Thread Status:
Not open for further replies.
  1. Edward

    Edward Active Member

    Jul 8, 2007
    Likes Received:

    The Hero With A Thousand Faces

    Discussion in 'Plot Development' started by Edward, Nov 11, 2009.

    With 2009's National Novel Writing Month already ten days old, and with nothing but a pile of notes to show for it, I'm going to try writing something a little different here, just to get the creative juices flowing. I'm going to write about the Hero's Journey, something that I really love, but that I don't research nearly as much as I should. It's something that's an incredible asset to a writer of any kind. Without even getting into the psychological aspects of it—Joseph Campbell, the man who introduced the concept of the Monomyth in his book, The Hero With a Thousand Faces, was a student of Carl Jung, and the concept features numerous Jungian archetypes, such as the Hero, the Mentor, the Temptress, the Shadow, etcetera etcetera—the concept itself is useful because it's archetypical. The Hero's Journey is, in it's purest form, a template. At least, that's the way that I see it. Hopefully in trying to get my brain working, I'll be able to help someone else, and open their eyes to a new concept. It's something that's been used throughout the years for everything from novels to movies to video games, even the individual episodes of TV shows.

    Of course, this is all my own take on it, and in a way, every story is the exact same thing told a million times over with a million variations. It's been said that there are only three distinct plots: Man vs Man, Man vs Himself, and Man vs Nature. “There is nothing new under the sun”. “Creativity is about hiding your sources.” Not only does this come from research into the Hero's Journey (without actually reading much of Campbell's book), a lot of it comes from Almost everything capitalized has an entry, so check it out.

    Well, that's what the Monomyth is. The source of all stories, consciously or unconsciously. You can see it in everything from the journey of Christ and Buddha, and since Campbell's book was one of the inspirations, you can see it in Star Wars. Pieces are rearranged and flipped over, some are left out, some are doubled up while others are barely mentioned, but every story has the Hero's Journey at it's heart. Especially a fantasy story.

    The Journey is broken down into three main elements, from there broken up more. They are:
    The Departure: The Hero meets with the Herald, and either accepts the Call, or it is thrust upon him. He is forced to leave his idyllic world, and experience the supernatural. The supernatural in this case need not be ghosts and wizards. It could be the world of fashion, as seen in The Devil Wears Prada. It could be just on the edge of an affair in I Think I Love My Wife. More obviously, Luke learns the ways of the Force, and goes from a life of boring moisture farming to the world of the Rebellion. The 'supernatural' might even be just the opposite. A supersoldier is thrust into a world of the mundane.

    The Initiation: Wherein the Hero deals with the world he's been thrust into, and goes down the Road of Trials. Now in the supernatural world, the Hero is tested in ways he hasn't been before. They deal with Temptresses and slay Dragons. They encounter death in ways, from the literal—Luke could have died when rescuing Leia, and without his more competent allies, Frodo would have been Orc chow. This is the bulk of the story, where the hero undergoes the great adventure, meets his allies and enemies, and is tempted and tested.

    The Return: Having survived the Road of Trials, the Hero uses all that he's learned to go back to the beginning and put everything that he's learned to the test. He returns the McGuffin to where it belongs, he starts a New Jedi Order, or realizes that he doesn't need another woman because he really does love his wife. Often, the Return is in the form of a race. The Hero makes a flight with the Elixer, running from the last of the forces that want to destroy him. The archetypical castle falling apart as the Big Bad is destroyed, or the villain inputting the self destruct sequence when the Hero thinks he's won. With the end of this stage, the Hero returns to his life, changed by the experiences he's had throughout the journey.

    Each of the three stages is broken down, often into 12 stages. Each one represents another stepping stone for the Hero. Another trial, or a hurdle to leap over.

    At the start of the story, the Hero is in The Ordinary World. This is where they live, and whether or not it's ordinary for the reader, viewer, or player, it is for them. Often, they wish that something would happen, something to take them away from their home, and give them an adventure. This is the stage where the bored farmboy sits looking out at the stars, or listening to the tales of travelers in the pubs.

    Soon, the hero gets their wish, and the Herald comes into their life. Not necessarily a person, the Herald is the character or object in the story that brings the Hero The Call to Adventure. A man might stumble into the room shouting that zombies are coming, or a robot might play a message asking for help. Whatever it is, this is what will begin the Hero's journey. Often times, despite their wishful thinking, there is a Refusal of the Call. The Hero is reluctant, either out of fear, or insecurity. Sometimes, they might not even know the Call was the Call. If this happens, The Call Knows Where You Live. The stormtroopers hunt down the droids, and kill Uncle Owen and Aunt Beru. The Call is an important part of the story, and in some cases it's a little more complicated. Luke Skywalker gets the Call for Obi-Wan, and Obi-Wan trains Luke as his apprentice. In Kingdom Hearts, Sora unknowingly takes Riku's call from him. He later receives another. In Harry Potter, Hermione and Ron decide to make it a Conference Call. In some cases, the Hero's Call might just be that they couldn't deal with waiting for it. One case of a different Call is when the Hero Can't Stay Normal. They already have some supernatural power, and they strain to hide it. This is seen in modern stories such as X-Men and Heroes.

