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The Hero’s Journey

The Hero’s Journey

I know there have been many brilliant articles and analyzations of the Hero’s Journey, and the world doesn’t need nor will benefit from yet another.  But for my own purposes, I’m putting it down here… outlined and explained, with examples, in an easy to understand manner.

The Hero’s Journey is a time tested formula that, when applied, can create a wonderfully entertaining heroic story.  This formula was not invented first, mind you, it was derived by analyzing a myriad of successful stories and comparing all the common elements.  Amazingly, there were many common elements.  They were compiled, explained, and named the Hero’s Journey.  In fact, many authors or movie script writers often write what they think is a wonderful story and incorporate the Hero’s Journey unknowingly.  So without further ado, here is the Hero’s Journey with comparisons to several popular movies: The Princess Bride, The Matrix, You’ve Got Mail.  Also, Lord of the Rings, where I will show that Aragorn and Sam are the only characters who complete the Hero’s Journey.

One last thing before I start.  These things do not necessarily appear in this order, but this order is very common.

Dysfunctional Family

The hero must come from a dysfunctional family.  This is to create a more common bond between the character and the audience.  If the hero is rich and/or popular, the audience tends to villainize him.

The Princess Bride: We see that Westley is a servant… he has no family, at least not one that wanted him.

The Matrix: We know nothing about Neo’s family… but he seems to live a very secluded life alone.

You’ve Got Mail: Kathleen is running her dead mother’s bookstore and in a relationship that she doesn’t enjoy anymore.

LOTR Sam: Sam does not have a mother, and his relationship to his father seems to be that of servant/master.

LOTR Aragorn: Aragorn’s ancestry is full of corruption.

Reluctant Quest

Though the hero dreams of big things, when it comes time to accept the quest they are usually reluctant.  The heroship is something that is given to them, they do not take it willingly.

The Princess Bride: Westley has to save Buttercup because she is in danger.

The Matrix: Though Neo accepted the blue pill he had no idea the extent of what he was about to encounter. Also, though Morpheus is convinced that Neo is “the One”, Neo does not believe it himself.

You’ve Got Mail: Kathleen is forced to fight to keep her bookstore when a large chain bookstore comes to the area.

LOTR Sam: Sam is forced to go with Frodo.

LOTR Aragorn: Aragorn’s quest is more than just destroying the ring.  He’s on a quest to reclaim his birthright.  It is something he doesn’t want to do, but knows he must.

A Journey

The hero must leave their comfort zone.  Can be simple or extravagant, but the normal living situation much change.

The Princess Bride: Westley immediately takes a ship for America and is captured by pirates.

The Matrix: Neo, of course, leaves the Matrix for the real world.

You’ve Got Mail: Kathleen journeys into the cyber world where the rules are different and she can be someone else.

LOTR Sam: Obvious.  He travels from Hobbiton to Mordor.

LOTR Aragorn: Again obvious.

Companions

Usually, but not always, the hero does not travel alone.  He surrounds himself with companions.

The Princess Bride: Westley at first is alone, but is joined by Inigo and Fezzik near the end.  They finish the story as a group.

The Matrix: Neo has the whole team with him.

You’ve Got Mail: Kathleen has friends back at the bookstore she confides in.

LOTR Sam: The fellowship, and afterwards Frodo and Gollum.

LOTR Aragorn: The fellowship.

First Blood

The hero must prove himself worthy of the journey.  There may be a series of tests or mini adventures, but there is always a First Blood.  This is the first time they kill an enemy, or something equivalent.

The Princess Bride: Westley duels Inigo.

The Matrix: Neo fights several guards when trying to rescue Morpheus.

You’ve Got Mail: Kathleen meets Joe Fox at a party and gives him a piece of her mind.

LOTR Sam: Tolkien makes a point to show Sam killing an orc before any of the other hobbits.  This happens in Moria.

LOTR Aragorn: Fights off the Black Riders on Weathertop.

Death of the Mentor

There is usually one character that gives our hero their identity.  In order for the hero to become the true hero, the mentor figure must be removed.  This is a “the student becomes the teacher” type thing.

The Princess Bride: Westley is made captain of the pirate ship and becomes the new Dread Pirate Roberts. The previous Dread Pirate Roberts retires.

The Matrix: Once Morpheus is captured and rescued, Neo is left alone in the Matrix.  Now he must fight without his mentor.

You’ve Got Mail: Kathleen loses her bookstore, her mother’s bookstore.  Not exactly a character, but definitely the thing that gives her an identity.

LOTR Sam: Gandalf supposedly dies in Moria.  Sam doesn’t learn different until the very end.  Also, he believes Frodo to have died at the hands of Shelob.

LOTR Aragorn: When both the King of Rohan and the Steward of Gondor die, only Aragorn is left to lead both armies.

Belly of the Whale

This is the lowest point of the journey.  The bottom of the barrel is it were.  Everything that could go wrong, has gone wrong, and the heroes reaction to this will define their character.  They can either choose to give up, or rise above.  The hero always rises. Often, but not always, there is an imagery presented by putting the characters underground.

The Princess Bride: Westley goes to the Pit of Despair.

