What do Harry Potter, a Katniss Everdeen, a Frodo, all have in common with the heroes of ancient myths? What if I told you they're all variants of the same hero? Do you believe that?
Joseph Campbell did! He studied myths from all over the world and published a book called The Hero With a Thousand Faces, retelling dozens of stories and explaining how each represents the monomyth or hero's journey.
So what is a hero's journey? Think of it as a cycle. The journey begins and ends in the hero's ordinary world. But the quest passes through an unfamiliar special world. All the way there are some key events. Think about your favourite book or movie: does it follow this pattern?
Status Quo: that's where we start.
1 o'clock: call to adventure
The hero receives a mysterious message, an invitation, a challenge.
2 o'clock: assistance
The hero needs some help probably from someone older, wiser.
3 o'clock: departure
The hero crosses the threshold from his normal, safe home and enters the special world and adventure. We aren't in Kansas anymore.
4 o'clock: trials
Being a hero is hard work. The hero solves the riddle, slays the monster, escapes from a trap.
5 o'clock: approach
It's time to face the biggest ordeal/hardhip/trial, the hero's worst fear.
6 o'clock: crisis
This is the hero's darkest hour. He faces death, possibly even dies, only to be reborn.
7 o'clock: treasure
As a result the hero claims some treasure, special recognition, a power.
8 o'clock: result
This can vary between stories; do the monsters back down before the hero, or do they chase him as he flees from this special world?
9 o'clock: return
After all that adventure, the hero returns to his ordinary world.
10 o'clock: new life
This quest has changed the hero. He has outgrown his old life.
11 o'clock: resolution
All the tangled plot lines straighten out.
12 o'clock: status quo
But upgraded to a new level. Nothing is quite the same once you're a hero.
Many popular books and movies follow this ancient formula pretty closely. But let's see how well The Hunger Games fits the hero's journey template.When does Katnis Everdeen hear a call to adventure which gives the story movie? When her sister's name is called from the lottery. How about assistance? Is anybody going to help her in her adventure? Haymitch. What about departure? Does she leave her ordinary world? She gets on a train to the capitol.
Okay. So you get the idea! What do you have in common with Harry Potter, Katnis Everdeen and Frodo?
Well, you're human just like them! The hero's journey myth exists in all human cultures and keeps being updated because we humans reflect our world through symbolic stories of our own lives. You leave your comfortable self, have an experience that transforms you, and then you recover and do it again. You don't literally slay dragons or fight Voldemort, but you face problems just as scary.
Joseph Campbell said, "In the cave you fear to enter, lies the treasure you seek."
What is the symbolic cave you fear to enter? Audition for the school play, baseball tryouts, love? Watch for this formula in books, movies and TV shows you come across; you will certainly see it again. But also be sensitive to it in your own life; listen for your call for adventure, accept the challenge, conquer your fear and claim the treasure you seek, and then do it all over again.