The Hero’s Journey is a deep pattern imbedded in many stories. In fact, it has been called the one story, the monomyth, of human existence. The acclaimed mythologist Joseph Campbell studied myths from all over the world and time periods. He found that they had a similar structure, which is discussed in his classic book, Hero with a Thousand Faces. He felt that this pattern expresses the deep inner connections and symbolism of the human experience. For the Journey has a spiritual element, the quest to connect with the true self.
Many stories and films loosely use this structure, such as Star Wars, Matrix, The Wizard of Oz, Harry Potter, and many more. The pattern is not rigid and limiting but can be adapted and rearranged as fits the narrative. George Lucas openly gave credit to Campbell’s work for Star Wars. Bill Moyers' interview with Campbell for the PBS special, The Power of Myth, was held at Lucas Ranch.
The basic structure is Departure, Initiation, and Return.
- Departure. In taking a journey, there must be a departure, leaving ordinary surroundings to risk moving into unfamiliar territory.
- Initiation. The traveler opens into a new world, meets a mentor, and finds both allies and enemies. The journey has thresholds at each stage, with new dangers and challenges. There might be a symbolic death, releasing the old to open to the new.
- Return. And there is a return, going back home to enrich the community with gifts or boons of the wisdom of the journey.
I’m using the familiar story of Wizard of Oz to show the stages of the hero’s journey. I have drawn from the excellent and inspiring book, The Writer’s Journey: Mythic Structure for Writers by Christopher Vogler, using his sequence of the journey. The book explores many stories and films, showing the inner symbolism in great depth. I highly recommend it.
Ordinary World. The hero starts in the Ordinary World, the everyday world, usually with some dissatisfaction or longing. In Wizard of Oz, Dorothy is living on the farm with her aunt, uncle and dog Toto in a black and white world. She feels lonely and ignored and like she doesn’t fit in. Her dog Toto has dug up the flowerbeds of her neighbor Miss Gulch, who threatens to call the police.
Call to Adventure; a problem, a challenge. Miss Gulch takes Toto away, but he escapes. Feeling there is no way out of this dilemma, Dorothy packs her bags to leave with Toto, singing of a better place somewhere else.
Refusal of the Call; fear of the unknown. As she runs away, Dorothy meets up with the magician/salesman Professor Marvel in his carnival wagon. After listening to her story, he advises that the best thing would be to return home.
Crossing the First Threshold. She finds her house is empty, as her family has taken shelter from the oncoming tornado. Fate has a different idea for Dorothy as the tornado propels her house into the colorful world of Oz. On landing, she finds that the house has killed a wicked witch. She meets a mentor, Glinda, the Good Witch, who gives her magic slippers and points her on the yellow brick road.
Tests, Allies, and Enemies. She also meets new allies, the Scarecrow, the Tin Man, and the Lion, who represent three qualities to be developed within her: reason, love, and courage. Her enemy, the Wicked Witch, follows her journey, wreaking havoc at various times.
Approach to the Inmost Cave. The group sees the Emerald City ahead. They are put to sleep by a field of poppies sown by the Wicked Witch, but Glinda saves them by covering the flowers with a blanket of snow. After getting past various gatekeepers, they finally meet with Oz, a gigantic head surrounded by flames and thunder. He gives Dorothy the difficult test of stealing the Wicked Witch’s broomstick. They set off for the Witch’s castle, guarded by the flying monkeys, who tear up Scarecrow, dent the Tin Woodman, and kidnap Dorothy. The witch threatens to throw Toto in the river unless Dorothy gives up the ruby slippers but finds she cannot take them because of Glinda’s protective spell. Meanwhile, the three allies have managed to penetrate the castle, and Toto, who escaped from the witch, leads them to Dorothy.
Supreme Ordeal. Here all seems lost. The witch now has them all captive and is determined to kill them. She first lights the broomstick to set the Scarecrow on fire. Dorothy quickly grabs a bucket of water and pours it on him. However, the water also splashes onto the witch, which makes her melt.
Reward. Now Dorothy is free to retrieve the ruby slippers and take the witch’s broomstick back to the Wizard, who seems reluctant to keep his promise. Toto noses around behind the curtain and finds a little old man controlling the illusion of the great and powerful Oz. He then gives a diploma to the Scarecrow, a medal of courage to the lion, and a windup heart for the Tin Man. These tokens are outer representations of their own changes and growth. He orders a big hot air balloon to be built to take them both back to Kansas.
The Road Back. As they are about to take off, Toto chases a cat and Dorothy chases Toto, and the balloon goes off without her.
Resurrection. Just when all seems lost, the Good Witch Glinda appears. She tells Dorothy she had the power all along, but that she had to learn it for herself.
Return with the Elixir. Dorothy thanks her allies for their gifts of love, courage, and common sense. Tapping her heels, she chants, “There’s no place like home,” and wishes herself back to Kansas. She wakes up in her bed, back in the Ordinary world, back in black and white. She is now truly home, home in her true self.
The popularity and power of Wizard of Oz is due in large part to its expression of the of the heroic journey that touches something deep within our own spirit. Campbell believed that these timeless archetypes continue to have a powerful influence on the choices we make and the ways we live. In the next post, I will explore how to use this format for exploring and writing your own Hero’s Journey.
Joseph Campbell, Hero with a Thousand Faces. https://amzn.to/2uskVUX
Christopher Vogler, The Writer’s Journey: Mythic Structure for Writers. https://amzn.to/2J3evy
The Power of Myth, PBS special. The six episodes include The Hero’s Adventure, The Message of the Myth, The First Storytellers, Sacrifice and Bliss, Love and the Goddess, and Masks of Eternity.
I have a passion for stories and inspirational literature.