In the 1940s, mythologist Joseph Campbell discovered that heroic myths from every culture are essentially the same story. He discovered a pattern in any story in which an ordinary person accomplishes something heroic. Whether it is the Greek tales of Odysseus’s return home from the Trojan war or the life of Siddhartha Gautama, who attained enlightenment and founded Buddhism, these stories follow the same set of steps that Campbell dubbed the “Hero’s Journey.”
Even if you’ve never heard the term Hero’s Journey before, the story will sound familiar. It has been used by modern screenwriters and other storytellers in popular culture today as a template for some of our most popular stories: Star Wars, The Wizard of Oz, Rocky, and Harry Potter all follow the Hero’s Journey blueprint.
It goes like this:
At the beginning of the story, we are introduced to a normal guy (or girl) living a normal life in the Ordinary World. Then, the inciting incident happens and he has the opportunity to do something different, to pursue a purpose bigger than himself. Initially, he refuses this Call to Adventure because it’s scary and would mean leaving the comfort and safety of his normal life for some unknown or unfamiliar territory.
The ordinary guy Meets a Mentor who provides the encouragement and guidance he needs to finally accept his Call to Adventure, Cross the Threshold and leave the Ordinary World behind.
As soon as he commits to this new path, he is immediately beset by trials and tribulations the likes of which he has never experienced before. As he walks this Road of Trials, he gathers a band of allies and faces his challenges, some of which he fails but all of which make him stronger.
Eventually, his journey reaches its climax when he faces his greatest obstacle, which he defeats with his new found skills and strength. The hero Grabs the Prize he came for and makes a hasty retreat back to the safety of the Ordinary World. He Returns with the Treasure, resumes his normal life a changed man and shares the spoils of his quest with humanity. This pattern is present in every great heroic story. The details vary, but the pattern is consistent.