Hero's Journey

            Some of you may have heard of the concept "Hero's Journey", this is widely used in the area of Psychology. In this post I will explain Campbell's original concept, and all the stages of that journey.

            First, let's talk about the creator of this concept, Joseph Campbell (1904-1987). Campbell was an American writer, mythologist and university professor who read and studied heroic myths from different parts of the world. He then realized that these myths had similar themes, challenges and steps. From this he concluded that this similar heroic journey was an archetypal pattern that was repeated regardless of place and time. He then published in 1949 the book "The Hero of a Thousand Faces", where he presented the idea of the Hero's Journey. This book is a guide for observing myths, not for writing stories (later, other writers released books in that sense based on Campbell's concepts).

            The Hero's Journey, therefore, is, as the name implies, the standard route that the Hero has to travel to reach his goal. It is divided into three phases ("The Departure", "The Initiation", and "The Return") each divided into steps or stages. However, not every journey has all the steps. In addition, some steps are not always in the order presented below, but some must happen sooner or later in history.

The Departure

The beginning of the journey

The Call to Adventure

            The Journey begins with “The Call to Adventure”. In this stage, the Hero is summoned for a journey through another character, an event or a feeling. It signals the beginning of the adventure.

            Ex.: Gandalf entrusts the One Ring to Frodo. First, he must guard it until the wizard returns. Afterwards, he is instructed to take the One Ring out of the Shire, to the Fellowship of the Ring and later to Mordor.

Refusal to Call

            Then comes the “Refusal to Call”, which consists of the Hero's initial resistance to accept the mission. Be it for being scared, having doubts, having other responsibilities, etc. This refusal can sometimes come from an external source. But eventually, the Hero overcomes his doubts and embarks on the journey.

            Ex.: Frodo resists the idea of the journey, claiming that it is impossible for a mere hobbit to accomplish this task. This resistance lasts for almost the entire journey.

Supernatural Aid

            After accepting the journey, the Hero arrives at the “Supernatural Aid” stage. In this, he finds a wise mentor to guide him on his way. Or he gets a magic / special item that will give him an advantage. Or both (this is the case with Luke Skywalker in Star Wars, where he meets Obi-Wan, his mentor, and obtains the lightsaber).

            Ex.: Frodo is advised by Gandalf, who occupies the role of wise mentor.

Crossing the First Threshold

            "Crossing the First Threshold" is when the Hero leaves the known world for the dangerous and unknown world of adventure. The Hero crosses the "Point of No Return" (that is, there is no turning back) and is completely focused on the mission. In addition, there is usually a "Guardian of the Threshold", which would be the Hero's last test before leaving his known world.

            Ex.: Frodo and his companions leave the Shire, and enter the unknown world. Returning is no longer an option.

The Belly of the Whale

            "The Belly of the Whale" (perhaps a reference to the biblical story of Jonah, the prophet who was swallowed by a whale) is when the Hero faces the possibility of death or failure for the first time. And after surviving this event, psychological changes start to happen. An interesting fact is that this stage involves water quite frequently, which must be related to the idea of baptism (the Hero is officially being started on the path of adventure).

            Ex.: Frodo and the hobbits are hunted by the Nazgûl, and they experience the danger of death for the first time.

The Initiation

Frodo about to destroy the One Ring, and being tempted by it.

The Road of Trials

            After surviving a near-death experience, the Hero must now face “The Road of Trials”. This is a series of challenges, mental and physical, that will prepare the Hero for what is to come. This stage usually makes up most of the narrative (it would be practically the entire “middle” of the story).

            Ex.: Frodo and the Fellowship of the Ring face several challenges on the path of the mission to destroy the One Ring and defeat Sauron.

The Meeting with a Deity

            The Hero then has "The Meeting with a Deity", where the Hero meets a powerful figure who offers a supernatural strength and, sometimes, a truce. This is, for the Hero, a time of deep connection and a broad understanding of the world around him (including his mission). This "deity" can be positive, negative or both; either way, the effect and purpose will be the same. Another detail, the term deity was used by Campbell in the context of mythologies, where Heroes literally met gods or goddesses. In the case of stories without this mythological content, the term deity does not make much sense, but understand that it can be attributed to any character who has the influence mentioned above on the Hero, not necessarily being a real deity.

