Question of the Day: “What ELSE can I learn from Joseph Campbell?”

Yesterday, I wrote a post about the Hero’s journey. This is the monomyth that is pervasive through many Eastern and Western societies. These journeys have much in common, so Joseph Campbell decided to map it out to show the patterns in each tale. The significance of this lies in the application of the Hero’s journey in our own lives. We all go through these steps if we, like all great heroes, decide to answer the call. For the first six parts of the journey, please refer to yesterday’s post.

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The Steps of the Hero’s Journey

Step Seven: The Ordeal

This is the place where the Hero meets her nemesis. It is the culmination of the journey through her fears. It is every prior setback, risk, trial, all rolled into one. There is no turning back. The Hero must go forward and either succeed or fail. It is the one major fight that will change her mentally, physically, or spiritually. It is when Atticus was in the courtroom fighting for Tom Robinson. It is Indiana Jones fighting in the pit with the delusional prince in the Temple of Doom. It is the event that took Thor’s eye.

The self is the whole range of possibilities that you’ve never even thought of. And you’re stuck with your past when you’re stuck with the ego. Because if all you know about yourself is what you found out about yourself, well, that already happened. 

Joseph Campbell

Step Eight: Reward

On the other side of The Ordeal is the Reward. This is Dorothy taking the broom from the Wicked Witch of the West. It is when Luke has the plans for the Death Star. It is the part of the story that leaves the reader/viewer with a feeling of catharsis that all of this was worth it in the end. We have a moment of joy and an opportunity to catch our breath.

Step Nine: The Road Back

In the end, the Hero needs to go back to the beginning where his journey started. It is a necessary part of the tale because we need to see how things have changed and how much he has in fact changed. This is such a crucial part of the story, but it is often glossed over in the falling action of a plot line. It’s excluded when too much time is spent on the ordeal or the fight scenes, but in classic literature it is always highlighted. It is when Marty McFly returns to the present day to see how changing the past has affected his current life. Unfortunately, the Hero is met with one more trial or fight to solidify the changes for which he fought. Rick Blaine in Casablanca has defeated the Nazi official but now he has one final challenge to face. He has to put the woman he loves on a plane.

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Step Ten: Resurrection

This is last test. If the Hero completes this, she is free. It varies from the Ordeal because this is no longer the main foe. It is often a minor subplot or henchman that we thought was dead who shows up at the end for one final stab. The Hero is exhausted and we usually meet this part of the story with dread, thought we are confident that they will be fine after they survived everything else, but it is still a nailbiter. In It’s a Wonderful Life, it is the knowledge that the bank officials and police are in George’s house waiting to arrest him when he returns. In The Matrix it is the part where Trinity tells Neo she loves him, so he must be the ONE, and he wakes up to kill Agent Smith for the last time.

Step Eleven: Return with the Elixir

This is where the Hero returns home and is trumphiant. He has earned his place in the world. He still sustains his bumps and bruises, but his new found strength far exceeds whatever pain resulted. The elixir is the “reward” and it is the proof that change has transpired. It is when Peter Parker recalls his Uncle Ben’s words and chooses to remain Spiderman. It is when Harry Potter arrives at King Cross Station with his wife and children to get his son ready for his first trip to Hogwarts.

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As you can see, my steps end at eleven where the traditional Hero’s journey has twelve steps. I left out the first step, which is the ordinary world. I never liked starting with that one even thought that’s where the Hero’s exposition begins.

To be honest, any rule is made to be broken, and there are multiple examples of heroes who do not follow the hard and fast rules laid out here. That is definitely not the point of this post. That remains below.

The bigger question becomes the following: ‘What is/was your call to action?”

If you follow someone else’s way, you are not going to realize your potential.

Joseph Campbell

Love and Light, Heroes!

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