The Hero’s Journey or Monomyth is a plot device used in both books and Hollywood films. Many steps of the Hero’s Journey can be found in ancient classics such as Hercules. However the literary world didn’t formalize this plot device until 1949 with the publication of The Hero with a Thousand Faces by Joseph Campbell.
The Hero’s Journey follows a couple of basic steps:
- The hero is born under some strange circumstances.
- Sometime during the hero’s life, circumstances will force the Hero to start his journey in saving the world. He would receive some type of aid in terms of friends and tools.
- The journey that the hero takes will be froth with peril. The hero eventually must complete the journey alone.
- The hero returns home bringing with him a new wisdom that would benefit the community.
The classic example of the Hero’s Journey is J.R.R. Tolkien’s trilogy, The Lord of the Rings. The first book, The Fellowship of the Ring, begins with the coming of age of Frodo Baggins and the birthday of Bilbo Baggins, the hobbit adventurer. Bilbo leaves Frodo with a special ring, which turns out to be the one ring of Dark Lord Sauron. Gandalf leads Frodo and a group of warriors to Mount Doom to destroy the ring. The Two Towers continues with the trials of the Frodo and his companions as they battle their way to Mordor, the home of Lord Sauron. This book splits the main focus of the plot into two parts: Frodo and his journey to Mount Doom and Aragorn as he battles the forces of evil. The last book, The Return of the King, concludes the journey. Frodo is successful in destroying the ring while Aragorn finishes his own journey as King of Gondor. The books are quite detailed and moving. They make you feel that you’re actually in Middle Earth. While the movies did a great job in depicting the world of Middle Earth, the books will give a more complete picture of the journey of Frodo and the fellowship. The books depict Frodo Baggins as the hero. Through his trials save the world and return to his home, it is a perfect example of the Hero’s Journey. The books also give you a sub journey in the terms of Aragorn. He begins the story as a lonely ranger named Strider. Later it is revealed that he’s the hidden king of Gondor. He begins the second Hero’s Journey of the books trying to claim his throne.
In cinema, the most often cited movie of the Hero’s Journey is the Star Wars saga. The original episodes contain the classic Hero Journey plot. However George Lucas also goes in the opposite direction where the hero doesn’t always saves the world. These movies were also published as books with a more complete plot than is feasible in a two- hour movie. Episode I: The Phantom Menace by Terry Brooks introduces Anakin Skywalker.a child from a mysterious birth. He goes on a great journey that leads him to becoming a Jedi and saving the planet Naboo. Episode II: Attack of the Clones by R.A. Salvatore shows Anakin continuing his Jedi journey. The pressures of the lifestyle of the Jedi and the temptation of family eventually begin his downfall. In Episode III: Revenge of the Sith by Matthew Stover, Anakin totally succumbs to the dark side in a failed attempt to save his family. Episode I follows the classic Hero’s Journey. However by Episode III, Anakin goes completely down the path of evil. The trilogy successfully shows how the Hero’s Journey can become a Villain’s Journey.
Orson Scott Card’s Sci-fi classic Ender’s Game is another example of the Hero’s Journey. This book is set after an alien invasion nearly wipes out humanity. To survive, man has made an uneasy alliance with other aliens. This gave humanity a chance to fight back at a cost. Children are now bred for war. The principle character is Ender Wiggin. We follow him through his training as he battles the invading alien, politicians, and his own comrades to gain his freedom. This book will grab your attention, and you will want to read the continuing series.