Previously from the category On Writing
The well-renowned works of fiction that we all hold dear to our hearts all have something very interesting in common. Most of them, depending on what your idea of a classic is, contain elements that can be traced back to a single template. In 1949, a writer by the name of Joseph Campbell published a book known as The Hero with a Thousand Faces and with this book gave us a centralized pattern that can be found in some of the most popular works of fiction to date. This pattern is known as the hero’s journey.
What is ‘The Hero’s Journey?’
This journey, also described as ‘The Monomyth’ (borrowing from James Joyce’s Finnegan’s Wake), is a collection of various events that describe what a protagonist must go through in order to undertake the conflict of an adventure, resolve it, and return home safely with what he achieved or learned from the adventure Campbell used the journey of the hero to show how so many varying mythologies throughout history follow a similar pattern, even if they were lost in translation, unconnected by distance, or a mixture of both.
The journey does vary slightly through the eyes of different writers who have touched on the subject themselves, but the initial three stages are what tend to stay the same.
It’s at this stage that we meet our hero. What makes them so appealing in our minds as the reader is that they are often just your average person. They may have a special quirk or skill that makes them stand out amongst their peers, but for now, we can assume there isn’t anything outlandishly special about them. This is what makes for an appealing protagonist, they are just an average person like most of us.
It’s not long after we meet our hero that the story offers our beloved character ‘the call to adventure’. This consists of an event that forces our hero to choose whether or not to leave the world they know and love in order to begin their journey. Sometimes there are varying amounts of refusal involved. Just like not wanting to wake up in the morning, our hero may be hesitant to leave the comfort of their world at first, but, as any good story goes, they are usually swept away by the call and dive head first into the unknown.
Luckily for our character, before the first stage ends, there is always a good chance to meet the awe-inspiring mentor. This mentor is a clear representation of someone who has a clearer understanding of the world our hero will soon find themselves in, and sometimes they are even the ones who initiate the call to adventure.
Finally, in the last part of the departure stage, we see our hero leave their world behind and embark on their journey. This has varying degrees of permanence. Sometimes the hero is on a ship that cannot be turned around, a magical portal that will not be opened again until a dark entity is defeated, or trying to get back through the brick wall of platform 9 ¾ (Really, I don’t think I could’ve handled that well at all).
Now we get into the real adventure. Through the first few stages of the initiation, we find our hero meeting various allies, facing harrowing trials, and coming face-to-face with their enemies. Sometimes these things are very apparent, but other times the writer may see this as an opportunity to misguide the reader in order make the plot more interesting in the long run, possibly by switching the role of the protagonist’s close ally and the antagonist.
After certain trials have been undergone by our hero, it’s time to descend into the dwelling of the beast; We are talking the mother of all monsters, the biggest and baddest of warlords, the epitome of what we all see as evil. The physical representation of what we have wanted to see our hero battle since the beginning.
With this comes what most would consider the beginning of the climax. Granted, there are a few places where this can take place within the hero’s journey. Sometimes, although the shadow being slain may have seemed like the climax, the hero may deal with an inner conflict of some sort that follows shortly after that must be overcome in order to complete the journey.
This is where Campbell describes the ‘boon’, or the ultimate achievement of the journey that our hero has directly, or indirectly, pursued since entering the new world. All previous trials of the journey represent the hero’s path of purification in order to understand the true value of the boon when it is obtained, making it that much more desirable.
This is where we see our hero begin to make the return trip back to where they originally started, only this time they carry with them both the boon and the lessons learned along the way of the journey.
Some heroes are seen as having little to no interest actually leaving the new land in which they find themselves in. This is also known as ‘the refusal of return’. Think about it for a moment, you have just traversed through another world, you’ve made a worthy ally, learned timeless lessons, and you’ve even defeated the monster that has plagued the lands; would you really want to leave?
The importance of this portion of the story is the significance of what our hero realizes themselves. When Frodo had first decided not to discard the ring into Mount Doom, he was in a refusal of leaving a state in which his new world had offered that he knew would never be returned to him, even if it meant disregarding the whole purpose of his journey. This innermost turmoil is the final test that shows the true value our hero has learned. However, just as most happy endings go, we find our hero back to where they first began, but now our hero is stronger, wiser, and carrying with him the treasures of his journey