    Whatever the case, in the end the Hero is thrust into The Supernatural whether they like it or not. They encounter Supernatural Aid, often in the form of a Mentor. Luke is given a lightsaber by Obi-wan. Neo becomes a Red Pill, and becomes a member of the Nebuchadnezzar, with Morpheus as his mentor. In some cases, the Mentor and the Supernatural Aid are one and the same. The Hero might find an ancient book of spells, and set about teaching himself magic.

    With the aid, the hero undergoes The Crossing of the First Threshold. This is where the Hero can no longer turn back. They enter the world of monsters. It is here that the first true test of the hero is made. They face one or more Threshold Guardians, who while not necessarily antagonistic, will attempt to test the Hero to see if they are worthy to go on. This is the Council of Elrond, where Frodo speaks up and announces that he will take the ring to Mordor. This is Mos Eisley, where Luke has to convince Han Solo to aid them in saving Princess Leia from the first Death Star. The Hero may actually 'die' here, failing their journey, only to once more be pulled back. They may sit like Achilles in his Tent, only to renew themselves to the adventure, and return—often just in the nick of time to save those they love—This happens all the time in Spiderman.

    Once the Threshold is crossed, there's no turning back. The Hero is exiled, the spaceship has launched, the train has started moving. This begins the Road of Trials. This is the bulk of the story, and the most open. Here, anything can happen, and the Hero will be tested. They will meet Allies and Enemies, and the adventures that they have will strengthen them for the climax.

    Common elements of the Road of Trials are:
    The Temptress, often a female figure who will attempt to distract the Hero from his quest. In a romantic movie, this is the other woman. Of course, if the Hero is swayed by the other woman, it can be a story in itself. After all, in Act I, Romeo was pining for Rozalin until he saw Juliet. The Temptress may not even know herself as such. The reason that Spiderman acts as Achilles in his tent so often is because of Mary Jane Watson(Parker, depending on the writer).
    The Goddess, the Hero meets a woman of power. She may offer him aid, or might serve as another test. Galadril offering to take the One Ring serves as both a test of Frodo's resolve, as well as the Woman As Temptress of above.
    Atonement With the Father. The Hero reconciles with the father, or their father figure. Perhaps they never saw eye to eye, and the Hero wants to resolve their differences, or perhaps the character's father is dead, and they want to live up to a name. Luke Skywalker convinces his father, Anakin, to turn on Palpatine, and he takes him over the edge with him. In this case, the Atonement also serves as the climax.
    The Innermost Cave. The Hero journeys into the heart of his fears. Literally into a cave, or perhaps into the stronghold of the enemy. There they face their problems, hopefully coming out on the other side victorious. Quite literally, Luke journeys into the Jedi cave on Dantooine, and encounters the shade of Darth Vader. In angrily attacking it, he sees that he will only symbolically kill himself, the same way that Obi-wan claims Vader killed Anakin on Mustafar.
    Often, there is a Rescue from Without. The Hero is saved by something outside of themselves. A good example of this is Han Solo coming to Luke's rescue after he got his reward and went their separate ways. Something saves the Hero, whether it's another character, or fate, or even that they're spared by one of the villains.
    The Dragon. A right hand man to the Big Bad, or possibly even a real dragon or other monster that serves as a final test before the climax. They are the one who guards the lair to the final battle, and the one who serves to give the Hero that last bit of XP before they face the end boss.
    Before the final showdown, there is often a time out. This is the Action Movie Quiet Drama Scene. It's the moment where the Hero and his crew sit around a campfire, preparing for the attack on the Big Bad's stronghold, where many of them will surely die, and the Hero will face the Final Boss of the story. Confessions are made, and the characters try not to think about the fact that they're most likely going to die. In modern stories, this could be the agents planning for a raid on the terrorist cell, or the plucky young heroine getting up the nerve to do something that will make her lose her job, but keep her dignity or integrity.
    Then comes the Final Battle. The Hero fights against the Big Bad, and one of them may die. Whether it is the hero or not, there comes a Resurrection. The Hero is dead, the Big Bad has triumphed. When all seems lost, the Hero's hand comes up over the edge, and he climbs back up, determined once more. It is after this symbolic death that the Hero finally triumphs. Likewise, it's not uncommon for the Big Bad to return, only for the Hero to defeat them for real. Often in a jRPG, this will happen at least twice, with the Big Bad changing forms. In a romance, the Hero will confess their love, only for the girl of his dreams to be with someone else. Often, this false 'death' turns out to be just a good friend of her's, or a brother, or the Hero convinces her that he's the one.
    With the defeat of the Big Bad, the Hero is granted The Ultimate Boon. Whether it is some mystical ability, some special item, or just a quality of character that the Hero needed to possess doesn't matter. The Hero now takes what he's gained or learned, called The Elixer by Campbell, and races along The Road Back. Oftentimes, the Hero will make a harrowing flight home, returning to the original world with the Elixer, often using it to save someone from their normal life. The Elixer itself may have served early on as the Call, where the Hero's Journey revolved around the quest for the Elixer.
    Once the journey is complete, the Hero has The Freedom to Live. They are no longer under threat from the supernatural, and they often become The Master of Two Worlds. Mulan manages to save the world by using the skills she learned masquerading as a man, as well as no longer needing to hide her femininity. Luke Skywalker is no longer ordinary, he is now a full fledged Jedi, and creates a New Jedi Order.
    That isn't always the end, though. The Hero's Journey is cyclic. When one journey is complete, the next can begin. This is most obvious in trilogies, where the first movie often encompasses it's own journey, while the sequels are a two part Hero's Journey. In The Matrix, Neo becomes the Master of Two Worlds by defeating Smith, and in Revolutions and Reloaded[/i], he again undergoes a journey. The second movie even ends with a spiritual death, leading into the next. In Curse of the Black Pearl, Will Turner answers the Call and becomes a Pirate, saving Elizabeth and ending one cycle, only to begin another contained in Dead Man's Chest and At World's End.

