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The Hero's Journey - Introduction

From Christopher Vogler's "The Writer's Journey: Mythic Structure"

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The Hero's Journey by Rebecca Emery - Getty Images

The Hero's Journey

Rebecca Emery - Getty Images
Understanding the hero's journey can make creative writing class, literature class, any English class, easier to ace. Even better, chances are you'll enjoy the class immeasurably more when you understand why the hero's journey structure makes for satisfying stories.

When I teach the hero's journey, I use Christopher Vogler's book, "The Writer's Journey: Mythic Structure for Writers." Vogler draws from the depth psychology of Carl Jung and the mythic studies of Joseph Campbell.

Jung suggested that the archetypes that appear in all myths and dreams represent the universal aspects of the human mind. Campbell's life work was devoted to sharing the life principles embedded in the structure of stories. He discovered that world hero myths are all basically the same story told in infinitely different ways.

As non-traditional students, or students of any kind really, we can use their remarkable theories to understand why stories like The Wizard of Oz, E.T., and Star Wars are so beloved and so satisfying to watch or read over and over. Vogler knows because he is a longtime consultant to the movie industry and, specifically, to Disney.

Why It Matters

We'll take the hero's journey apart piece by piece and show you how to use it as a map. How will you, as a non-traditional student, use the map? In literature class, it will help you understand the stories you read and engage in class discussions about story elements. In creative writing class, it will help you write stories that make sense and are satisfying to your reader. That translates into higher grades.

It's important to remember that the hero's journey is a guideline only. Like grammar, once you know and understand the rules, you can break them. Nobody likes a formula. The hero's journey is not a formula. It gives you the understanding you need to take familiar expectations and turn them on their heads in creative defiance. The values of the hero's journey are what's important: symbols of universal life experience.

We'll be looking at common structural elements found universally in myths, fairy tales, dreams, and movies. It's important to realize that "the journey" can be outward to an actual place (think Indiana Jones), or inward to the mind, the heart, the spirit.

In upcoming lessons, we'll look at each of Jung's archetypes and each stage of Campbell's hero's journey.

The Archetypes

  • Hero
  • Mentor
  • Threshold Guardian
  • Herald
  • Shapeshifter
  • Shadow
  • Trickster

The Stages of the Hero's Journey

Act One (first quarter of the story)

Act Two (second and third quarters)

Act Three (fourth quarter)

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