The Matrix: Neo fights alone and is nearly killed by an Agent in the Subway.

You’ve Got Mail: Kathleen considers going to work for the very people who put her out of business.

LOTR Sam: Both Moria and Shelob’s lair.  To a larger extent, maybe crossing Mordor.

LOTR Aragorn: Aragorn crosses through the mountain to enlist the aid of the dead when there is no other hope.

Hand of God

This is an external intervention by something unforeseen.  Without this intervention the hero cannot complete the journey.  It is beyond their control, yet they need it.

The Princess Bride: Westley is rescued by two former enemies.

The Matrix: Neo is brought back from the brink of death by a kiss from Trinity… yet, in the Matrix world he doesn’t know she kissed him.

You’ve Got Mail: Kathleen is unknowingly falling in love with the man who put her out of business.

LOTR Sam: All the orcs kill each other before Sam enters the tower to rescue Frodo.

LOTR Aragorn: The ents show up to take out Saruman and the trees come to Helm’s deep to destroy the orc army.  Also, in the book there is a Prince who shows up at the last minute to help save Minus Tirith.

Epiphany

The hero must come to a life changing realization.  This is the point where they cease to be the bumbling commoner, and become heroic royalty.  Often, but not always, the character is separated from the companions when the Epiphany occurs.

The Princess Bride: Westley discovers that Buttercup still loves him, by challenging that love.  (She pushes him down the hill too.)

The Matrix: Neo, after surviving being shot, suddenly discovers that he is “the One”.

You’ve Got Mail: Kathleen falls in love with her enemy Joe Fox and realized she forgives him.

LOTR Sam: Sam realizes that he must be the strong one in order to destroy the ring.  Frodo is too weak.  He is willing to take it himself and at one point even carries Frodo on his back.

LOTR Aragorn: He accepts his birthright as King and challenges Sauron.

Get the Girl

This is the romance factor.  It can be the goal of the whole adventure or merely a side story. The hero always falls in love and has the love returned by another.

The Princess Bride: Westley is fighting for Buttercup the entire time, and in the end rescues her.

The Matrix: Trinity declares her love for Neo.

You’ve Got Mail: Kathleen falls in love with Joe Fox.

LOTR Sam: Sam marries Rosy Cotton.

LOTR Aragorn: Aragorn marries Arwen.

That’s it.  This can be applied to almost all stories and movies… at least the good ones.

About Keven Newsome

Keven Newsome is an author, musician, and theologian. With a music degree from William Carey University and a theology degree from the New Orleans Baptist Theological Seminary, Keven has actively served in ministry as both pastor and worship leader. He is the author of the Winter series: Winter, Prophetess, Acolyte, and Mantle. This supernatural thriller series has been an award finalist for multiple awards. His short stories can be found in the Aquasynthesis anthology and Avenir Eclectia Vol. 1. He is also the author of We Are One, a non-fictional study on generational ministry (published as KW Newsome). Though originally from south Mississippi, Keven now lives in Camden, South Carolina with his wife and children.

20 comments on “The Hero’s Journey

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  2. […] March 11, 2010 — Keven Newsome Much has been written and discussed about the Hero’s Journey, but little has been explored about the Villain’s Quest.  I would like to do that now, as best I […]

  3. […] a starting point, I will be using my 10 steps of the Hero’s Journey and my 10 steps of the Villain’s Quest.  And before I begin, I do want you to realize that not […]

  4. […] Quest.  Also, neither of the main characters, Achen and Vrell, come close to completing the Hero’s Journey.  I have no doubt that within the Blood of Kings series, for which By Darkness Hid is but the […]

  5. […] end my review here, but for any diehards still reading, I guess I will do a run through Keven’s Hero’s Journey regarding Achan and Vrell from my point of view. Personally, even as a first book, I thought Jill […]

  6. Okay, so I finally did some research into your cycle here. Found it pretty interesting, but fishy too. Not sure where you came up with all the stages you have or how exactly they relate to the original Monomyth concept, but I wouldn’t rely too heavily upon it. Sure, there might be some value in it, but it was set up as abstract parameters to link cultural mythology together and show how they are fundamentally the same. From Buddha to Jesus, and Zeus to Snow White… it is a man’s attempt to find similar stages – to quantify things and package them up in nice little, theoretical boxes. Yes, it’s been used intentionally to outline stories, but even the creator – Campbell – admits that stories may have only some of the stages, which are written as even more abstract and vague than yours. But like I said, it was interesting to find out where it actually came from.

  7. I thought the original Monomyth worked out by Campbell to be too out there. That’s why I reworked it and condensed it into the ten major steps. I know not all stories have to follow it. BUT… I challenge you to find a complete story (installments excluded) with a main character that DOES NOT fulfill at least 8 of these 10 steps. I’ll tell you now, they are few and very far between.

    • of course you realize that you have added more subjective terms, such as “complete”. In the words of the magician in the Last Unicorn – “There are no happy endings because nothing ends.”
      But sure, despite the “eye of the beholder” thing, I’m game. I’ll even give you the first swing.
      Story:
      Jesus.

