The Hero’s Journey



A long time ago in a galaxy far, far away…

Young Luke Skywalker sets out to be trained under Master Jedi Obi-Wan Kenobi. Together they go on a mission to rescue Princess Leia and defeat the evil Empire by destroying the Death Star. Against all odds, and after much conflict and loss, Luke succeeds in his mission and comes out of it a fully-fledged Jedi and hero.

Meanwhile, tucked away in The Shire, a young hobbit named Frodo Baggins embarks on a perilous journey of his own as he is bestowed with a very valuable yet dangerous ring. He must destroy this treasure before it falls into the wrong hands, but the only way this can be done is by throwing it in the heavily guarded Mount Doom in Mordor where it was forged.

What do these two stories have in common? They are what is commonly known as ‘The Hero’s Journey.’ In the writing world, the Hero’s journey is a set of storytelling design principals. They are guides that writers such as George Lucas and Tolkien adhere to very closely.

But what are these principals exactly? Christopher Vogler covers them very thoroughly in his book “The Writer’s Journey; mythic structure for writers.”

In a previous entry, I covered the ‘Three Act Structure’ : ( The Hero’s Journey likewise takes on something akin to the tree acts… but with some extra tid-bits thrown in… Make it 12 extra tid-bits.

“The Hero’s story is always a journey,” states Christopher. “A hero leaves her comfortable, ordinary surroundings to venture into a challenging, unfamiliar world.” This can be a physical/outward journey, or even something more inward for the character. And the 12 stages of that journey look a little like this:


Act I

Stage 1: Ordinary World

“Most stories take the hero out of the ordinary, mundane world and into a Special World, new and alien,” states Christopher. “This is the familiar, ‘fish out of water’ idea which has spawned countless films and TV shows…” “If you’re going to show a fish out of his customary element, you first have to show him in that Ordinary World to create a vivid contrast with the strange new world he is about to enter.”

Stage 2: The Call to Adventure

“The hero is presented with a problem, challenge or adventure to undertake,” states Christopher. “Once presented with a Call to Adventure, she can no longer remain indefinitely in the comfort of the Ordinary World.”

Stage 3: Refusal of the Call

“This one is about fear. Often at this point the hero balks at the threshold of adventure, Refusing the Call or expressing reluctance. After all, she is facing the greatest of all fears, terror of the unknown.”

Stage 4: Mentor

Enter the old wise man or woman. “By this time many stories will have introduced a Merlin-like character who is the hero’s Mentor. The relationship between the hero and the mentor is one of the most common themes in mythology, and one of the richest in its symbolic value.”


Act II

Stage 5: Crossing the first threshold

“Now the hero finally commits to the adventure and fully enters the Special World of the story for the first time by Crossing the First Threshold. He agrees to face the consequences of dealing with the problem or challenge posed in the Call to Adventure.”

Stage 6: Tests, Allies and Enemies

“The hero naturally encounters new challenges and Tests, makes Allies and Enemies, and begins to learn the rules of the Special World.”

Stage 7: Approach to the Inmost Cave

“The hero comes at last to the edge of a dangerous place, sometimes deep underground, where the object of the quest is hidden. Often it’s the headquarters of the hero’s greatest enemy, the most dangerous spot in the Special world, the Inmost Cave. When the hero enters that fearful place he will cross the second major threshold. Heroes often pause at the gate to prepare, plan and outwit the villain’s guards. This is the phase of Approach.

Stage 8: The Ordeal

“Here the fortunes of the hero hit bottom in a direct confrontation with his greatest fear. He faces the possibility of death and is brought to the brink in a battle with a hostile force. The Ordeal is a ‘black moment’ for the audience, as we are held in suspense and tension, not knowing if he will live or die.”

Stage 9: Reward (seizing the sword)

“Having survived death, beaten the dragon, or slain the Minotaur, the hero and the audience have cause to celebrate. The hero now takes possession of the treasure she has come seeking, her Reward. It might be a special weapon like a magic sword, or a token like the Grail or some elixir which can heal the wounded land. Sometimes the ‘sword’ is knowledge and experience that leads to greater understanding and reconciliation with hostile forces.”



Stage 10: The Road Back

“The hero’s not out of the woods yet. We’re crossing into Act III now as the hero begins to deal with the consequences of confronting the dark forces of the Ordeal… they may come raging after her… as the hero is pursued on the Road Back.”

Stage 11: Resurrection

“…the hero must be reborn and cleansed in one last Ordeal of death and Resurrection before returning to the Ordinary World of the living. This is often a second life-and-death moment… Death and darkness must get in one last, desperate shot before being finally defeated. The hero is transformed by these moments of death-and-rebirth and is able to return to ordinary life reborn as a new being with new insights.”

Stage 12: Return with the Elixir

“The hero returns to the Ordinary World, but the journey is meaningless unless she brings back some Elixir, treasure, or lesson from the Special World.”


The Hero’s Journey is a skeletal framework that should be fleshed out with the details and surprises of the individual story,” states Christopher. “The Hero’s Journey is infinitely flexible, capable of endless variation without sacrificing any of its magic, and it will outlive us all.”

Happy Writing!



Source: The Writer’s Journey: Mythic structure for writers by Christopher Vogler


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