The Hero's Journey

 
The Hero's Journey
 

THE HERO'S JOURNEY

 

The next story model I'd like to briefly discuss is called The Hero's Journey. It's based on the work of scholar Joseph Campbell who, in his book The Hero With A Thousand Faces, examined the mythic stories of the past and identified certain patterns that kept surfacing over and over. Christopher Vogler translates Campbell's theories into practical application for writers in his book, The Writer's Journey: Mythic Structure for Writers. And, of course, the idea is so popular that a quick internet search will turn up piles of additional information and discussion on this topic.

For our purposes here, a quick description of the structure Vogler has outlined will suffice: 

 

1. THE ORDINARY WORLD

 
Ordinary World
 

The hero is shown in his normal world, in his version of "life as usual." He may be content there, or he might be uncomfortable or discontent with his life as it is. This allows readers to see who the hero is before things change, so they are able to understand the contrast between the hero's past experiences and the adventure he undertakes in the story.

 

2. THE CALL TO ADVENTURE

 
Call to Adventure
 

Something changes. It might be external pressure from a challenge or crisis that arises in his life, or it might be the internal pressure of his discontent urging him to look beyond the horizon. 

 

3. REFUSAL OF THE CALL

 
 

Often (though not always) the hero will initially be reluctant to take on the adventure that is presented to him. He may be held back by his own fear of the unknown, a feeling of obligation to the people who populate his ordinary world, or (if he is content with things the way they are) an unwillingness to see things change.

 

4. MEETING THE MENTOR

 
 

The hero meets with a character who acts as an adviser--often an older person, or one who has experience dealing with the challenge the hero now faces. The mentor may give the hero training or equipment he will need on his journey.

 

5. CROSSING THE first THRESHOLD

 
Crossing the First Threshold
 

The hero commits to the journey and leaves (either literally or metaphorically) his ordinary world for the unknown world of the adventure. This is the point of no return. 

 

6. TESTS, ALLIES, AND ENEMIES

 
Tests, Allies, and Enemies
 

In the new, unfamiliar world of the adventure, the hero has experiences that challenge his abilities and understanding. He meets characters who become allies or enemies (or sometimes one masquerading as the other). 

 

7. APPROACH TO THE INMOST CAVE

 
Approaching the Inmost Cave
 

The hero and his allies become more proactive, not simply responding to the tests as they come, but actively preparing for, and seeking out solutions to the overarching challenge of the adventure. Often there is a "threshold guardian" that must be passed in order to reach the inmost cave.

 

8. THE SUPREME ORDEAL

 
Supreme Ordeal
 

Near the middle of the story, the hero has a confrontation with the antagonistic force, which results in either a temporary (but hollow) victory, or a temporary (but not utterly hopeless) defeat. The hero faces his greatest fear, often with a "taste of death" in one form or another--a narrow escape, loss of an ally (especially the mentor), a death-related setting such as a tomb, etc.

 

9. THE REWARD (AKA SEIZING THE SWORD)

 
Seizing the Sword
 

Devastated by his losses and harried by the enemy, the hero regroups and prepares for a final confrontation. In the dark aftermath of the Supreme Ordeal, the Hero realizes that although he didn't win the day, he has gained something from the ordeal that will allow him to ultimately overcome the challenge he faces. It might be an actual object, such as a magical weapon, the secret code, or the girl's mother's phone number, or it might just be a new understanding of himself or his opponent. Either way, it's the thing that will allow the hero to win in the end.

 

10. THE ROAD BACK

 
The Road Back
 

The hero sets off again on the journey, determined to see it through this time for good. He makes a conscious decision to finish what he started. 

 

11. THE RESURRECTION

 
The Resurrection
 

This is the final battle, the ultimate test presented by the story's call to action. This is the make or break, life or death moment of the story, in which the hero either fails completely (if the story is a tragedy) or experiences total victory. It is the battle out of death and darkness, and the return to life and light. 

 

12. RETURN WITH THE ELIXIR

 
Return With the Elixir
 

At the end of the journey, the hero returns to his ordinary world with something that will make that world better. It might be a literal object, but often it's something less substantial, such as protection, a message, or a moral that will show people how to live more abundantly in the ordinary world. The hero is changed by his journey, and he takes that change home with him to share with others so that they (and the reader) may also gain from his experience.