Through the previous years, I have on occasion run across the idea of Joseph Campbell’s “Hero’s Journey” as a structural blueprint for fiction. I have never been terribly interested. Plotting and structure have never really been among my weakest skill sets. (In my humble opinion.) Though there is always room for improvement in all facets of craft, I try to concentrate my effort on what I consider my weakest areas. I also have thought that this type of literary analysis was more useful to those who interpret existing fiction than those who create it.
Much as it pains me to admit it, I may have been wrong.
During the writers conference I attended earlier this month, I attended a workshop in which the presenters incorporated “The Hero’s Journey” into their larger subject. I found it intriguing. And yes, I could see how it could be useful in plotting out ones work, or even just checking an existing plot to ensure the elements were there.
For those of you are unfamiliar with Joseph Campbell or his “Hero’s Journey,” a primer. Joseph Campbell was an American mythologist who pioneered the field of comparative mythology. One of the discoveries he made during his studies was that most, if not all, human cultures had several universal themes in their mythologies. These themes crossed geographic, language, and cultural differences; they’re genuinely universal themes. A human (writ large) thing. His analysis and that of the disciples who followed was that these themes, collectively described as The Hero’s Journey, fufill a subconscious need common to all human beings.
So I’m thinking, tapping into a universal human archetype could be a good thing, right? Perk my fiction right up. Perk everyone’s fiction right up.
Now there is knowing what the benchmarks of “The Hero’s Journey” are and there is understanding them and what they mean. This is where the instructors of the workshop tweaked the lesson so well. They used an extremely popular work, one that most people are familiar with, to demonstrate what “The Hero’s Journey” means when used in real life.
And here it is:
Joseph Campbell’s “The Hero’s Journey” as manifested in Star Wars VI: A New Beginning.(The one with Luke Skywalker, Hans Solo and Princess Leia).
Ordinary World—Provides a snapshot of the character’s world as is.
Luke on the moisture farm with his Aunt and Uncle.
The Call to Adventure—The protagonist is summoned to attempt a dangerous quest.
Luke meets Obi-Wan. “Come to Alberon.” (Must have the opportunity to say “no.”)
Refusal of the Call—The protagonist doesn’t want to take the risk.
Luke refuses until Storm Troopers kill his Aunt and Uncle.
Supernatural Aid—The hero receives help or guidance from a supernatural source.
Training with Obi-Wan. Use of the light sabre.
The Crossing of the First Threshold—The hero officially leaves his usual world.
The scene at Mos Eisley Space Port. Meeting the trickster: Hans Solo. (Everything must change.)
The Belly of the Whale—The hero is on the brink of losing her quest, maybe her life.
Stuck in the trash compactor with Hans and Leia.
The Road of Trials—A series of tests the hero must complete to be transformed.
The Meeting with the Goddess—The hero experiences a transcendental love.
Rescue Princess Leia.
Woman as the Temptress—The hero faces a temptation that threatens their quest.
Atonement with the Father—Hero must confront whatever holds the ultimate power.
See Darth Vader.
Apotheosis—A physical death but spiritual awakening.
The Ultimate Boon—Hero achieves the goal of the quest.
The Empire is hampered. Luke has knew knowledge. Rebels attack the Death Star.
Refusal of the Return—The hero may not want to return to the ordinary world.
The Magic Flight—Sometimes the hero must escape with the boon.
“Use the force, Luke.” He uses The Force to destroy the Death Star.
Rescue from Without—Hero needs help to return to the ordinary world.
Hans Solo rescues Luke.
The Crossing of the Return Threshold—The trick of retaining the knowledge gained.
Luke at the rebel medal ceremony.
Master of Two Worlds—Hero has become competent in both inner and outer worlds.
Luke decides to remain with the rebels, but is now both a pilot and a Jedi knight.
Freedom to Live—The hero is now free of the fear of death, thus can live.
As you can see from the example above, not every benchmark is used in every tale, but most usually are. Personally, I think that, as a writing tool, The Hero’s Journey will be most useful in either the initial effort to sketch out a plot, or later, as a tool in the revision process. (As in, “Do I have a point in the story that coincides with The Call to Adventure and is it near the beginning?”).
One more thought before parting. As I was listening to the presentation I found that my own work often paralleled Campbell’s outline. I think most writers and most people who read enough to be familiar with the form follow The Hero’s Journey instinctively. Because, after all, it is a universal facet of storytelling.