The Hero’s Journey
The Hero with a Thousand Faces by Joseph Campbell
Notes on The Hero's Adventure from the Power of Myth Series
with Joseph Campbell and Bill Moyers
Michael F. Haspil’s Apocalyptic Productions Glance at the
Monomyth and its connection to film
Liz Warren at the Maricopa Center for Learning and Instruction
NOTE: This presentation should not be cited outside of the
purposes of our class.
"A hero is someone who has given his or her life to something
bigger than oneself"
-- Joseph Campbell
The usual hero is
something has been
* who feels
lacking from the
permitted to the
members of his
The Journey Begins….
I. The Departure /The Separation
The HERO is
introduced in the
where he receives
THE CALL TO
The call to adventure is
the point in the hero's
life when he is first given
notice that everything is
going to change, whether
he knows it or not.
Before receiving this
CALL TO ADVENTURE,
the hero is typically
immersed in the
mundane of the
The HERALD : Through a visit from the HERALD, the HERO receives
the call. A HERALD is a character who serves as a harbinger, a messenger.
Such a character delivers the HERO’s CALL TO ADVENTURE.
NOTE: The HERALD does
not necessarily have to be
a person. It can be a force,
such as a storm, or an
animal such as an owl, etc.
The HERALD can be
anything that acts as a
messenger to signal to the
hero that a choice has to
be made – that he is at the
crossroads and he can
heed the CALL TO
ADVENTURE or ignore it.
ALSO NOTE: The
HERALD can function as
other archetypes, as well.
Once he delivers the
message, he can then
become an ALLY or a
SIDEKICK (for example).
Such is the case with
Dumbledore. He delivers
the call to Harry and
quickly becomes a
REFUSAL OF THE CALL
Some heroes set out
responsibly and intentionally
to perform the deed
prescribed by the journey, as
established in the CALL TO
However, often when the call
is given, the future HERO
refuses to heed it. This
refusal may be from a sense
of duty or obligation, fear,
insecurity, a sense of
inadequacy, or any of a range
of reasons that work to hold
the person in his or her
Eventually the HERO (in
order to complete the
journey) accepts the call, but
it can take some time.
Once the HERO has committed to the quest,
consciously or unconsciously, his or her guide and
magical helper appears, or becomes known.
In addition to various helpers, the HERO may
encounter other archetypal characters who help or
hinder his journey.
Helper as ALLY
By definition, an ALLY is
someone on your side,
someone there to help
you achieve your goals.
But in terms of the hero’s
journey, an ALLY is of
Oftentimes, the ALLY may be a hero in his own right,
having completed his own journey. In many ways,
ALLIES become greater heroes for partaking in this
The Ally is there to aid the HERO. Sometimes they
have difficulty relinquishing their own ego/hero
status. Other times they don’t grow at all. They
simply help the hero.
Helper as ALLY
Traditionally, the SIDEKICK is a character who is
always there for the HERO and who the HERO can
always count on. He doesn't experience growth or
reap the benefits of the journey.
The HERO would be crippled if he lost his SIDEKICK,
but he would be able to complete his quest.
ALLY as SIDEKICK
Helper as MENTOR
The MENTOR is someone who has walked the HERO’s
path before. MENTORS are typically in the shape of old
men or women. Their role is to pass on advice to the
HERO. Often the MENTOR will accompany the HERO on
the quest, but this is not always the case. Sometimes
MENTORS only appear in the HERO’s memory.
MENTORS all pass on knowledge and learning to the new
HERO and they may pass on boons (gifts) that will be
useful along the quest as well. One common element that
all MENTORS share is that at some point in the story they
are going to have to step aside and let the HERO be a hero.
This can be accomplished simply through the MENTOR
being unavailable or the MENTOR may die.
Uncle Ben dies early on, but still
acts as Peter's/Spiderman's mentor
Obi Wan Kenobi’s death is often viewed
as the death of Luke’s MENTOR. It
allows Luke to fulfill his role as HERO.
More about MENTORS
Helper as SUPERNATURAL AID
SUPERNATURAL AID is often presented as BOONS or
TALISMANS - assistance given to the HERO by a supernatural
source. The SUPERNATURAL AID HELPER is endowed with
abilities beyond the normal. Wizards easily fall into this category,
Gandalf and Merlin are perfect examples. The SUPERNATURAL
AID will often provide the hero with a talisman or boon that will
help him on his quest. Ben produces Luke's father's lightsaber.
Merlin helps Arthur get Excalibur. Gandalf provides the party with
Thror's Map which describes the secret entrance to the Lonely
Mountain and Smaug's lair. Additionally, the One Ring, in The
Hobbit absolutely falls into the category of SUPERNATURAL AID.
Without it, Bilbo would not have succeeded.
