What is the Hero’s Journey?

Marketers talk a lot about the Hero’s Journey for good reason. You need to tell a story, and the Hero’s Journey is the framework for effective storytelling.

The Hero’s Journey allows you to put your audience in the center of the story, giving them the power to envision themselves as the hero and improve their situation. Yeah, it’s that powerful.

Today we’re going to do something a little different. Instead of looking at some how to’s or a number of tips to improve your marketing, let’s look at a distinct storytelling method.

Let’s discuss the Hero’s Journey.

Joseph Campbell and the Monomyth

Joseph Campbell was an American mythologist, writer, and lecturer. He is best known for his work in comparative mythology and comparative religion, the areas in which his work on the Monomyth (the Hero’s Journey) fits.

His seminal work is that of the Monomyth. The concept of the Monomyth refers to Campbell’s theory that all mythic narratives, regardless of identity or culture, are variations of a single great story. This theory is based on the observation that a pattern exists between all great myths.

Campbell’s authoritative writing on the Monomyth is his book The Hero with a Thousand Faces (1949). This is the central pattern of the Monomyth that people most often refer to as the Hero’s Journey. This follows the the journey of a hero from receiving the overarching phases of departure, initiation, and return.

Now, let’s break down these phases into the individual steps that make up Joseph Campbell’s Hero’s Journey.

The Hero’s Journey


Joseph Campbell’s Model

Joseph Campbell’s model of the Hero’s Journey is expansive. He creates a list of the various steps that heroes take on their epic journeys. Each step is not necessarily in every story, but they are not unique either.

  1. The Call to Adventure
  2. Refusal of the Call
  3. Supernatural Aid
  4. Crossing the Threshold
  5. Belly of the Whale
  6. The Road of Trials
  7. The Meeting with the Goddess
  8. Woman as Temptress
  9. Atonement with the Father
  10. Apotheosis
  11. The Ultimate Boon
  12. Refusal of the Return
  13. The Magic Flight
  14. The Rescue from Without
  15. The Crossing of the Return Threshold
  16. Master of Two Worlds
  17. The Freedom to Live

As you can see, Joseph Campbell’s version of the Hero’s Journey is long. There are 17 individual parts to the entire model. Instead of me explaining what each one of these parts are, and probably losing you on the way, let’s look at the different forms of the Hero’s Journey.

Here’s a diagram that makes the journey a little more digestible.

monomyth diagram

From the smaller, more compact forms, we can explain the parts of the journey.

Other Forms

Joseph Campbell’s structure is long, as you probably just noticed. There are a lot of steps. Often, in the real world application of the Hero’s Journey in modern storytelling, those steps don’t necessarily happen in the neat little order that Campbell set out.

Many modern characterizations of the journey add in new steps or combine others. For instance, the Hero’s Journey is often divided into these seven steps:

1. The Call to Adventure

The hero starts off in a mundane, normal situation. Here they receive information as a call-to-action, a call to walk away from their old life and into the unknown. This often happens with the help of a supernatural mentor, think Merlin, Obi-Wan Kenobi, or Gandalf.

2. The Road of Trials

Having left home, the pathway to and through the adventure now lies ahead for the hero. The road is long, but not dull. There are many rials the hero has to undergo to truly attain his status as the hero.

3. The Meeting with the Goddess

One the road, the hero will likely meet a powerful female figure with whom he finds some kind of unity and bonding. This may take the shape of an intense desire or love. This “goddess” may be an actual goddess, but she may also be an ordinary woman.

4. The Boon

Eventually, at the end of the road of trials, the goal of the journey is achieved. This is the boon. The boon may be finally gained after a battle with the ultimate evil or villain of the story or a particularly difficult last trial.

5. The Magic Flight

Now that the boon has been gained, the hero hurries home with this new treasure, knowledge, or power. This may be a mad dash, possibly away from the remaining enemy or some time constraint.

6. The Return Threshold

At last, the hero finally returns home. They are now safe from further pursuit or woes. Crossing the threshold may not be easy, with one last challenge or task remaining for the hero.

7. The Master of Two Worlds

Having completed the journey out and back in, the hero is now a master of both natural and supernatural world. He can pass over the threshold between the two without further trial. This cements the hero’s position as the ultimate power.

Why Does it Matter?

Campbell argues a point which is key to telling a great story that can cross cultural and generational boundaries. His argument is that many, if not all, heroic tales follow a basic structure. It doesn’t matter where these stories come from or who told them, they’re all part of the same narrative journey.

The basic structure is the monomyth.

This argument, which has proven true in my experience, supports the idea that humans are hardwired to identify themselves in the story you tell if it fits within the bounds of the monomyth. Stories that follow this basic structure will allow your audience to identify themselves as the hero. They become a part of your story.

Just look at Star Wars, The Hobbit and Lord of the Rings, The Odyssey, and hundreds more. People don’t buy into Sauron and Gollum, the Force, Gandalf, Athena, or any of these other common themes, if they don’t identify with characters like Luke, Frodo, or Odysseus.

Without Frodo, nobody identifies with Gandalf.

You have to tap into this story.

There is obviously a difference between the story you’re telling and the epic narratives and poems of Tolkien and Homer. They weren’t selling a product, and you are. But the monomyth can still play a critical role in your editorial and advertorial philosophy.

By telling a story that is immediately recognizable, you can make your customers and prospects personify themselves within your marketing message or story. They quite literally become the hero of the story.

All the while, you (as the mentor and guide) lead your customer (the hero) through the hero’s journey.

New Call-to-action