Mythologist Joseph Campbell influenced many a bigscreen tentpole, and understood TV as well. “A hero,” he said, “is someone who has given his or her life to something bigger than oneself.” Jack Bauer suffers the deaths of friends and loved ones to counter terrorism and keep his nation free; Xena: Warrior Princess wields a mean chakram to fight for the greater good. Even inept Maxwell Smart never flags as he diligently serves CONTROL and foils KAOS.

Some have heroism thrust upon them. A plane crash leaves Col. Steve Austin with a $6 million rehab debt, while Michael Knight bounces back from a gunshot wound with no small help from a talking car. Others walk away from placid normality — Buffy Summers from high school popularity; Sydney Bristow from English graduate studies — to fulfill an ominous destiny. “We must let go of the life we have planned,” maintained Campbell, “so as to accept the one that is waiting for us.”

Still others risk everything for the sheer fun of it. Think of Emma Peel, reveling in each undercover disguise from nurse to belly dancer, from nanny to dominatrix. Campbell has her number, too: “The adventure of the hero,” he wrote, “is the adventure of being alive.”

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