CARL JUNG, JOSEPH CAMPBELL, VLADMIR PROPP and CHRISTOPHER VOGLER…
HAVE ALL TAKEN US THROUGH THE MYTHICAL HERO’S JOURNEY. They helped define the story of the hero as we know it. Today, it is used to shape countless books, movies and narratives. And as they say, it’s form, not formula. But what is the Hero’s journey really about?
1. THE ORDINARY WORLD
The hero always begins in his ordinary world. The world presents us with the hero’s background and context – it tells us who he or she is (at least at this point in time).
Ordinary worlds are characteristically static, mundane and often filled with frustrations and limitations for the hero. He craves something more, but isn’t able yet to achieve it.
In Star Wars, we see Luke Skywalker at home in Tatooine. In The Hunger Games, Katniss is in District 13. In Harry Potter, Harry is stuck at the Dursley’s.
The Call to Adventure is what signals to the hero that there is a greater calling beyond his ordinary world. It’s the catalyst that gets the story going.
The catalyst can take on any event or form that you like, but whatever it is, it must tell the hero that things are about to change – the world that the hero knows needs action.
In Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland, Alice sees the White Rabbit at this point. In Gone Girl, Amy is found to be missing. In the very opening page of Wolf Hall, Cromwell is given an immediate call to action when his father, in the midst of beating him, tells him to ‘get up.’
3. REFUSING THE CALL
The hero doesn’t always take on the ‘call’ when he hears it. In fact, in the hero’s narrative, he actively refuses the call. He refuses to act or go on the adventure, making up excuses about why. Deep down, the refusal is almost always about fear. For the hero, the call is a kind of first test – one that he usually gets wrong by refusing.
In Star Wars, Luke instantly tells Obi Wan that he can’t go to Alderaan to help the Princess because he has ‘work to do.’ In Nora’s Roberts’ romance Sea Swept, Cam is forced to return to his childhood home, albeit reluctantly.
Next, the mentor appears. In the simplest of terms, the mentor is often the character who will convince the hero to go on the quest – just think of Gandalf at the start of Lord of the Rings.
The mentor is the one who provides the hero with the knowledge, tools and skills he will need to go on the adventure. The mentor is usually someone the hero looks up to and turns to for guidance; but the relationship doesn’t always have to be straight forward. Although the mentor appears at this moment in the story, he/she can always be introduced earlier or they can show up later, too.
Some of the most famous mentors include Glinda the Good Witch of the North in the Wizard of Oz, Haymitch in the Hunger Games and Mazer Rackham in Ender’s Game.
At this point, if the hero is still reluctant, something else can happen to push him towards action and adventure. This event is what changes the hero’s mind and convinces him to act – it removes doubt or anxiety or shows that fears can/must conquered.
The event can be devastating, such as the death or disappearance of a loved one, or it can simply be an internal choice or decision – the hero can’t stand things to go on in this way any longer.
The threshold is the border or boundary that rests between the hero’s ordinary world and the new Special World where the adventure takes place.
It is at the threshold that the hero often takes pause, contemplates the journey he’s about to undergo – and meets a Threshold Guardian, someone who either blocks the way forward or reinforces the severity of what’s about to happen. Once the guardian has been overcome or listened to, the hero can then cross the first threshold.
In the Wizard of Oz the first threshold is crossed when Dorothy’s house leaves Kansas and ends up in Oz. In Charlie and the Chocolate Factory, Charlie steps inside the famed factory.
Coming Soon: A Quick Guide to the Hero’s Journey – Part 2
Images in this post created by Kim Sutherland