It is a common misconception that Joseph Campbell’s monomyth only applies to the hero, as it has been traditionally applied to the male protagonist in many myths. However, the monomyth can be applied to any character, type of story, and any industry.
The journey of this archetype includes leaving home and going out into the world, encountering trials and/or comforts, transforming oneself through this experience, then returning home to share what one has learned. Initiation is the first phase of the journey, as well as the most important. This stage transitions the protagonist into adulthood by leaving home and breaking ties with one’s parents, spouse, or children.
It also includes trials that alter the character’s perspective on life and change their point of view. They are given opportunities to draw from their human strengths and the help of others to overcome obstacles.
We invite you to go into the journey of the stages within Joseph Campbell’s monomyth. Once upon a time…
The call to adventure, also known as the call to action, can take many forms. It is an interruption to the hero’s daily life—a threat to his livelihood, his loved ones, or his community. The call to action is something the hero cannot refuse no matter how much he’d like to. It is a disruption to his ordinary world, a challenge that must be accepted.
Frodo Baggins, the hero in The Lord of the Rings trilogy, is called to action by the wizard Gandalf. Gandalf asks Frodo to take the Ring and destroy it, in order to save all of Middle-Earth. Frodo accepts the adventure in order to save his loved ones, his community, and ultimately, the world as they know it.
Through the call to adventure, the protagonist leaves his ordinary world behind and enters a new realm of existence, such as the Underworld in Greek mythology. This stage introduces us to our hero and sets up the story. The hero is reluctant to heed the call because he knows no reason for embarking on this perilous task—he doesn’t know the consequences of not doing it, and most likely does not understand the cause behind the quest.
But he is drawn to this new world because he senses that there may be something more for him out there. He longs to uncover his true potential and unlock the great mystery surrounding him—and he’s willing to risk exploring unknown territory in order to do so.
The Hobbit Bilbo Baggins, the protagonist in J.R.R Tolkien’s book The Hobbit, is called to action by Gandalf when he asks for his help to defeat the dragon, Smaug. Bilbo had never sought out adventure and most likely would not have gone with Gandalf if he hadn’t been called to it.
The hero balks at the call to adventure because he is afraid—he may try to avoid the journey entirely, or make excuses for why he needs to stay behind. Sometimes this stage can occur multiple times in a story with the protagonist refusing the call over and over again.
Bilbo Baggins refuses the call multiple times in The Hobbit before he finally agrees to go on the journey with Gandalf. He is afraid of venturing into new territory and facing unknown adversity but ultimately decides to take his chances in becoming a hero—which leads him on an adventure of a lifetime that transforms him into the brave, jolly, and heroic Hobbit we all know.
After the hero accepts the call to adventure, he embarks on his quest equipped with tools given to him by a Mentor who appears to offer guidance and protection throughout the story. The mentor may also guide them through their trials. Sometimes the hero must leave the comfort of his home in order to receive the Mentor’s gifts, or he may be sent into unknown territory with nothing but the Mentor’s advice.
The Mentor imparts wisdom and knowledge to the protagonist. He is a guide on this new journey, sharing experiences that will help them succeed as they cross the threshold into the new realm.
Gandalf, the mentor of The Hobbit Bilbo Baggins, imparts wisdom to him throughout his adventure and gives him magical tools that will help him in his quest for adventure. He even goes as far as fighting the dragon Smaug when it attacks the Dwarves’ home. Gandalf is the one who gives Bilbo the tool he needs to kill Smaug when he is in the dragon’s lair.
Once the hero embarks on his journey, he encounters many obstacles along the way in order to test his strength, endurance, mental focus, courage, and compassion. He will have to face these challenges alone—and only after enduring the Road of Trials can he continue forward with his quest. These unexpected twists and turns are sometimes presented as physical threats, but they can also take the form of mental or emotional challenges, as well.
There may be a number of tests over the course of the story before he reaches his final destination. Each time he becomes more equipped to handle these obstacles and gains more knowledge about himself along the way. He begins his journey as an ordinary person but ends it a realized hero.
The Hobbit Bilbo Baggins encounters many tests, challenges, and obstacles while he is on his adventure. He has to face the dangerous spiders in the forest alone, enter Smaug’s lair without any weapons, and fight off the giant wolf, Fenrir. But each time he overcomes these perils with courage and strength, he becomes a jollier, braver, and more heroic character than the last. As of the second movie of The Hobbit series which has just been released in theaters, Bilbo has faced these three Road of Trials/Challenges so far.
After the hero has faced and overcomes all of these obstacles, he is rewarded for his efforts with a deep and meaningful connection to the Goddess. Through this encounter, he has a sudden realization that changes the trajectory of the rest of his life. He feels enlightened and transformed by his experience; he becomes wiser and more confident.
After passing through many challenges on his quest, the hero receives a gift from the Goddess that will aid him in completing his journey. Perhaps he learns how to control his fear and use it to empower himself; or maybe he gains the courage and strength needed to face all future obstacles. He may even be rewarded with love and affection—a type of energy that often plays a crucial role in the hero’s transformation.
In Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows, when Harry learns of his connection to Voldemort he has a sudden realization that changes the course of his life. Before this discovery, Harry tended to shy away from conflict because he thought it was cowardly not to avoid fighting when possible. After learning about his connection with Voldemort, Harry becomes more aware of the power that exists within him and learns how to embrace this energy in order to fight and protect himself. He later uses it during his final battle with Voldemort in the Forbidden Forest to kill the Dark Lord once and for all.
Atoning for past mistakes or forsaking the life he once knew, the hero completely transforms his identity and leaves behind his former self. He experiences a moment of death before being reborn as a new person with renewed purpose.
In Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire, when Voldemort places Harry under his control and makes him duel against Cedric Diggory in order to win the Triwizard Tournament, Harry experiences death before being reborn with the realization that he is capable of facing any challenge.
The hero’s journey culminates in a transcendent moment where his true self is revealed—he can now see the world through “divine eyes.” He has attained complete understanding and knowledge and feels at one with the universe – experiencing a burst of energy upon his lowest point and meeting with the supernatural world.
In The Hobbit: The Battle of the Five Armies, Thorin Oakenshield feels apotheosis when he realizes that protecting his people is more important than obtaining his treasure.
The hero receives the ultimate reward for his efforts which can take many forms. He may return with a person, object, or cherished quality that he values above all else. Or he might discover hidden knowledge and understanding about himself and the world around him – receiving divine gifts, realizing his or her strengths and weaknesses, and achieving knowledge that will help them on their adventure.
In The Lord of the Rings: The Fellowship of the Ring after completing his journey to Mount Doom, Frodo gains the ultimate reward of a magical ring that grants invisibility and the ability to rule over others.
The hero has reached the end of his journey but has yet to return home with all he gained from it. He may choose to stay in the supernatural world or return back to his normal life.
In Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows, Harry doesn’t want to leave behind the magical world he’s grown accustomed to over the years but decides to return home after seeing how much danger it puts his friends in.
The hero must now escape the supernatural world and return life as he knows it. He may face personal challenges, lose what he gained along his way, or come across a literal or symbolic obstacle that forces him to leave quickly and unexpectedly.
In Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows: Part 2 after defeating Lord Voldemort, the gang is forced to flee on the back of a dragon in order to escape becoming victims of his wrath.
The hero may require assistance with leaving the supernatural world and returning home with all he gained throughout his journey. He receives help in the form of supernatural aid or allies.
In The Lord of the Rings: The Two Towers, Frodo, and Samwise Gamgee receive help from Gollum so they can continue their journey towards Mount Doom back home in the Shire.
After receiving his reward, the hero must return back to his ordinary world. He may have trouble assimilating into his original life after being in a different world for so long – but he manages to prevail over all obstacles – sacrificing what they’ve gained and reentering their known world.
In Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows: Part 1, Harry finds it hard to tell everyone who he really is until Ron and Hermione assure him that they’ll always be by his side.
The hero has successfully reentered both worlds and knows how to act in either one. He is no longer attached to his boon, having let go of it once he returned home. He is now responsible for the knowledge and power he has gained – taking what they’ve learned and become the hero they were meant to be.
In The Hobbit: The Desolation of Smaug, Bilbo finally feels comfortable sharing the truth about his adventure in Erebor and relinquishes it to Gandalf and Thorin.
The hero has come to terms with the knowledge and power they’ve gained from their adventure. They are able to live a normal life, but still have a sense of longing for what is out there within this world.
In the Harry Potter series, Harry realizes after defeating Lord Voldemort that he was destined to be a hero since birth, but doesn’t let it get to his head. He has matured beyond his years but still is able to lead a normal life as an ordinary wizard who must protect the world from evil like everyone else.
Campbell’s Journey Within “A hero ventures forth from the world of common day into a region of supernatural wonder: fabulous forces are there encountered and a decisive victory is won: the hero comes back from this mysterious adventure with the power to bestow boons on his fellow man.”
Joseph Campbell, The Hero with a Thousand Faces pg. 8
This quote begins Joseph Campbell’s monomyth which he believes all heroes journey through. These stages are the same for each hero and provide a general guideline to follow when creating your own hero.
The Call to Adventure: The ordinary world is shaken by “the call” and the hero either accepts it or declines the opportunity. If the acceptance of this call leads him into another world, then we can consider that he has left home.
One can also learn more about Joseph Campbell’s journey of the hero by reading his book “The Hero with a Thousand Faces”.
Many heroes follow the journey that Joseph Campbell described in his book “The Hero with a Thousand Faces.” It includes leaving home, encountering trials and/or comforts, transforming oneself through this experience, then returning home to share what one has learned. The hero must find their purpose within themselves in order to make an impact on society. Whether you’re selling a digital product online or you run a brick-and-mortar business, these behavioral neuroscience principles will work for you. They’ll help you drive more visitors into your marketing funnel and convert casual visits into sales. These principles have been proven time and time again, so if you’re ready to take your business to the next level then follow along as we guide you through the process.
Jeremiah O’Brian is a faculty member at the USC School of Dramatic Arts. His exceptionally diverse background – from gritty nuts-and-bolts firefighting to film and theatre credits and accolades – is bolstered by his several graduate degrees.