NOTE: Often the MENTOR is also the SUPERNATURAL AID HELPER
Other Archetypal Figures
Shapeshifter: The Shapeshifter's mask misleads the HERO by
hiding a character's intentions and loyalties.
Shadow: The Shadow can represent our darkest desires, our
untapped resources, or even rejected qualities. It can also symbolize
our greatest fears and phobias. Shadows may not be all bad, and may
reveal admirable, even redeeming qualities. The HERO's enemies
and villains often wear the Shadow mask. This physical force is
determined to destroy the HERO and his cause.
Trickster: Tricksters relish the disruption of the status quo, turning
the Ordinary World into chaos with their quick turns of phrase and
physical antics. Although they may not change during the course of
their Journeys, their world and its inhabitants are transformed by
their antics. The Trickster uses laughter [and ridicule] to make
characters see the absurdity of the situation, and perhaps force a
“We’re not in Kansas anymore.”
The Crossing of the Threshold
This is the point where the
HERO actually crosses into
the field of adventure,
leaving the known limits of
his or her world and
venturing into an unknown
and dangerous realm where
the rules and limits are not
The THRESHOLD often
manifests itself as a physical
place, but it does not have to
be. Sometimes the
THRESHOLD is manifested
as an actual barrier or
boundary, such as a river,
bridge, doorway, etc.
The key that defines the
CROSSING OF THE
THRESHOLD is that it is
where there is a clear
definition that the HERO is
no longer in the world of
common day and is actually
on the adventure itself.
Harry Potter crosses from the Ordinary
World to the New World through
Platform 9 ¾ at King's Cross Station.
Lucy crosses into Narnia
through the wardrobe.
When the HERO reaches the
THRESHOLD, he will not be permitted
to pass without effort. He must earn his
passage across. To help him do that, and
to turn less worthy individuals away
from the path, are THRESHOLD
To get further on in the adventure, the
HERO must somehow overcome them.
Sometimes the THRESHOLD
GUARDIANS are very obvious because
they are actually guarding a threshold.
The THRESHOLD GUARDIAN is not
necessarily evil, but, the THRESHOLD
GUARDIAN’s role can be said to always
be adversarial to that of the HERO. The
job of the THRESHOLD GUARDIAN is
to get the HERO to rethink whether or
not he wishes to proceed on this
BELLY OF THE WHALE
This is a biblical reference to the story of
Jonah and the Whale.
The BELLY OF THE WHALE represents
the final separation from the hero's
known world and self. It is sometimes
described as the HERO’s lowest point,
but it is actually the point when the
HERO is between or transitioning
between worlds and selves. The
separation has been made, or is being
made, or being fully recognized between
the old world and old self and the
potential for a new world/self. The
experiences that will shape the new
world and self will begin shortly, or may
be beginning with this experience which
is often symbolized by something dark,
unknown and frightening. By entering
this stage, the HERO shows his
willingness to undergo a
metamorphosis, to die to him or herself.
The Journey Continues….
The Road of Trials
The road of trials is a
series of tests, tasks, or
ordeals that the HERO
must undergo to begin
The trials fall into two
categories of hero deeds:
The PHYSICAL DEED
(the HERO performs a
courageous act in battle
or save lives)
The SPIRITUAL DEED
(the HERO learns to
supernormal range of
human spiritual life and
then comes back with a
TESTS and TRIALS
The trials the HERO faces are designed to see if he should really be a hero. Is he really a match for the
task? Can he overcome the dangers? Does he have the courage, the knowledge, the capacity to enable
him to serve? In addition, the HERO learns something about his own character through his adventures.
There are several different challenges the HERO might face:
Brother Battle: Many HEROES find themselves locked in battle, either physical or psychological with
someone who is a "brother" whether a blood relation or a symbolic brother.
Abduction / Sea Journey / Night Journey: Often in the HERO's journey, either the HERO or someone
close to the HERO will be abducted and taken away. As the HERO is transported elsewhere, or as the
HERO chases after the captors, the journey may take the HERO over the sea or on a long night journey.
Even if there is no abduction involved, most HEROES are traveling great distances, so a sea journey or
night journey is not uncommon.
Dragon Battle: Some HEROES will battle literal dragons guarding their treasure, but other HEROES
will battle their inner dragons, the doubts and fears they have about their own ability. Whether literal or
figurative, the dragons must be slain in order for the HERO to complete the journey.
NOTE: Often the HERO fails one or more of these tests. Often the tests occur in threes.
Maps may be reviewed, attacks planned, possibly the
enemy’s forces whittled down before the HERO can
face his greatest fear, or the supreme danger lurking
The Approach may be a time for some romance or a
few jokes before the battle, or it may signal a ticking
clock or a heightening of the stakes.