    After the Emperor is defeated, and a New Republic instated in the Galaxy, Luke, Han, and Leia are forced to deal with Grand Admiral Thrawn, the Heir to the Empire. Years later, Jacen Solo has to save the galaxy from the Yuzhang Vong.

    Now, none of this needs to be taken at face value. The Wise Old Man that serves as a Mentor can just as easily be a Wise Old Man or a Magical Negro, but in modern times we don't always have old people or racist caricatures to aid us. Sometimes instead we have the cop's Rabbi, or the student's unique teacher. The Mentor can be a coach, or a doctor, or even a boss. The Mentor might be a Marine sniper who runs the team and smacks you on the back of the head when you act stupid.

    Even the term Hero can be altered. The Hero could just as easily be a Villain, going along the same journey. He's called to adventure by himself, deciding that he needs to take over the world. The final battle is nothing more than the Hero—in this case a villain—attempting to defeat the one hero who could stop him. It can also just as easily be a heroine.

    The character's atonement with the 'father' could be with their mother. Or it could be with a brother or a friend that they betrayed, or that they feel betrayed them. It can be Luke and Anakin making nice, or it can be Han coming back to save Luke, deciding he doesn't need to be a smuggler.

    While the original reason for the Temptress is as an aspect of the Hero's Anima, his female soul, the Temptress could just as easily be something else. Aunt May is just as much reason for Peter Parker to put away the Spiderman costume as Mary Jane is. It could be doubts and fears that the Hero faces, things they experienced during the Refusal of the Call and never quite got over.

    The Final Battle could easily, easily be anything else. The last game of the championship game, the Hero standing up for something they believe in. It could represent nothing more than a turning point. The Hero 'defeats' the Big Bad, where the Big Bad is themselves. They make a choice they have to make, to save something or someone, whether metaphorically or literally. It could be Peter Parker realizing that the world needs Spiderman.

    The pieces themselves are all just symbolism. Change them around and the story becomes more interesting, more varied. Rearrange the pieces if you want. Creativity is about hiding the sources, after all, because there's nothing new under the sun.

    That's what the Hero's Journey is, though. It's the Monomyth. It's a template, tried and tested from the dawn of civilization, speaking to us from something archetypical. It's a guideline for anyone who chooses to write anything. Change the pieces, flip them around. The story is the same and yet different every time. From drama to action, and everything in between. One Hero, of a Thousand Faces.
  2. Cogito

    Cogito Former Mod, Retired Supporter Contributor

    May 19, 2007
    Likes Received:
    Massachusetts, USA
    I don't see a question here, so I will ask one:

    Why are you reposting an article from your blog here, especially a shameless essay on "Why my NaNo project is so great"?

    If you're going to just repost your blog, please use your member blog for that purpose, not a public discussion thread in Writing Issues.
Thread Status:
Not open for further replies.

Share This Page