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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.