      • What? Foul ball. This is for FICTION! Jesus is not fiction!

      • Ok… despite the foul ball, I think Jesus still fits.

        Dysfuctional Family – Joseph disappears when Jesus is an adult. We can assume he died.

        Reluctant Quest – “Father, if it be possible let this cup pass from me.”

        Journey – well, he walked all over the place.

        Companioins – duh.. the 12

        First Blood – the first time he “proves” himself. The wedding at Cana.

        Death of the Mentor – nope.. not here.

        Belly of the Whale – the cross/tomb

        Hand of God – Jesus raised from the dead

        Epiphany – He’s devine. What kind of epiphany can he have? Not here I guess.

        Get the Girl – Revalation. Jesus comes back to defeat his enemies and take home his “bride”.

        So… easily 8 of the 10.

  8. See? Now you’re already changing the rules! All you said was “complete story”. And that’s besides the fact that the question of whether Jesus is fact OR fiction is still in debate. Do you care to prove to me how it isn’t fiction besides your own personal belief?
    The original monomyth was created to encompass such stories whether or not people THOUGHT they were truth or fiction.
    Add to that that plenty of fiction stories evolved from non-fiction, particularly the scriptures and Christ’s life. I view Christ and/or Elohim as the ultimate in all things, including writing stories – especially his own. And I deem it highly worth debate and analysis.

    But, I guess if you really don’t want to go there, I could work within your parameters too. What of Narnia? Of course, I must point out that though seen as a series, the books are created as stand-alone it seems, the Lion Witch and the Wardrobe particularly.

    Is that one acceptable by your qualifications?
    Honestly, Keven, you gotta learn the art of ceteris paribus. Economists couldn’t survive an hour without it.
    lol.

  9. Ok, I get it. You don’t like my take on the Hero’s Journey. I’ve never said this works for every story… but for most it does. And my Hero’s Journey is not the same as the Monomyth.

    And the Jesus fact/fiction debate is not subject for this blog.

    BTW… every one of the Narnia books fit as individual books. The only thing consistantly missing is “Get the Girl”.

    • I was merely proposing that the Hero’s Journey (your version is all I’ve seen) seems a bit narrow in it’s scope – as most mortal tools of measurement tend to be – to make sweeping statements like “I challenge you to find one complete story that doesn’t fulfill at least 8 of the 10 steps”. I took up the challenge, and I believe I succeeded in it. The term “most” is again, far too subjective and bold. I concede that you have a lot of examples out there – especially for something as flexible as you make it. However, if you think I don’t have more up my sleeve that I could bring up, you underestimate me.

      On the other hand, I may have already challenged you enough. I’m not out to make this a personal issue. I agree that your steps are fun to look at and consider. I also agree with some of what you wrote in your review – the story wandered and wasn’t overly efficient and the plotline wasn’t nearly as intriguing or as unique as others out there. My remark about giving five stars was if I viewed books as recipes, but I don’t. I merely pointed out where Jill excels and hope that it wins the interest of those type that most would most enjoy it.

      Let me be very frank. I admire and respect your insights. You seek to find patterns and tools to help you in your writing and openly offer them to others to use. I hope one day you will review something I have written and not because I expect any less criticism than you gave Jill. It would be cool if I could impress you, but I admit that I am a character driven writer. However, to me it wouldn’t be a “I’m sorry you don’t like it.” I would look to use your feedback in growing my own plot design skills.

      The reason for my reference to the monomyth is fundamentally why I brought up Jesus’s life as a “story”. I’m not here to debate fact of fiction. I believe with all my heart and mind that He is God and the ultimate example. For all the value that man-made tools may be, it can never compare to the insight or speed one can learn from studying at the Master’s feet – studying His story, His parables, His hand in the plot arches of history. All else is merely the arm of the flesh. As long as we writers remember that first and formost, then it matters not what little “tricks of the trade” we use and toy with – whether your Hero’s Journey or some other. As long as we use them/view them with an eye to build up, not question worth.

      That is all.
      So why not state that to begin with?
      Because I’m a divergent mind that believes sometimes we learn best through the journey. And like I said, I enjoy the process of the trip.

      • What a great comment to end this discussion… or does it? dum dum dummmmmmm……… (cue the suspenseful music)

  10. You did well, and admire you for stepping up to the challenge.

    I disagree of course with a couple of them.

    His father dying before he turns 33 is hardly what I would consider “dysfunctional”.

    Your “Hand of God” standard says that it must be an outside influence – something that the Hero canNOT do for themselves. I argue that Jesus himself, laid down his life and took it up again.

  11. Besides, the publicity is great! How many comments are we up to now? People will check it out just to find out what all the talk is about.
    lol

  12. […] is this so different than the Hero’s Journey?  Not really, but there are stories that fit the Hero’s Journey that don’t […]

  13. […] a time, Keven Newsome wrote a post about the Hero’s Journey. He revisited the concept in this post where he applied it to various movies, but the post I remember must have been pre-NAF ’cause I […]

  14. […] journey, but they are on it. I can think of at least seven characters who DO complete the Hero’s Journey. And there are four who complete the Villain’s […]

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