Joseph Campbell: The Hero’s Journey (Part 2)


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 my last article, we looked at Steps 1-6 that bring your hero to the point of understanding.  In this article, we’re going to look at steps 7-12 that take your hero from new understanding to a re-ordering of his/her world.

  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

Where We Left Off…

Once your hero has accepted the call to adventure, left his or her ordinary world and encountered the tests, allies and enemies that inform his or her awareness of the challenges that face them, your hero needs to get busying being, well… heroic.

7. The Inmost Cave (The Second Threshold)

The hero comes at last to a dangerous place, where the object of the quest is hidden. Often it is a place belonging to the hero’s greatest enemy, and the most dangerous spot in the special world. When the hero enters that fearful place, he or she has definitely crossed the second major threshold.

In adventure stories, the inmost cave is usually the headquarters of the villain, but it may appear in other forms in other stories. Sometimes, as a dream world, or the hero’s own fear that must be overcome.  The hero will also encounter “shape shifters.” These are symbols reflecting the confusion and  changing aspects of the hostile forces that oppose the hero.

8. The Supreme Ordeal

Here the fortunes of the hero hit bottom, in a direct confrontation with his or her greatest fear. the hero faces the possibility of death, brought to the brink in a fight with a hostile force.

In romantic comedies, the death the hero faces may simply be the temporary death of the relationship. This is a critical moment in any story. It is an ordeal in which the hero must appear to die, so that he can be reborn again.

Every story needs such a life-or-death moment, in which the hero is, in some sense, in mortal jeopardy.

9. Seizing the Sword

Having survived death–real or metaphoric–and defeated the obstacle, the hero now takes possession of the treasure, love interest, or necessary information that he or she has come seeking. At this point, the hero may also settle a conflict with a mentor.

In romantic comedies, the hero may be reconciled with the opposite sex. There may even be a love scene at this point.

10. The Road Back

Now, the hero must reconcile with the hostile forces who oppose him or her. Usually, the hero is pursued by the vengeful forces he or she had disturbed by seizing the treasure of the quest.

11. Resurrection (The Third Threshold)

The hero must face a final ordeal before being reborn and returned to the ordinary world. Death and darkness get one last shot in before being finally defeated.

12. Return with the Elixir

The hero returns to the ordinary world, but the journey is meaningless unless he or she brings back some elixir–treasure, wisdom, a lesson or a lover—from the special world. Unless something is brought back from the inmost cave, the hero is doomed to repeat the adventure.  Many comedies use this ending: a foolish character refuses to learn his lesson and embarks on the same folly that got him in trouble in the first place.

Putting it All Together

To save you the time of going back to my previous blog — though you should if you want more detail — here’s a a quick recap of the steps in Joseph Campbell’s Hero’s Journey that you will find at the core of every great story:

  1. Heroes are introduced in the ORDINARY WORLD.
  2. They receive a CALL TO ADVENTURE.
  3. They start out RELUCTANT.
  4. They are helped by a WISE SAGE.
  5. With new capabilities, they enter the SPECIAL WORLD.
  6. They encounter TESTS, ALLIES and ENEMIES.
  7. They enter the INMOST CAVE.
  8. They endure a SUPREME ORDEAL.
  10. They are pursed on the ROAD BACK.
  11. They are defeated, but experience a RESURRECTION.
  12. They are transformed by the event, and RETURN WITH ELIXIR to the ordinary world.

Modern heroes may not be going into caves and labyrinths to fight mythical beasts, but they do enter a special world and an inmost cave by venturing into space, to the bottom of the sea, the depths of a modern city, a love affair, or their own minds.

Where are your heroes leaving and where are they going?  Who is travelling with them and what are the special worlds that they are discovering…?

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