Today we’re going to explore the legendary Hero’s Journey in the world of epic fantasy.
The Hero’s Journey, or as some like to say, the Monomyth, is a storytelling template made famous by Joseph Campbell, an American scholar (here’s not the place to delve into the other story forms that exist).
It has been used by story-tellers for millennia, both consciously and unconsciously, as a way to craft a satisfying narrative.
If you’ve never heard of it, don’t worry—you’ll recognise its structure no doubt from some of your favourite books or movies.
So, grab yourself a cuppa, and let’s delve into the Hero’s Journey.
The Unexpected Invitation
The Hero’s Journey kicks off with our main character living a humdrum life. For instance, Frodo Baggins from The Lord of the Rings by J.R.R. Tolkien. One day he’s munching on second breakfast, the next, he’s burdened with the most feared piece of bling in all Middle-Earth.
Declining the Invite
Initially, our hero doesn’t find the idea of a dangerous journey as tempting as a troll’s tea party. Harry Potter, from J.K. Rowling’s famous series, spends quite some time denying his wizardry status. But a Hogwarts invite isn’t a letter you just ignore.
A Magical Helping Hand
Right when our hero’s in a dilemma, a mysterious mentor often pops up. Cue Gandalf, Merlin, and Albus Dumbledore, the all-knowing dudes with beards with a taste for obscure advice and quirky attire. They offer guidance, magical gifts, or at least some mystifying wisdom that makes sense only three books down the line.
Leaping into the Unknown
This is where our hero steps into a brave new world, owning their fate, probably with some dramatic theme music. Daenerys Targaryen from George R.R. Martin’s A Song of Ice and Fire, strides into a blaze, coming out with three newly born dragons.And with that, her path is changed forever.
Adventures, Allies, and Adversaries
Next, our hero has to get through a maze of trials, win over unlikely allies, and dodge possible foes. They might even have to rough it in a spooky forest or two. In Patrick Rothfuss’s The Name of the Wind, our hero Kvothe juggles all this and a magical university.
The Epic Showdown and the Spoils
In the tale’s peak, our hero faces their worst fear. They may even “die” metaphorically (or sometimes, literally) only to be reborn. Like Vin, in Brandon Sanderson’s Mistborn, who *spoiler alert* topples the indestructible Lord Ruler. The prize? Usually a ton of power and a dollop of self-realization.
The Homeward Journey
At last, our hero comes back to their old life, bearing the gains of their journey. They’ve evolved, mastered a legendary weapon, realised they’re royalty in disguise, or perhaps, discovered the joy of home sweet home.
The Hero’s Journey has its fair share of fans for a reason.
It appeals to our innate desire to conquer, to explore, to evolve. Yes, it’s a popular route, but isn’t that part of its appeal? Each turn has its surprises.
And, of course, when author subvert this trope, it can surprise and delight…and sometimes leave us scratching our heads.
So, next time you delve into a fantasy epic, think of our brave hero. They’re doing all the heavy lifting.