            Ex.: Frodo meets Galadriel, who offers her elven wisdom and a brief moment of peace.

Temptation

            "Temptation" is the moment when the Hero is potentially drawn away from his mission (it can be money, power, sex, knowledge ...). And, the Hero resisting this temptation validates the faith that his allies (and the public) put in him.

            Ex.: Frodo is tempted by the One Ring. This occurs at different times during the journey, but in the end the temptation is much stronger (so much so that Frodo gives in, but is stopped by Sam).

Atonement

            In the "Atonement" the Hero is reconciled with a parental figure (father, mother, or other figure that has such a role). The relationship between them changes from adult-child to adult-adult. This step validates Hero's efforts in his own eyes, and gives him the confidence to continue after his goal.

            Ex.: Frodo meets his uncle, Bilbo, and is recognized by him.

Apotheosis

            The Hero then arrives at the final stretch of his journey, now going to "Apotheosis". In this stage, the Hero achieves an elevation of status (becomes greater than it was before), which may be a social, physical, psychological or spiritual elevation. This elevation can be achieved on the way to the “Ultimate Boon” or can be a result of it.

            Ex.: The Kingdom kneels before the hobbits.

Ultimate Boon

            The “Ultimate Boon” is the act of conquering the objective of the adventure, it is the climax. Generally, it coincides with the defeat of the Shadow (this and other terms, as mentor and trickster, I will explain better in another post), of the antagonist. Sometimes, this boon is something fleeting that the Hero can't hold onto. As already mentioned, this stage can occur before or after the “Apotheosis”, but they always come together.

            Ex.: The One Ring is destroyed and Sauron is definitively defeated.

The Return

Frodo leaving for Valinor.

The Refusal to Return

            Now that the Hero has achieved his goal, he must return home. But before that we have the “Refusal to Return”, where the Hero cannot or does not want to return to the world he knew. The Hero wants to hold on to the “Boon”, the adventure world or a relationship. Sometimes he doubts his ability to return.

            Ex.: Frodo almost falls on the volcano, and is saved by Sam (again). In addition, Frodo is so tired that he just wants to give up.

The Magic Flight

            "The Magic Flight" occurs when there is some remaining threat from which the Hero must escape, after the "Boon". Generally, the Hero flees from the remnants of the Shadow, which can be a time bomb, a collapsing castle, an army in pursuit, etc.

            Ex.: Volcano erupts and lava takes over the entire place. Frodo and Sam take shelter on a rock, which turns into an island in the middle of lava.

The Rescue from Without

            Then there is the "Rescue from Without" in which someone, miraculously, saves the Hero from this remaining threat. This helps to bring the high Hero back to reality (aka putting on the shoes of humility). Sometimes, this event forces the reluctant Hero to accept the return.

            Ex.: Gandalf with Giant Eagles rescue Frodo and Sam from Mordor.

Crossing the Return Threshold

            “Crossing the Return Threshold” is the stage where the Hero returns the land from which he was transformed. This can be a happy meeting or it can leave the Hero dissatisfied. This step makes the journey complete the cycle.

            Ex.: Hobbits return to the Shire.

Master of Two Worlds and Freedom to Live

            “Master of Two Worlds” represents the idea that the Hero has mastered the challenges of the journey and his life so far, and can move between the known and adventure worlds at his whim / will. It usually involves mastery over things and emotions that have challenged him in the past.

            "Freedom to Live" illustrates the idea that the Hero is free from the burden of the journey. And that he can “live happily ever after”. Sometimes the Hero gets only one of the two.

            Ex.: Hobbits become owners of their own territory. Frodo, freed from the burden of his mission and very tired, decides to accompany Gandalf on his journey to Valinor (land beyond the sea).


I want to credit this post to my instructor of “Historical Archetypes and Mythology” at Full Sail, John Peter Trask. His classes were the main source of the content of this post.

Images:

Alexandre Souza

Alexandre Souza is a Brazilian novelist that writes dark and supernatural stories, and also explores fantasy and historical fiction. He’s earning a BFA in Creative Writing at Full Sail University. He has flash fictions published at Adelaide Magazine and Scarlet Leaf Review. He’s a mythology and supernatural geek and uses this knowledge to enhance his work.

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