Most stories take the hero out of the ordinary, mundane world
and into a Special World, new and alien. This is the familiar
"fish out of water" idea which has spawned countless films and TV
If you're going to show a fish out of his customary element,
you first have to show him in that Ordinary World to create
a vivid contrast with the strange new world he is about to enter.
THE CALL TO ADVENTURE
The hero is presented with a problem, challenge, or adventure
to undertake. Once presented with a Call to Adventure, she
can no longer remain indefinitely in the comfort of the Ordinary
The Call to Adventure establishes the stakes of the game, and
makes clear the hero's goal: to win the treasure or the lover, to
get revenge or right a wrong, to achieve a dream, confront a
challenge, or change a life.
REFUSAL OF THE CALL
This one is about fear. Often at this point the hero balks at
the threshold of adventure, Refusing the Call or expressing
reluctance. After all, she is facing the greatest of all fears,
terror of the unknown. The hero has not fully committed to the
journey and may still be thinking of turning back. Some other
influence---a change in circumstances, a further offense against
the natural order of things, or the encouragement of a Mentor---is
required to get her past this turning point of fear.
MENTOR (THE WISE OLD MAN OR WOMAN)
By this time many stories will have introduced a Merlin-like
character who is the hero's Mentor. The relationship
between hero and Mentor is one of the most common themes in
mythology, and one of the richest in its symbolic value. It stands
for the bond between parent and child, teacher and student, doctor
and patient, god and man.
The function of Mentors is to prepare the hero to face the
unknown. They may give advice, guidance or magical equipment.
However the Mentor can only go so far with the hero.
eventually the hero must face the unknown alone. Sometimes the
Mentor is required to give the hero a swift kick in the pants to
get the adventure going.
CROSSING THE FIRST THRESHOLD
Now the hero finally commits to the adventure and fully enters
the Special World of the story for the first time by Crossing
the First Threshold . He agrees to face the consequences of
dealing with the problem or challenge posed in the Call to
Adventure. This is the moment when the story takes off and the
adventure really gets going. The balloon goes up, the ship sails,
the romance begins, the plane or the spaceship soars off, the
wagon train gets rolling.
TESTS, ALLIES AND ENEMIES
Once across the First Threshold, the hero naturally encounters
new challenges and Tests, makes Allies and Enemies,
and begins to learn the rules of the Special World.
Saloons and seedy bars seem to be good places for these
transactions. Countless Westerns take the hero to a saloon where
his manhood and determination are tested.
Scenes like these allow for character development as we watch
the hero and his companions react under stress.
Of course not all tests, Alliances, and Enmities are
confronted in bars. In many stories, these are simply encounters
on the road.
APPROACH TO THE INMOST CAVE
The hero comes at last to the edge of a dangerous place,
sometimes deep underground, where the object of the quest is
hidden. Often it's the headquarters of the hero's greatest enemy,
the most dangerous spot in the Special World, the Inmost
Cave. When the hero enters that fearful place he will cross
the second major threshold. Heroes often pause at the gate to
prepare,plan, and outwit the villain's guards. This the phase of
Approach covers all the preparations for entering the Inmost
Cave and confronting death or supreme danger.
THE SUPREME ORDEAL
Here the fortunes of the hero hit bottom in a direct
confrontation with his greatest fear. he faces the possibility of
death and is brought to the brink in a battle with a hostile
force. The Supreme Ordeal is a "black moment" for the
audience, as we are held in suspense and tension, not knowing if
he will live or die.
This is a critical moment in any story, an Ordeal in which the
hero must die or appear to die so that she can be born again. It's
a major source of the magic of the heroic myth. The experience of
the preceding stages have led us, the audience, to identify with
the hero and her fate. What happens to the hero happens to us. We
are encouraged to experience the brink-of-death moment with her.
Our emotions are temporarily depressed so that they can be revived
by the hero's return from death. The result of this revival is a
feeling of elation and exhilaration.
Every story needs such life-or-death moment in which the hero
or his goals are in moral jeopardy.
REWARD (SEIZING THE SWORD)
Having survived death, beaten the dragon, or slain the
Minotaur, hero and audience have cause to celebrate. The hero now
takes possession of the treasure she has come seeking, her
Reward. It might be a special weapon like a magic sword, or
a token like the =Grail or some elixir which can heal the wounded
Sometimes the "sword" is knowledge and experience that leads
to greater understanding and a reconciliation with hostile forces.
THE ROAD BACK
The hero's not out of the woods yet. We're crossing into Act
Three now as the hero begins to deal with the consequences of
confronting the dark forces of the Supreme Ordeal. If she has not
yet managed to reconcile with the parent, the gods, or the hostile
forces, they may come raging after her. Some of the best chase
scenes spring up at this point, as the hero is pursued on The
Road Back by the vengeful forces she has disturbed by Seizing
the Sword, the elixir or the treasure.
This stage marks the decision to return to the Ordinary World.
The hero realizes that the Special World must eventually be left
behind, and there are still dangers, temptations, and tests ahead.
In ancient times, hunters and warriors had to be purified
before they returned to their communities, because they had blood
on their hands. The hero who has been to the realm of the dead
must be reborn and cleansed in one last Ordeal of death and
Resurrection before returning to the Ordinary World of the
This is often a second life-and-death moment, almost a replay
of the death and rebirth of the Supreme Ordeal. Death and darkness
get in one last, desperate shot before being finally defeated.
It's a kind of final exam for the hero, who must be tested once
more to see if he has really learned the lessons of the Supreme
The hero is transformed by these moments of death-and-rebirth,
and is able to return to ordinary life reborn as a new being.
RETURN WITH ELIXIR
The hero Returns to the Ordinary World, but the journey is
meaningless unless she brings back some Elixir, treasure,
or lesson from the Special World. The Elixir is a magic potion
with the power to heal. It may be a great treasure like the Grail
that magically heals the wounded land, or it simply might be
knowledge or experience that could be useful; to the community
Sometimes the elixir is treasure won on
the quest, but it may be love, freedom, wisdom, or the knowledge
that the Special World exists and can be survived.
The Hero's Journey is a skeletal
framework that should be fleshed out with the details and
surprises of the individual story. The structure should not call
attention to itself, nor should it be followed too precisely. The
order of the stages given here is only one of many possible
variations. The stages can be deleted, added to, and drastically
shuffled without losing any of their power.
The Hero's Journey is infinitely
flexible, capable of endless variation without sacrificing any of
its magic, and it will outlive us all.
Note: Book Two of Vogler's
The Writer's Journey expounds all the twelve elements of the Hero's
Journey in detailed examination of each one, with examples from
various Greek, Norse and Russian myths and modern-day Hollywood