The Hero's Journey and Why it Matters: The Mapping of the Human Soul
Most people think that stories are just for entertainment, but they can be much more than that. Stories have the power to change lives and make you a better person.
The archetypal hero's journey is a story pattern that has been used for centuries. The hero starts his or her journey, faces challenges and tribulations along the way, and eventually becomes a hero at the end of it all. This type of storytelling can be found in many different cultures around the world.
In this article, we will explore how the Hero's Journey template provides insight into why people love stories so much.
The 12 steps of the Hero's Journey
The Hero's Journey was first notably conceptualized by author Joseph Campbell in his 1949 book, The Hero with a Thousand Faces. Campbell's theory included 17 different stages and steps to the Hero's Journey and has since been altered by multiple authors and storytellers.
The twelve steps of the hero's journey that will be explored in this article were developed by screenwriter Christopher Vogler in his book, The Writer's Journey: Mythic Structure for Writers, that was based on the original concept by Joseph Campbell.
1. Ordinary World
The hero is in need of a change. The hero is usually living in an ordinary world before they set out on their journey. This could be their everyday life, or it could be a different world altogether. In any case, the hero is not happy with their current situation and they are looking for a change.
Example: Harry Potter and the Sorcerer's Stone – Harry lives with the Dursleys in a miserable life where he wants to escape and wonders about his parents.
2. The Call to Adventure
The Call to Adventure is the hero's chance to leave their ordinary world and embark on a journey into unknown territory. This is sometimes seen as the inciting incident of a story.
Example: Harry Potter and the Sorcerer's Stone – Harry is visited by Hagrid who tells him he is a wizard and can enter the magical world he was born into and attend Hogwarts.
3. Refusal of the Call to Adventure
The hero may not always be eager to embark on their journey. In some cases, they may refuse the call to adventure altogether. This usually happens when the hero is scared or uncertain about what lies ahead. If the protagonist experiences this step, he's usually referred to as a "reluctant hero".
Example: Star Wars A New Hope – Luke initially refuses to join Obi-Wan Kenobi in his quest to deliver the Death Star plans to the rebellion and save Princess Leia.
4. Meeting the Mentor
A protective figure provides the hero with the tools he needs for his journey. This could be a person or an object.
The hero may not always have a mentor figure in their journey, but most do. Supernatural aid can come from any number of sources - they are usually magical objects that help the hero.
Example: Star Wars A New Hope – Luke meets with Obi-wan Kenobi and inherits his father's lightsaber.
5. Crossing the Threshold
The hero enters the unfamiliar world from crossing the threshold from the familiar. This is when the hero begins his journey. It could be marked by the event of when the hero leaves his home and ventures into the great unknown.
This is when the story shifts from the ordinary world to the special world and will remain in this world until the hero returns "home" at the end of the story.
Example: Harry Potter and the Sorcerer's Stone – Harry decides to follow Hagrid away from the Dursleys and enter the unfamiliar wizarding world.
Example: Star Wars A New Hope – After his aunt and uncle are killed, Luke decides to journey with Obi-Wan Kenobi and learn the ways of the Force.
6. Road of Trials - Tests, Allies, and Enemies
The hero must fight back through a gauntlet of ever greater challenges. The hero ventures into unknown territory. This is a place where the hero can be killed, so it's usually fraught with danger.
The hero will face tests, allies, and enemies during this stage of the journey. These are all part of the hero's growth process and they help to build the hero up for what lies ahead.
7. The Approach
The hero and his newfound companions get ready for the ultimate conflict in the Special world. This is the hero's final push for his goal. This stage of the journey often sees a transformation in the hero that will help them achieve their ultimate goal.
Example: Star Wars The Empire Strikes Back – Luke trains with Master Yoda in order to become a powerful Jedi. He transforms in the process.
8. The Ordeal
This is usually the point in the journey when the hero faces their ultimate challenge. The hero encounters a close call with death but ultimately overcomes it and is changed as a result.
Example: Star Wars A New Hope – Obi-Wan Kenobi is killed by Darth Vader and Luke has to deal with the aftermath now having no mentor figure and relying on himself.
9. The Reward
After the ordeal, the hero usually receives some kind of reward for all their hard work. This could be something tangible, like a new weapon or tool, or it could be intangible.
The protagonist captures the prize won by facing death. There may be celebration, but there is also a danger of losing the treasure once more.
10. The Road Back
The hero starts his journey back to the ordinary world but is changed by their journey. The hero usually brings back something from the special world that can help make the ordinary world a better place.
11. The Resurrection
At the end, the hero is put to the ultimate test upon approaching home. A final test, another occasion of death and rebirth, but on a higher and more comprehensive level, purifies him or her. (The Ultimate Boon) The polarities that were in conflict at first are ultimately resolved by the hero's action.
The final battle. This is often seen as the climax of a story.
12. Return with the Elixir
The hero has been changed by his journey and things can never go exactly back to the way they were. The hero returns to bestow the boon onto those he cares about and make their world a better place.
Why the Hero's Journey matters
For your story and character arc
The hero's journey helps create a compelling character arc that allows your protagonist to have some sort of change or transformation. The hero is able to go on a physical adventure while also developing their emotional growth at the same time.
This structure provides a natural progression for your story as well as a clear structure that readers can follow. It can also help you to create tension and suspense by introducing challenges that the hero must overcome in order to achieve their goal.
Learn what it takes to build a Positive Character Arc.
For understanding human experience
The hero's journey is a symbolic representation of the human experience. It shows how we all go through similar stages in our lives as we try to find our place in the world.
It also highlights the importance of facing challenges and overcoming adversity. This can be an inspiration for readers who are going through difficult times in their lives.
For our own personal growth
The hero's journey is a powerful storytelling pattern because it taps into something universal about the human experience. People love stories because they provide insight into our own lives. We can see ourselves in the hero's journey, and we can learn from the lessons that the hero learns.
The hero's journey also provides us with a blueprint for personal growth. We can use the pattern of the hero's journey to chart our own path to transformation. Because this story pattern tells a journey of a hero hitting low points and rising from them, we as the audience can take the lessons from their journey and apply them to our own lives.
The hero's journey is a powerful storytelling pattern that can help you to create a compelling character arc and tension-filled story. It is also a blueprint for personal growth. By understanding the stages of the hero's journey, we can learn more about ourselves and our potential for transformation.
Examples of the hero's journey can be found in stories from all around the world and across all genres. So next time you're stuck on your story, consider using the hero's journey as a tool to help you move forward.