The Hero’s Journey – Hollywood’s Best Kept Secret

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The encapsulating 12 step secret formula to story telling.

Heros journey
Infographic Hero’s Journey

You have seen the Hero’s Journey getting into it’s work many times…

  • Harry Potter
  • Frodo
  • Neo
  • Simba
  • Batman
  • Lilo & Stitch
  • Luke Skywalker
  • Oskar Schindler
  • Alladin
  • Thor
  • On and on and on and on

Really, I mean on and on and on and on. The Hero’s Journey is seemingly playing at least one member of the band in almost any fictitious on screen main character. Jon Favreau spoke openly about how his character ‘Carl Casper’ from his produced, written and directed feel good movie ‘Chef’ was written with exclusive direction from the Hero’s Journey.

The idea spawned within Joseph Campbell’s classic, ‘A Hero With A Thousand Faces’. Campbell was a Mythologist by trade and in his classic work, corroborated thematic truths across ancient mythologies the world over that explore the monomyth, or otherwise known as the archetypal journey of the hero.

The Journey follows a character’s 12 clear steps to hero actualisation. The order or significance of each step may vary, but bare this framework in mind next time you visit the cinema and notice Campbell’s legacy firmly at the forefront.

Much like all journeys, however, one must not forget to travel like a local.

Act 1

1 – Ordinary World

At the beginning our character is completely oblivious to his impending journey. Here he/she has their personality highlighted and confirmed firmly rooting them as human and ordinary. This is a necessary step to making a person who is about to extraordinary things… relatable to you and me.

2 – Call To Adventure

This can manifest in a seemingly endless amount of ways. What makes this step critical is that the hero is presented with his/her first call to action – usually under the guise of importance – to undergo a quest.

3 – Refusal Of The Call

An absolutely necessary step for reliability. Our Hero must refuse the offer. Whether it be out of fear, apparent incapability, or priorities. Our Hero must refuse the call. It is the time in interim that we learn of the difficulty our hero undergoes in grasping his refusal.

4 – Meeting The Mentor

To further relate our Hero with the everyday man/woman. Our Hero cannot accept the call without further intervention. This is where the Mentor comes in. He/She will, whether through training, advice or guidance, serve as the catalyst that propels our Hero into the unknown.

5 – Crossing The Threshold

This is the stage where our Hero ‘takes his first step’ as it were. Our Hero has no committed to his adventure and accepted the call to adventure.

Act 2

6 – Tests, Allies, Enemies

The Hero is now exposed to the cruelty and unpredictability of the quest he has undergone. Whether it be danger, or the uncertain the Hero here establishes whats at stake, who he is against and upon who he can rely.

7 – Plunging Into The Depths

Here, our Hero is again comes face to face with his/her shortcomings manifest in contrast to the stories villain. He has to re affirm earlier doubts, and then proceed further into the unknown. Think of Bilbo entering Smaug’s lair.

8 – Ordeal

This is the catalyst of danger for the Hero. It is at this point he faces a life or death scenario. Everything must be on the line, and only the Hero can save the day. He/she must draw upon all he has learnt throughout the Journey so far.

9 – Seizing The Sword

Once our Hero overcomes the perils of the Ordeal he must then claim his reward. This can take the form of new knowledge, a literal object, or love. From here the Hero is elevated and proven.

Act 3

10 – The Road Back

This is a necessary step marking the Hero’s return back into the ordinary world.

11 – Resurrection

This is the climatic battle with the enemy. Even more serious than step 8. The Hero must use his sword and defeat the enemy. This is a step that is sometimes rearranged elsewhere in the script.

12 – Return With The Elixr

Whether it be literal or metaphoric. Our Hero’s return is defined through three prisms: change, success and proof of his journey. The return home also signals the need for resolution for the story’s other key players. The Hero’s doubters will be ostracised, his enemies punished and his allies rewarded. Ultimately the Hero will return to where he started but things will clearly never be the same again.

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