The Hero’s Journey

hero to kinsman vThe Hero’s Journey is a pattern of narrative identified by the American scholar Joseph Campbell that appears in drama, storytelling, myth, religious ritual, and psychological development.   The journey revolves around the adventures of the archetype known as The Hero  who goes out and achieves great deeds on behalf of a group, tribe, or civilization; brings home some kind of “treasure” to aid the community; and is recognized  as a leader the community thereafter. Campbell conceived of the journey as a male journey, but many contemporary stories and movies feature a female hero (“shero”) with an adventure that follows  the same path but ends with romance and family rather than sustained recognition as a leader.

The stages of the Hero’s Journey are:

  1. THE ORDINARY WORLD.  The hero is introduced. The reader is given a bit of personal history, setting, and cultural context. Something in the hero’s life makes him feel he is being pulled in different directions and causing stress.
  2. THE CALL TO ADVENTURE.  Something shakes up the situation, and the hero feels called to make a change, which usually involves leaving home.
  3. REFUSAL OF THE CALL.  The hero fears the unknown and considers turning away from the adventure.  Or another character tries to dissuade the her from proceeding.
  4. THE HERO FINDS A  MENTOR.  The hero comes across someone (often a stranger, elder, or spirit) who gives him or her training, equipment, or advice that will help on the journey.
  5. CROSSING THE THRESHOLD The hero commits to leaving the World where he started and enters 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 Unfamiliar or Special World.
  7. APPROACH.  The hero and his/her new-found allies prepare for the major challenge in the Special World.
  8. THE ORDEAL.  The hero arrives in a central space in the Unfamiliar World and faces death or his or her greatest fear.  The hero emerges from this moment of reckoning changed in some way.
  9. THE REWARD.  The hero takes possession of the treasure he has won in the ordeal.  There may be celebration, but there is also danger of losing the treasure again.
  10.   THE ROAD BACK The hero must complete the adventure and leave the Special World to bring his or her treasure back home.  Often a chase scene signals the urgency and danger of the mission.
  11.  THE RESURRECTION.  The hero is severely tested once more as he or she nears home in the climax.  He or she is changed by a last sacrifice, another moment of death and rebirth—often psychological– which prepares the hero to be a leader upon his return.
  12.  RETURN WITH THE ELIXIR.  The hero returns home, bearing the treasure. The treasure has the power to transform the world, as the hero has been transformed. The hero is hailed as a leader by his kinsmen or community and so begins a new (and better) life and world.

The Hero’s Journey can be depicted graphically as follows:

 Hero's Journey


To see examples of a hero’s journey in film and literature, click here.

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