Joseph Campbell: The Hero’s Journey (Part 1)


The Hero’s Journey

There has been tons and tons of great material written about Joseph Campbell and his Hero’s Journey.  Here’s my take on his incredible work.  It’s my attempt to simplify it down to its core ideas in “snackable” bites that are easy to comprehend.

Joseph Campbell According to Me

The hero’s story is always a journey of change. It is a journey in which the hero leaves his comfortable, ordinary surroundings to venture into a challenging, unfamiliar world.

In every good story, the hero grows and changes, making a journey from one way of being to the next: from despair to hope, weakness to strength, folly to wisdom, love to hate and back.


There are 12 steps in Joseph Campbell’s journey.  In this article we’re going to look at Steps 1-6.

  1. THE ORDINARY WORLD                          7. THE INMOST CAVE
  2. THE CALL TO ADVENTURE                     8. THE SUPREME ORDEAL
  3. THE RELUCTANT HERO                           9. SEIZING THE SWORD
  4. THE WISE OLD SAGE                               10. THE ROAD BACK
  5. THE SPECIAL WORLD                              11. RESURRECTION
  6. TESTS, ALLIES, ENEMIES                       12. RETURN WITH ELIXIR

1. The Ordinary World

If you’re going to show a fish out of his customary element, you first have to show him in that ordinary environment, so as to create a vivid contrast with the strange new world.

2. The Call to Adventure

The hero is presented with a problem, challenge or adventure. He or she can no longer remain indefinitely in the comfort of the ordinary world. In detective stories, it is the private eye being asked to take on an assignment. In revenge plots, it is a wrong which must be set right, or an offense against the natural order of things. In romantic comedies, it is the first sight of that special but annoying someone.

The call to adventure establishes the stakes of the game and make clear the hero’s goal: to win the treasure, be with a lover, get revenge, right a wrong, achieve a dream, change a life, etc.

3. The Reluctant Hero

This is about fear. Often at this point the hero balks at the threshold of adventure. The hero has not yet fully committed to the journey, and may still be thinking of turning back. Some other influence–a change of circumstances, a further offense against the natural order of things, or the encouragement of a mentor–is required to get the hero past this turning point of fear.

In romantic comedies, the hero may express reluctance to get involved. In a detective story, the private eye may at first turn down the case, only to take it on later against better judgment.

4. The Wise Old Sage

The relationship between hero and mentor is one of the most common themes in mythology. The mentor’s function is to train the hero to face the unknown.  The mentor gives advice, teaches skills, and occasionally provides weapons. Though the hero must face the unknown alone, the mentor may have to give the hero a swift kick to get the hero started.

5. The Special World (The First Threshold)

Once the hero commits to the adventure, he or she fully enters the special world of the story. Now, the hero has no choice but to confront the challenges that confront him or her. The first threshold marks the turning point between acts one and two.

6. Tests, Allies & Enemies

Once across the first threshold, the hero naturally encounters new challenges, makes allies and enemies, and begins to learn the rules of the special world.

To be Continued…

These first 6 steps take you through the first half of your story.  Once your hero has learned the rules of the special world, s/he is informed and can make decisions that raise the stakes, create rising conflict and drive the story to its inevitable conclusion.

In my next blog, we’ll look at how Joseph Campbell gets us from this new place of understanding in the middle of the story to the end.  So stay tuned…

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