“The Hero’s Journey” myth follows the three-act structure of the ancient Greek play, handed down to us thousands of years ago. Drawn from the depth psychology of Swiss psychologist Carl Jung and the scholar and mythologist Joseph Campbell, author of The Hero with a Thousand Faces, it duplicates the steps of the “Rite of Passage” and is a process of self-discovery and self-integration.
The Power of Myth & Archetype
Campbell recognized that myths weren’t just abstract theories or quaint ancient beliefs but practical models for understanding how to live. Ultimately, the Hero’s Journey is the soul’s search for “home”. It is a journey of transformation we all take, in some form. This is why the Hero’s Journey model for writing is so relevant and why it appeals to all readers.
Compelling stories resonate with the universal truths of metaphor within the consciousness of humanity. According to Joseph Campbell this involves an open mind and a certain amount of humility; and giving oneself to the story...not unlike the hero who gives her life to something larger than herself: "Anyone writing a creative work knows that you yield yourself, and the book talks to you and builds itself....you become the carrier of something that is given to you from … the Muses or God. This is no fancy, it is a fact. Since the inspiration comes from the unconscious, and since the unconscious minds of the people of any single small society have much in common, what the shaman or seer [or artist] brings forth is something that is waiting to be brought forth in everyone.” I call this tapping into the universal truth where metaphor lives. A story comes alive when these two resonate.
Vogler suggested that using the principles of myth, helps “create a masterful story that is dramatic, entertaining, and psychologically true.”
The Hero and the Journey
Campbell describes a 12-step journey of the hero within 3-acts and influenced by five major archetypes (herald, mentor, threshold guardian, trickster, shadow and shapeshifter). Our hero starts her journey in Act 1 — in the Ordinary World — and will eventually separate from the Ordinary World in Act 2— entering the Special World, where she will transform through her many challenges. In Act 3, she re-enters the Ordinary World, changed, with her gift to the world. I’ll go into more detail about how you integrate other archetypes and the steps of the journey in “storytelling” in Parts 2 and 3 of this series.
In some versions of the Holy Grail quest, relates Pearson, the hero reaches a huge chasm with no apparent way to get across to the Grail castle. The space is too great for him to jump across. Then he remembers the Grail teaching that instructs him to step out in faith. As he puts one foot out into the abyss, a bridge magically appears and he is saved. Anyone who has left a job, school, one’s home town, or a relationship has stepped out into that abyss, separating them from the familiar world they’ve known.
Here are the 12 steps of the Hero’s Journey:
ACT ONE: Separation
• Ordinary World
• Call to Adventure
• Refusal of the Call
• Meeting with the Mentor
• Crossing the Threshold
ACT TWO: Initiation & Transformation
• Tests, Allies, Enemies
• Approach to the Innermost Cave
• Ordeal (Abyss)
• Reward/Seizing the Sword (Transformation and Revelation)
ACT THREE: the Return
• The Road Block
• Resurrection / Atonement
• Return with the Elixor
I teach an online course in “The Hero’s Journey” through my educational website, http://www.ninamunteanu.me/.
• Cameron, Julia. 1992. The Artist’s Way: a Spiritual Path to Higher Creativity. Penguin Putnam. 222pp.
• Campbell, Joseph. 1970. The Hero with a Thousand Faces. World Publishing Co. New York.
• Campbell, Joseph. 1988. The Power of Myth.
• Henderson, Mary. 1997. Star Wars: The Magic of Myth. Bantam Spectra. New York. 214pp.
• Munteanu, Nina. 2009. The Fiction Writer: Get Published, Write Now! Starfire World Syndicate, Louisville, KY. 266pp.
• Pearson, Carol S. 1998. The Hero Within: Six Archetypes We Live By. Harper. San Francisco. 3rd Edition.
• Vogler, Christopher. 1998. The Writer’s Journey: Mythic Structure for Writers. 2nd Edition. Michael Wiese Productions, Studio City, California. 326pp.
Nina Munteanu is an ecologist and internationally published author of novels, short stories and essays. She coaches writers and teaches writing at George Brown College and the University of Toronto. For more about Nina’s coaching & workshops visit www.ninamunteanu.me. Visit www.ninamunteanu.ca for more about her writing.