What is the Hero’s Journey, and why do so many visionary writers like George Lucas use it to craft their stories? To answer that question, we need to understand where the Hero’s Journey comes from.
Joseph Campbell recognized that myths around the world follow a similar template. He referred to this as monomyth. The hero’s path consists of 17 stages.
As it would be too lengthy to explain all the stages in one post, let’s read how Campbell explains the journey in “The Hero with a Thousand Faces.”
A hero ventures forth from the world of common day into a region of supernatural wonder: fabulous forces are there encountered and a decisive victory is won: the hero comes back from this mysterious adventure with the power to bestow boons on his fellow man.
The hero returns from the journey transformed from the rigorous challenges he faced along the way. George Lucas used the Hero’s Journey as a template when writing “Star Wars.” If you would like to learn more about the mythology behind the movie, watch George Lucas’s interview with Bill Moyers.
The Hero’s Journey structure has qualities that can make a story visionary. In the Apotheosis stage, the hero faces death and slays the enemy. The ordeal leads to an expansion of consciousness. Sound familiar? The hero ascends to a god-like status. Transformation can be physical or metaphorical, and there’s often a spiritual element involved.
In “Star Wars,” we see Luke’s apotheosis when he would rather die than surrender to the dark side. Fast forward to “Return of the Jedi.” Darth Vader’s unmasking can be viewed as a joint apotheosis between father and son. This is probably why it’s so memorable to many fans of the series. First, Darth Vader risks his own life to save Luke. He kills the emperor, but he’s also mortally wounded. In a weakened state, Darth Vader asks Luke to unmask him, so he could see his son with his own eyes. From out of the mask emerges Anakin, finally freed from the dark forces that plagued him since his youth.
Luke’s apotheosis isn’t as dramatic. It happens when Anakin tells him that he was right about him. In other words, Darth Vader could be redeemed. Luke’s spiritual truth shatters Darth Vader’s mask. This is the symbolic slaying of the enemy. It’s also Luke’s atonement with the father. In this stage, Campbell explains that “one must have a faith that the father is merciful, and then a reliance on that mercy.”
“When the envelopment of consciousness has been annihilated, then he becomes free of all fear, beyond the reach of change.” Buddhist Mahayana Text
Anakin’s expansion of consciousness is visually depicted after he dies and is seen standing with Yoda and Obi-Wan Kenobi. Luke sees them. His ability to gaze into the spirit world demonstrates his own expansion of consciousness.
The themes in “Return of the Jedi” carry spiritual depth. Good and evil isn’t a black and white issue. Redemption is possible, as long as the intention to redeem oneself is heartfelt. Forgiveness is another lesson. Luke forgives Anakin for the atrocities he commited as Darth Vader. It’s never mentioned, but we recognize it when Luke doesn’t want to leave him to die.
What Campell’s Hero’s Journey reveals to us is the commonality of humankind. An understanding of these commonalities allow writers to craft stories in which people from all around the world can connect to. Star Wars is one example that demonstrates how one story can affect the world. That’s visionary!
HERO’S JOURNEY IS REAL LIFE
The metaphorical Star Wars battle is the dark against the light. These symbolic universal archetypes are part of our real world struggles that reflect who we are as a people. We live our heroes journeys as individuals, but the environment in which we live is a result of our collective experiences of our journeys. As such, it would be in our best interest to visualise a movement towards the light. Getting there will be challenging because the dark influences of the world can feel overpowering at times.
We need a new Renaissance to free us from a dark future that’s being carved out for us. War, terrorism and poverty are the same struggles that we dealt with throughout history. The current socio-political climate makes it challenging to speak out. Groupthink is strong. George Orwell would be shocked at its current intensity.
We need visionary fiction writers to write stories that they may be afraid to tell. Challenging the status quo can be difficult and scary. Here, the writer becomes the hero, plowing through her own fears. Hopefully, she’ll grow with her fictional hero. She’ll claim the prize by resisting groupthink that can steer her off the path toward the light. Thankfully, she’s not alone on her journey. She has many allies whose pens are light sabers battling the shadow forces from within her subconscious mind, so she can operate from the light. From out of the shadows, she emerges a giver of light. The more heroes that carry the light, the brighter their effect on the world.
THE HERO PATH
We have not even to risk the adventure alone
for the heroes of all time have gone before us.
The labyrinth is thoroughly known …
we have only to follow the thread of the hero path.
And where we had thought to find an abomination
we shall find a God.
And where we had thought to slay another
we shall slay ourselves.
Where we had thought to travel outwards
we shall come to the center of our own existence.
And where we had thought to be alone
we shall be with all the world.”
Joseph Campbell from “The Hero with a Thousand Faces”
HERO’S JOURNEY RESOURCES
If you are interested in digging deeper into Joseph Campbell, here are some resources to get you started:
The Power of Myth – Joseph Campbell in an engaging interview with Bill Moyers
The Mythology of Star Wars – Bill Moyers interviews George Lucas
The Writer’s Journey: Christopher Volger’s condensed template for following the Hero’s Journey.
Stages of Hero’s Journey – Website with a detailed explanation of the 17 stages along with movie examples.
Eleni Papanou is an award-winning author and perpetual student of life. Visit her website for news and updates