APPROACHING THE INMOST CAVE
The Hero must make the preparations needed to approach the Inmost Cave that leads to the
Journey's heart………………………..or THE SUPREME ORDEAL.
The SUPREME ORDEAL is a test in
which the HERO faces the central crisis
of the story (not necessarily the climax).
In an action movie, it will be the big
action sequence. The key is that there is
a central theme of death and change.
The HERO will be submitted to death in
some way or form. It could be the failure
of his mission, the end of a relationship,
the loss of his mentor, or facing his
greatest fears. This is usually where the
HERO will face the ENEMY for the first
time in full form. Prior to this stage, the
HERO has been battling minions and
THRESHOLD GUARDIANS. The
ENEMY was not truly out to stop the
HERO. But now the worst the ENEMY
has will be thrown the HERO’s way.
Whatever the outcome, the HERO will
Joseph Campbell indicates that the SUPREME ORDEAL (sometimes called
the ABYSS) often includes the following experiences:
Sacred Marriage A.K.A. Meeting with the
Woman as Temptress (a subcategory)
Symbolic Death or Dismemberment (a subcategory)
All of them may take on a physical nature and yet they are all deeply
psychological. Not all of them take place in the development of every
SUPREME ORDEAL and sometimes they are mixed and matched.
The Meeting with the Goddess or Sacred Marriage
The MEETING WITH THE GODDESS
represents the point in the adventure
when the HERO experiences a love of
enormous power and significance. It is
also known as the "hieros gamos,” or
SACRED MARRIAGE, the union of
opposites. This is a very important step
in the process and is often represented
by the HERO finding the one person he
or she is meant to love most completely.
Although Campbell symbolizes this step
as a meeting with a goddess,
unconditional love and /or self
unification does not have to be
represented by a woman. For example, if
the HERO is a female, the MEETING OF
THE GODDESS can be with a male. Take
Buffy and Angel, for example…
more on the SACRED MARRIAGE
There may be an actual meeting (Frodo meeting Galadriel, Luke
meeting Leia), but it is not necessary. The marriage may be between the
two halves of the HERO in order to make him or her whole. The meeting
of opposites may take place entirely within the HERO. In other words,
the HERO begins to see himself in a non-dualistic way. For instance, the
male hero is seeking out the ANIMA, his inner feminine qualities, like
intuition, which may have previously remained unrecognized. The
female HERO will be seeking the ANIMUS, the male qualities of reason
and authority, which she has repressed. [ Or the opposite of those roles,
consider Leia, who brings rationality and logic to Luke’s quest]. In either
case, the HERO will come out of the ordeal whole and complete for the
first time in the adventure; it is in this stage that the HERO will come to
recognize inevitable truths regarding his situation within the scheme of
WOMAN AS TEMPTRESS
At one level, this element is about
those temptations that may lead
the HERO to abandon or stray from
his or her quest, which, as with the
MEETING WITH THE GODDESS,
does not necessarily have to be
represented by a woman. For
Campbell, however, this step is
about the revulsion that the usually
male hero may feel about his own
fleshy/earthy nature, and the
subsequent attachment or
projection of that revulsion to
women. Woman is a metaphor for
the physical or material
temptations of life, since the
HERO-knight was often tempted by
lust from his spiritual journey.
ATONEMENT WITH THE FATHER
In this step the HERO must confront and
be initiated by whatever holds the
ultimate power in his or her life. In
many myths and stories this is the
father, or a father figure who has life and
death power. This is the center point of
the journey. All the previous steps have
been moving in to this place; all that
follow will move out from it. Although
this step is most frequently symbolized
by an encounter with a male entity, it
does not have to be a male; just
someone or thing with incredible power.
For the transformation to take place, the
HERO as he or she has been must be
"killed" so that the new self can come
into being. Sometime this killing is
literal, and the earthly journey for that
character is either over or moves into a
SYMBOLIC DEATH OR DISMEMBERMENT
Symbolic Death or
In order for the HERO
to be transformed,
he/she must give up
his/her old life. Many
times this is done
through a symbolic
death. In other stories,
the HERO will lose a
limb, which will signify
the loss of the old self.
As noted in the last
slide, this event often
occurs during the
but not necessarily.
APOTHEOSIS or RESURRECTION
To APOTHEOSIZE is to deify.
When someone dies a physical
death, or dies to the self to live
in spirit, he or she moves
beyond the pairs of opposites to
a state of divine knowledge,
love, compassion and bliss. This
is a god-like state; the person is
in heaven and beyond all strife.
