Archetypes of the Hero’s Journey Series #2: What is the Hero’s Journey?

Archetypes of the Hero’s Journey Series #2: What is the Hero’s Journey?

by Leigh Holland

Based on information from “The Writer’s Journey” by Christopher Vogler and “The Ancient Greek Hero in 24 Hours” by Gregory Nagy.

In the last installment, we learned that the Hero’s Journey is a method of structuring a story modeled after the heroic journeys in ancient Greek literature. We discussed the most integral character archetype for this journey: the Hero. Before moving on to the other 7 basic archetypes, let’s take a moment to examine the structure laid out by Christopher Vogler for the Hero’s Journey. I’m going to compare it to the 5 act plot pyramid structure.

% & Pages

Event

Dramatic Section

Act

Hero’s Journey

5% or 20 pages

Plot Hook

Stasis

I

Ordinary World

15% or 40 pages

Incitement

Trigger

I

Call to Adventure

25% or 100 pages

Key Event

Trigger to Act

I

Refusal of Call; Encouragement by Mentor

30% or 120 pages

First Major Plot Point

New Situation

II

Crossing the Threshold

40% or 160 pages

First Pinch Point

Rising Stakes

II

Tests, Allies, and Enemies

50% or 200 pages

Second Major Plot Point

Complications

III

Approach to the Innermost Cave; The Ordeal

65% or 240 pages

Second Pinch Point

Reversal

III

The Reward

75% or 300 pages

Third Major Plot Point

Transition to Critical Choice

IV

The Road Back

90% or 360 pages

Climax

Critical Choice

IV

Resurrection

90-100% or 400 pages

Denouement

Resolution

V

Return with the Elixir

In the Ordinary World, the hero goes about his normal life, whatever ‘normal’ may be for him and those around him. In this section of the story, we try to get the reader to care about the hero and have an understanding of the hero’s ordinary pre-adventure life. This should provide some contrast to the life of the hero once she accepts her role in the adventure.

The Call to Adventure presents a challenge for the hero. Has the king called for every able bodied man to seek the Holy Grail or the land dies? Does a tall, alluring blonde ask the detective to spy on her cheating husband? Has the murder of a child moved a retired psychic to try to return and offer her help? This would be the event that sparks the call.

In the Refusal of the Call, our hero makes excuses why he or she will not undertake the adventure. Perhaps the retired psychic was ridiculed? The detective gets a bad feeling about the job the seductress offers? An insane Mordred kills anyone seeking the Grail? By the end of the refusal, the hero either refuses or expresses reluctance before undertaking the challenge.

The hero receives Encouragement by the Mentor. This can be in the form of wisdom, nifty toys, a pep talk, or anything that provides encouragement to our hero. For example, the Mentor can provide gifts from the gods to aid the hero on his or her quest.

Our hero is able to engage in Crossing the Threshold. He leaves the ordinary world behind and enters the world of the adventure. No matter how difficult, he will face the consequences of the challenge and deal with them.

Along the hero’s journey, he makes allies, enemies, and encounters new and dangerous challenges that Test him. He Approaches the Innermost Cave, where he undergoes The Ordeal. This is the biggest test at the most dangerous place in the special world of his adventure. Here he could die, he could flee in the face of his greatest fears. This is a tense and dramatic moment of reckoning. Should the hero succeed, he receives The Reward.

The reward is also called “Seizing the Sword”. However, the hero doesn’t necessarily obtain an object. Maybe the hero resolves her issues with her mother. Perhaps his reward is learning the truth about an event. The reward, no matter which form it takes, should have a profound impact on the hero.

The hero dealt with the darker forces at play in The Ordeal. However, he must now deal with the fallout from that ordeal. On The Road Back, our hero may meet up with vengeful or angry forces. Regardless of the fallout from the Ordeal, this marks the transition back to entering the Ordinary World.

During Resurrection, the hero faces a mini-death once more, or at the very least, high stakes. Facing death literally or symbolically yet again, we see whether or not the hero is better equipped to handle this. Once he survives this intact, the hero is ready to Return with the Elixir. The hero must return to the ordinary world and bring back something of benefit to it.

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