American scholar, mythologist and writer Joseph Campbell is famous for his monomyth “Hero’s Journey” — a narrative structure that has existed in and influenced just about every culture in the world. Campbell described a mythical quest in a very straightforward way:
“A hero ventures forth from the world of the common day into a region of supernatural wonder: fabulous forces are there encountered and a decisive victory is won; the hero comes back from this mysterious adventure with the power to bestow boons on his fellow man.”
He argued that many heroic tales, regardless of the related culture or period in history, follow the same basic story structure. According to him, the stages of the Hero’s Journey are woven into each and every quest — whether in fiction or life.
We come across Campbell’s monomythic journey structure in legends and folklore, in books and movies, and even in news stories and our own lives. The Hero’s Journey is, undoubtedly, one of the most popular and loved storytelling formats.
Are you a fan of Bilbo Baggins? I am. His story follows the storyline of Campbell’s Hero’s Journey. What about Star Wars? It’s also a representation of Campbell’s Hero’s Journey. You know… the list is endless.
A good story, like a catchy song, sticks in our minds. Stories connect us with other human beings. Our brains are wired for stories. We learn through stories. We find meaning by telling, hearing and internalizing stories. And we also connect through stories — especially when we are able to identify ourselves with its hero or heroine.
Think Dorothy from the Wizard of Oz, Bilbo Baggins from The Hobbit, or Neo from the movie trilogy Matrix. As a watcher, listener or reader, it’s at the moment when we identify with the hero that we lose ourselves in the story, connect with its message, and both witness and co-experience the hero’s quest and transformation.
Each time a hero sets out to follow their calling, whether it is about an inner or outer quest, they go through the same stages: a starting place, an ordinary world that is somehow deficient or inadequate; a call to action; first steps on the journey; the encounter with a mentor; the crisis; a reward; and, ultimately, a return with the result or a prize that corrects the deficiency or inadequacy that initiated the quest.
But not all journeys include all of the stages of Campbell’s Hero’s Journey. Sometimes a few of the stages are combined or take place simultaneously. And most of the time, the steps follow a certain sequence — but not always.
Now, let us take a closer look at all 12 steps of Campbell’s monomyth. Here is how Christopher Vogler, the author of the book The Writer’s Journey, summarizes the twelve steps of Campbell’s classic narrative structure:
1. THE ORDINARY WORLD
The hero, uneasy, uncomfortable or unaware, is introduced sympathetically so the audience can identify with the situation or dilemma. The hero is shown against a background of environment, heredity, and personal history. Some kind of polarity in the hero’s life is pulling in different directions and causing stress.
2. THE CALL TO ADVENTURE
Something shakes up the situation, either from external pressures or from something rising up from deep within, so the hero must face the beginnings of change.
3. REFUSAL OF THE CALL
The hero feels the fear of the unknown and tries to turn away from the adventure, however briefly. Alternately, another character may express the uncertainty and danger ahead.
4. MEETING WITH THE MENTOR
The hero comes across a seasoned traveler of the worlds who gives him or her training, equipment, or advice that will help on the journey. Or the hero reaches within to a source of courage and wisdom.
5. CROSSING THE THRESHOLD
At the end of Act One, the hero commits to leaving the Ordinary World and entering a new region or condition with unfamiliar rules and values.
6. TESTS, ALLIES, AND ENEMIES
The hero is tested and sorts out allegiances in the Special World.
The hero and newfound allies prepare for the major challenge in the Special World.
8. THE ORDEAL
Near the middle of the story, the hero enters a central space in the Special World and confronts death or faces his or her greatest fear. Out of the moment of death comes a new life.
9. THE REWARD
The hero takes possession of the treasure won by facing death. There may be celebration, but there is also danger of losing the treasure again.
10. THE ROAD BACK
About three-fourths of the way through the story, the hero is driven to complete the adventure, leaving the Special World to be sure the treasure is brought home. Often a chase scene signals the urgency and danger of the mission.
11. THE RESURRECTION
At the climax, the hero is severely tested once more on the threshold of home. He or she is purified by a last sacrifice, another moment of death and rebirth, but on a higher and more complete level. By the hero’s action, the polarities that were in conflict at the beginning are finally resolved.
12. RETURN WITH THE ELIXIR
The hero returns home or continues the journey, bearing some element of the treasure that has the power to transform the world as the hero has been transformed.
Your Writing Prompt:
Write about a quest — your quest. You can decide to look at your entire life or pick a specific period or milestone. Think of a challenge you tackled and the way you came out of it changed. Then, write about that time in your life using the 12-step structure of Joseph Campbell’s Hero’s Journey. And describe the twelve stages of your quest:
- The Ordinary World
- The Call to Adventure
- Refusal of the Call
- Meeting with the Mentor
- Crossing the Threshold
- Tests, Allies, Enemies
- Approach to the Innermost Cave
- The Ordeal
- The Reward (Seizing the Sword)
- The Road Back
- The Resurrection
- Return with the Elixir
What is your Hero’s or Heroine’s Journey? How did it begin? How did it evolve? What was the purpose of your quest? Was it an inner or an outer one? How was it related to your calling? What stages have already taken place? What is next? What was the elixir you were searching for? What did you need to be able to return with it?
You can also write about the quest of a family member or close friend whose quest and story you witnessed. And when you finish writing, come back here and share your piece in the comments below. I’d love to read it!
“A journey is like marriage. The certain way to be wrong is to think you control it.”
~ JOHN STEINBECK, Travels with Charley: In Search of America
Filed Under: Writing Prompts
The Hero's Quest Essay
The Hero's Quest
by Scott Hemmerling
Tough, long, hard, exhausting; all words that are used to describe the hero's quest. In most sci-fi movies, the main hero must undergo a quest. Either the hero is reluctant and trained or willing and untrained to do this quest.
In all the science fiction movies that were watched in class, there was a similar plot. The main character was somewhat forced into a situation and told to save something important to the person that pulled them out of their life. Either the hero is reluctant and trained or willing and untrained to do this quest.
In the movie the Matrix, the main character, Neo, is the type of hero who is untrained. It is easy to figure this out because Neo is a regular nerd who is pulled out of his normal life. After he is pulled out of his life he is brought to something called the Matrix. It's noticeable when Neo is plugged into the computer. The computer is giving him all the information he needs to perform his task. Also, when Morphious tells Neo about the Agents. While telling him about them, Morphious is instructing Neo on their strengths and weaknesses. These examples show that Neo is doesn't know how to perform his given tasks.
Also in the Matrix, Neo is one of the characters that are willing to jump into his task. When Neo is in the car with Trinity and Switch, he is given a choice. His choice is to leave or go to the Matrix with them. He chooses to go into the Matrix. One more example is after Neo comes back from the Matrix, he is still willing to go back into the Matrix to save Morphious. This shows how willing Neo is to complete his task.. He is willing to risk his life just to save another's. These two examples show how Morphious is willing to do his task.
In a different movie, Blade Runner, Decker is a hero who is trained. One example is when Decker goes into the office of his old boss. His boss tells Decker that he is he only one who can kill the replicants. Decker knows this statement is true. Another example is when Decker is doing the test on Rachael, he tells his owner that he was the best Blade Runner there ever was. Even though this is true, he does not want to continue killing the replicants. This is a shame. These example show how Decker is trained to do his job as a Blade Runner.
Keeping with the movie Blade Runner, Decker is unwilling to come out of retirement. This is shown when Decker is talking to his old boss. He tells him that he does not want to further his work. Although he knows he is the best person for the job, he will not do it. He would rather sit at home and waste the rest of his life. After he finds Rachael, he becomes...
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