A more mundane way of looking
at this step is that it is a period
of rest, peace and fulfillment
before the HERO begins the
NOTE: THE RESURRECTION
sometimes comes later in the
The Hero faces the Resurrection, his most dangerous meeting with
death. This final life-or-death Ordeal shows that the Hero has
maintained and can apply all that he has brought back to the Ordinary
World. This Ordeal and Resurrection can represent a "cleansing" or
purification that must occur now that the Hero has emerged from the
land of the dead. The Hero is reborn or transformed with the attributes
of the Ordinary self in addition to the lessons and insights from the
characters he has met along the road. The Resurrection may be a
physical Ordeal, or final showdown between the Hero and the Shadow.
This battle is for much more than the Hero's life. Other lives, or an
entire world may be at stake and the Hero must now prove that he has
achieved Heroic status and willingly accept his sacrifice for the benefit of
the Ordinary World. Other Allies may come to the last minute rescue to
lend assistance, but in the end the Hero must rise to the sacrifice at
The ULTIMATE BOON or MAGIC
ELIXIR is the achievement of the goal of
the quest. It is what the person went on
the journey to get. This step is also often
called THE REWARD or THE SWORD.
All the previous steps serve to prepare
and purify the HERO for this step, since
in many myths the BOON is something
transcendent like the elixir of life itself,
or a plant that supplies immortality, or
the holy grail.
Sometimes the HERO needs to engage
in the THEFT OF THE ELIXIR and
needs to return quickly after possessing
it. If this is the case, he will be chased
through his return and need to cross
another threshold before re-entering the
Back to the Ordinary World…
Refusal of the
So why, when all has
been achieved, the
ambrosia has been
drunk, and we have
conversed with the
gods, come back to
normal life with all its
cares and woes?
resist the return.
Consider Harry Potter’s
reluctance to return to
the Dursley home and his
stays with the Weasley
the chase with the ELIXIR
Sometimes the HERO
must escape with the
boon, if it is something
that the gods have been
jealously guarding. It can
be just as adventurous
and dangerous returning
from the journey as it
was to go on it.
Essentially, it is a
movement away from the
greater antagonism and
manifests itself in a
number of ways. It
typically includes a flight
with the treasure.
Consider Andy Dufresne
escaping with the
Warden’s papers, the
ones that prove the
Warden to be corrupt.
FINAL STEPS in the RETURN
Rescue from Without
Just as the HERO may need guides and assistants to set out on the quest, often times he or she must have
powerful guides and rescuers to bring them back to everyday life, especially if the HERO has been
wounded or weakened by the experience. Or perhaps the HERO doesn't realize that it is time to return,
that he can return, or that others need his boon.
The Crossing of the Return Threshold
The trick in returning is to retain the wisdom gained on the quest, to integrate that wisdom into a
human life, and then maybe figure out how to share the wisdom with the rest of the world. This is
usually extremely difficult.
Master of the Two Worlds
In myth, this step is usually represented by a transcendental HERO like Jesus or Buddha. For a human
hero, it may mean achieving a balance between the material and spiritual. The person has become
comfortable and competent in both the inner and outer worlds.
Freedom to Live
Mastery leads to freedom from the fear of death, which in turn is the freedom to live. This is sometimes
referred to as living in the moment, neither anticipating the future nor regretting the past.
There are many
interpretations of the
Hero’s Journey Cycle. It is
depicted differently, with
variations and sometimes
entirely altered wording.
Regardless, the pattern is
what keeps people
returning to Campbell’s
work, reviewing our
cultural stories, our
origin tales, our religions,
our films. It has also
become a pattern for
storytelling. This is quite
obvious in the influx of
Hero’s Journey films as of
Take a look at some of
the visual depictions of
Campbell in the Media
One aspect of the hero’s journey that is potentially dangerous is the
misapplication of the hero’s story in modern media. In Campbell’s
examination of the hero life, he outlines three MAJOR steps: separation –
initiation – return. Campbell emphasizes the hero not only conquers the
problem, but returns to society to “bestow boons on his fellow people.”
In modern American cinema, however, the fixation on the conquering or
initiation aspect of the hero has hidden from viewers of modern myth
the full life of the hero – that of maturation into leadership and wisdom.
Ancient heroes would often return after their journeys to marry and lead
lives of maturity, imparting their hard-won wisdom to their people. The
lack of portrayal of this part of the hero’s life in modern media leads to
an “arrested adolescence” that “constantly avoids social responsibility
and marital commitment” (Burke 6). The result is an incomplete
individuation process, with members of a society caught in a dangerous,
“self-destructive individualism,” (Burke 3) unable or unwilling to
reconcile the worlds of personal ego and community.
You are responsible for the material within this presentation.
Please review. Take notes.
Reference when necessary.
Use the follow-up film, Star Wars: the legacy revealed, to bolster
your understanding of the steps. We will view excerpts of this
film in class.