Mythology can be simultaneously fascinating and complex. Intrigued by these legendary tales, author Joseph Campbell studied myths and made the famous claim that nearly all myths and some other story types have similar ideas, and the heroes' adventures are almost identical in their format. The different stages of adventure he identified have come to be called the hero's journey. Explore the stages of a hero's journey and hero's journey examples.
There are multiple steps to the hero's journey, and each step falls into one of three stages.
- Stage 1: Departure - During this stage, the hero is preparing for his quest.
- Stage 2: Initiation - This begins as the hero crosses the first threshold, and it ends as the hero begins the road back.
- Stage 3: Return - This starts as the hero begins the road back, this stage continues through the end of the story.
In his book, The Hero with a Thousand Faces, Joesph Campbell broke down the 17 steps of the hero's journey.
- Call to Adventure - A problem or threat interrupts the hero's normal life.
- Refusal of the Call - Initially, the hero is hesitant to embark on the journey. Therefore, they refuse the call.
- Supernatural Aid - Someone they look up to helps them find the inspiration to join the journey.
- Crossing the Threshold - This is the point where the hero leaves on their journey.
- Belly of the Whale - In this stage, the hero encounters the first obstacle after leaving on the journey. This step is the end of the departure stage.
- Road of Trials - The first step of the initiation stage, these are the trials the hero undergoes and the beginning of the change in some aspect of the hero. They learn from their mistakes in this step.
- Meeting With the Goddess - The hero meets the allies that will help them through their journey.
- Woman as Temptress - The temptation that arises to try to get the hero to abandon the journey.
- Atonement With the Father - One of the major turning points of the story where the hero faces the ultimate reason for the journey. The hero might face a villain or even their own doubt.
- Apotheosis - From the previous step, the hero learns how they will face the rest of the journey. This is the moment that the hero gains profound understanding or knowledge that helps them to prevail.
- Ultimate Boon - The final step of the initiation stage, this step is where the hero fulfills the reason for their journey.
- Refusal of Return - The first step of the return stage, the hero is initially reluctant to return to their mundane life.
- Magic Flight - Though the hero has answered their call and completed the reason for their journey, they are still chased by others. In this step, the hero works to evade those chasing them.
- Rescue From Without - Again an outside source or mentor works to guide them home and rescue them from those chasing them.
- Crossing the Return Threshold - The hero crosses back into their mundane world.
- Master of Two Worlds - Since the hero has been on the journey, they need to learn to balance their mundane life and the world they experienced on the journey.
- Freedom to Live - The hero acclimates back into their mundane life and lives peacefully.
In his book, The Writer's Journey, Christopher Vogler, a Hollywood consultant, simplified Joseph Campbell's hero's journey into only 12 steps. The 12 steps of the hero's journey include:
- Ordinary World - This step refers to the hero's normal life at the start of the story, before the adventure begins. It’s the starting point, and it gives a glimpse into the character of the hero before the adventure begins. Often, this hero will change over the course of the story. We may see evidence of hamartia or a fatal flaw in the hero at this early point in the story.
- Call to Adventure - The hero is faced with something that makes them begin their adventure. This might be a problem or a challenge they need to overcome. In general, the hero must make a choice about whether to undertake the adventure.
- Refusal of the Call - The hero attempts to refuse the adventure because of fear. They may feel unprepared or inadequate, or may not want to sacrifice what is being asked of them.
- Meeting With the Mentor - The hero encounters someone who can give advice and ready them for the journey ahead. Acting as a mentor, this person imparts wisdom that may change the hero’s mind.
- Crossing the First Threshold - The hero leaves their ordinary world for the first time and crosses the threshold into adventure. This step may seem almost inevitable, but it also represents a choice the hero is making. It’s a door through which the hero must pass for the story to really begin.
- Tests, Allies, Enemies - The hero learns the rules of their new world. During this time, they endure tests of strength and tests of will, meets friends, and come face to face with foes. This period in the journey helps define the hero's relationship with other characters in the story. During this part of the journey, the hero learns who will help and who will hinder.
- Approach - Setbacks occur, sometimes causing the hero to try a new approach or adopt new ideas. This is a lesson in persistence for the hero. When they fail, they need to try again. Often, the stakes are rising, and real overall failure becomes less of an option.
- Ordeal - The hero experiences a major hurdle or obstacle, such as a life or death crisis. They must come face to face with their weaknesses and must overcome them. This will be something the hero barely manages to accomplish.
- Reward - After surviving death, the hero earns a reward or accomplishes their goal. This is a moment of great success in the story. The hero is a changed person now, though they may not fully realize the extent of the change in their continued focus on the matter at hand.
