under his leadership. Renard is very secretive and is a member of the resistance—a group of freedom fighters who do not want the royal families to rule the world once again.

Being half-human and half- Hexenbiest Renard is a Zauberbiest—a warlock with great strength. Renard has sided with the resistance against the families. He is ruthless but has a soft side he seldom shows. However, when his city or men are threatened, his ruthlessness comes through, as evident in Game Ogre, when Hank’s life is threatened and in Kiss the Muse, when the Musai (an elf-like creatures that causes the artist to create his best, but not without a high price to pay) refuses to release Nick from her grasp. Once Nick is saved by Juliette, Renard tells the Musai that he is releasing her and that she has to leave Portland. He tells her that she is to never come back, because there is a side of him that does not wear a badge and he has no guarantee what this side of him would do to her. He changes into the Zauberbiest to prove his point. Renard’s character exhibits a great example of Machiavellianism, which states that a prince should know how to be deceitful when it suits his purpose. However, when the prince needs to be deceitful, he must not appear that way. Machiavelli described immoral behavior, such as dishonesty and killing innocents, as being normal and effective in politics. He even seemed to endorse it in some situations. The book concludes that some “virtues” will lead to a prince’s destruction, whereas some “vices” will allow him to survive.

While Renard is educated and speaks several languages, Machiavelli believes the Prince is best suited to war… “or the preparation thereof, not books. Through war a hereditary prince maintains his power or a private citizen rises to power. Machiavelli advises that a prince must frequently hunt in order to keep his body fit and learn the landscape surrounding his kingdom. Through this, he can best learn how to protect his territory and advance upon others. For intellectual strength, he is advised to study great military men so he may imitate their successes and avoid their mistakes. A prince who is diligent in times of peace will be ready in times of adversity. Machiavelli writes, “thus, when fortune turns against him he will be prepared to resist it.”

That is not to say that Renard is not capable in the art of war or fight. He has proven he can hold his own even when he needed someone else to do his bidding—as when he orders Meisner to kill his half-brother. There is a famous line, that perhaps best describes Machiavellianism, in season 1, episode 18 called “Cat and Mouse” written by Jose Molina, where the Captain’s home is broken into by a Verrat agent, Edgar Waltz (Sebastian Roche), the law enforcement organization of the royal families. The Captain refuses to cooperate to help him find one of the leaders of the resistance. At the end of the scene Waltz leaves the captain with a Latin saying. Before the scene fades out, the captain reiterates what was said to him in English: If you seek peace prepare for war.

For Renard having a Grimm under his leadership means power—an advantage when speaking with those in the resistance, as in the “Twelve Days of Krampus.” In the current season Renard is given an opportunity to become Mayor of Portland no matter the cost, including the murder of his friend. He wants this badly, because of the denial of his birthright, Renard will do whatever he can to attain this powerful position; including aligning himself with the people that killed his friend, threatened the mother of his child and Nick’s life.


Damien Puckler, Grimm: Meisner

Though Machiavelli suggests that the Prince has no need for mercenaries, Renard, for the first five seasons has one in Martin Meisner, (Damien Puckler). Another hero on his own journey, Meisner is not your typical mercenary. He is a resistance fighter—who has an investment in everything he does, including revenge. What do we know of Meisner? Not much, but that his father and fiancée were killed by the royals. It is yet to be revealed that other than vengeance for the murders of his loved ones, why he is so loyal to Renard even though by the fifth season he switches alliances from the resistance to becoming a member of Hadrian’s Wall—a small group of Wesens and humans fighting an uprising of an army of Wesens, called Black Claw, bent on taking over the world.

The worth of the relationships between these characters are so integral that on several occasions characters that were only to appear in one episode are now considered secondary and have become regulars like “Meisner”— (The street-wise Hercules – from Bonnie Tyler’s “I need a Hero”) and Bree Turner’s “Rosalie” (a Fuchsbau maiden). In an interview with AfterBuzz, Puckler reveals that Meisner was only to have appeared in the episode “PTZD”. While Meisner has proven to be the man to get the job done, there is a part of him that viewers can relate to…He is complex and multifaceted as the Prince. Meisner is fearless and while his demeanor is one of steel and impregnable, he is vulnerable as a man with his own tragedies and hidden agenda. Not to mention that Puckler’s characterization of Meisner has won accolades among viewers to where the actor has a large following of fans. Sadly by the end of season five, Meisner is killed by the Prince in a mercy killing as one of the leaders of Black Claw, Conrad Bonaparte (Shaun Toub) a very powerful Zauberbiest begins to kill him in a very torturous manner.

For a brief moment Renard shows compassion and this does not go well with Bonaparte. The death of Meisner is shocking and unexpected, though he lived by the sword, fans were not expecting him to die by it. Though the Prince and Meisner have their own journeys, viewers can only guess where this will bring them as the Prince strives for power and Meisner for justice. On the death of Meisner and the Hero’s Journey, Puckler states: “I… have always lived by ‘Life is all about giving your damnedest and your hardest and then, whatever the outcome…good or bad, you simply have to let it go.’ I believe that Meisner would have agreed to that 100%.” Meisner was the hero that fought for the underdog-he fought for us. In the world today we could use a few Meisners.

While only the men of Grimm are mentioned, the women characters of the show also play an important role in the Monomyth as well as the archetypal types as the maiden, the witch and the Wesen maiden. While the women of the show may appear to play second fiddle with their male counterparts, this is not true. They too must face their own trials and tribulations. In the case of Juliette Silverton (Bitsie Tulloch), even though her first name is synonymous with tragedy, we are given the beautiful young maiden in love with the hero. She is caring and is an animal healer by profession. Images of Cinderella or Snow White come to mind as they befriend the forest animals or house mice in their lonely quest to finding happiness with their Prince. By the end of season four Juliette sacrifices herself to save her Prince.

Grimm creates an enchanting fantasy world that draws viewers in, it achieves more than the typical fantasy drama through its adaptation of the Brothers’ Grimm fairy-tales. It is refreshing in seeing these old stories in a more modern take, where viewers can experience Campbell’s Monomyth and Machiavellianism concepts performed throughout the different episodes. These characters are multi-faceted and lovable, even when they are evil because of the talents of the actors. What is most important to state is that the characters are real to the viewers because of the many problems and issues of politics, society, and justice that is brought to the forefront. According to Zipes, “The oral and literary fairy tales enunciated, articulated, and communicated feelings in efficient metaphorical terms that enabled listeners and readers to envision possible solutions to their problems so that they could survive and adapt to their environments…We respond to these classical tales almost as if we were born with them…” (xii).

Grimm is a fantastic show with great writing, acting, and story arcs. There is great chemistry among the actors that comes through in the characters they portray. But truthfully, it is better said by Christopher Vogler, author of The Writer’s Journey: “Stories built on the mode of the Hero’s Journey have an appeal that can be felt by everyone, because they well up from a universal source in the shared unconscious and reflect universal concerns.” (5) In other words most of these stories have the unique ability to make the reader or viewer relate to the issues at hand and because of this, it appeals to a broad audience. In the end viewers will relate to the injustices and struggles these heroes face and through their eyes they come to hope for a better world. For Nick that would be a place where justice will conquer all evils. For Renard a throne where he can rule from and Meisner a world that’s peaceful and safe for all.

#Grimm #TVShow #NBC

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