Every Story Ever Told: Story Structure and the Hero’s Journey.
Disclaimer: First off, I want to apologize for this being a longer post. Most posts will not be this long, but this week’s topic does call for more detail. So please, hang with me through this one and I reward you with a fun movie review next week.
What do Star Wars (the good ones), Spirited Away, Harry Potter, Lord of the Rings, and Indiana Jones (again, the good ones) all have in common? They all, besides being movies people will attacking you for not liking, are examples of the hero’s journey? You may asking, what is the hero’s journey? The Hero’s Journey is to film what a four chord song is to pop music, that is that it is the base of which the entire piece itself is based off of. The concept was first discussed in Joseph Campbell’s book A Hero With a Thousand Faces, which despite sounding like a D-List Marvel comic, describes the hero’s journey as
“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.”
The story usually starts with our hero, who for this example we’ll call Luke, in the known world, that being the world they are used to and live their everyday life. At some point they will get was is known as the Call To Adventure during which they will receive a, get this, call to adventure. This may come in the form of anything from a of a letter inviting one to a wizarding school or a message from a princess delivered by a droid.
Whatever the call may be, the hero almost always Refuses it at first. Maybe he’s humble or maybe he doesn’t believe he’s the chosen one. (spoiler alert, he usually is.). Shortly after the refusal the hero will accept the task at hand and will leave the known world to travel to the unknown by crossing the threshold. This can be accomplished by leaving the Shire, Tatooine, or going to Platform 9¾.
A Mentor will help our character along the way. It is almost always an old white man with some sort of magical powers played by a knighted British actor. This old white man with some sort of magical powers played by a knighted British actor will often guide and help the hero along the way. Though they will not always be present through the entire journey, their lessons are often carried onward.
Now before our hero fights the final fight they often need to face smaller tasks on their journey. Let’s call it a Road of Trials, mainly because that’s what it is called. Like many things in fiction, mainly fairytales, they often occur in threes ( Or four in Hollywood since they’ll want to split the last one into two movies). The hero does not need to, and will often not succeed at every task. However, through these tasks they learn new things and begin to have an understanding of the world around them. If a montage is gonna happen, it’ll happen during this part.
After countless tasks, ordeals, and montages our hero will reach The Innermost Cave. This may often be the point where our hero leaves behind those who came with him on the journey. At this point he will overcome the big bad or head honcho. After defeating the primary antagonist, they’ll get The Ultimate Boon, which is not named Daniel (Obscure reference, ask your parents) This is what the whole enchilada has been about. This is what they have been seeking. Keep in mind it doesn’t have to be a literal thing, it could be something like destroying a ring or blowing up a planet sized spaceship that keeps getting rebuilt despite failing every time.
There are still many tasks and tribulations on The Return but we’re going to pull a Lord of the Ring: The Return of the King film, and skip all of it and jump right to the hero’s Crossing of the Return Threshold. The hero, having had a rollicking good time, will once again, return to the world they know. This time however they have gained knew knowledge and insight, making them what we, and Campbell will call The Master of Two Worlds.
That, at the most basic, is The Hero’s Journey. There are a lot of smaller parts to it, but we don’t want to be here all night. If you’re still a little confused, check out this handy link which explains the hero’s journey using Disney movies. If you have any questions, please reach out to me!
MOVIE RECOMMENDATION(S) OF THE WEEK: STAR WARS IV-VII or Lord of the Rings or Harry Potter and the Sorcerer's Stone. I used these as examples to they’ll be an easy way to see what Campbell is talking about. Watch any of them or if you’re up for the challenge, binge them all at once to see the recurring themes.
Next week I’ll do a fun list of movies you should watch if you want to be a filmmaker!