- The Road Back - The hero begins the journey back to ordinary life. In some ways, integrating back into their life will be a challenge. They are different now after the ordeal.
- Resurrection Hero - The hero faces a final test where everything is at stake, and they must use everything they have learned. This is where personal changes prove useful. The hero is now ideally suited to overcoming the obstacles in front of them.
- Return With Elixir - The hero brings their knowledge or the "elixir" back to the ordinary world, where they apply it to help all who remain there. This is the true reward for the journey and transformation.
Test your understanding of the 12 steps of the hero's journey with this guided worksheet.
This concept of the hero's journey is one that has gained much praise and consideration of worth in the literary community. This classic formula for an epic tale has been around for a long time, and it’s satisfying to readers and viewers today. You’ll recognize it in many of the most famous stories, including Ancient Greek mythology.
In the Greek classic The Odyssey, the hero Odysseus must also go on a hero’s journey.
- Ordinary world - Odysseus is at home with his wife and son.
- Call to adventure - Odysseus is called to fight the Trojans.
- Refusal of the call - He doesn’t want to leave his family.
- Meeting with the mentor - The goddess Athena guides Odysseus.
- Crossing the first threshold - After the war, the gods are angry, and Odysseus’ ship is taken off course.
- Tests, allies, and enemies - Odysseus and his men must go through several tests, including fighting a sea monster and a cyclops.
- Approach - Odysseus’ crew opens the bag of winds when they are nearly home, sending them away again.
- Ordeal - Odysseus must go to the underworld.
- Reward - Odysseus receives passage home.
- The road back - Odysseus returns home to find his wife is being courted by many suitors.
- Resurrection of the hero - Odysseus is patient and dresses as a beggar to test his wife’s fidelity.
- Return with the elixir - He learns she has been faithful, and their union is restored.
The Old English poem Beowulf is a great example of the hero’s journey. You’ll recognize the following stages:
- Ordinary world - Greatland is Beowulf’s ordinary world.
- Call to adventure - Beowulf heard stories of Grendel, who had killed many men. He was asked to help.
- Refusal of the call - Beowulf chooses not to refuse the call.
- Meeting with the mentor - King Hrothgar becomes Beowulf’s mentor, helping him learn what it is to be a good king.
- Crossing the first threshold - Beowulf sails across the sea to Denmark.
- Tests, allies, and enemies - Beowulf battles Grendel.
- Approach - Beowulf learns that Grendel’s mother lives.
- Ordeal - Beowulf must fight the swamp hag.
- Reward - Beowulf receives treasures as a reward.
- The road back - Beowulf becomes the king.
- Resurrection of the hero - Beowulf fights a dragon to defend his kingdom.
- Return with the elixir - Beowulf dies a hero’s death and is remembered by his people.
Professionals, such as Christopher Vogler, even use the hero's journey in the creation of Disney classics. Here is a step-by-step outline of how the hero in the Disney movie Lilo and Stitch follows this journey:
- Ordinary world - Lilo's ordinary world is in Hawaii; Stitch is Experiment 626.
- Call to adventure - The call to adventure occurs when Lilo is sent away. The problem/challenge is a threat that Lilo will be taken from her sister Nani. Stitch then crashes onto Earth.
- Refusal of the call - There is no refusal of the call in this story.
- Meeting with the mentor - The meeting with the mentor occurs when Lilo adopts Stitch. They are each other's mentors.
- Crossing the first threshold - The crossing of the first threshold occurs when Stitch crashes on Earth.
- Tests, allies, and enemies - The characters endure many tests as Stitch learns to become a model citizen.
- Approach - The approach occurs because Stitch causes problems, and there are threats to take Lilo away from Cobra.
- Ordeal - The ordeal occurs when Stitch learns he has no family and is alone, and when Cobra takes Lilo who then runs away. Lilo also takes Stitch to go away after discovering he is an alien. Both characters are then captured, and it appears that Stitch is dead.
- Reward - The reward for Stitch is that he wants to be a family, and he must rescue Lilo.
- The road back - The road back occurs when Stitch rescues Lilo from the spaceship.
- Resurrection of the hero - The resurrection occurs when Stitch and Lilo get to become a family.
- Return with the elixir - The return with elixir occurs when everyone comes together, the aliens assist with the construction of a new house, and everyone becomes friends.
The hero's journey can be found in all genres of literature including mystery, science fiction, thriller, romance, and historical fiction. Learning to recognize this important literary element helps you gain a deeper understanding of the stories you read and experience.