THE ARCHETYPAL QUEST— THE 12-step Hero’s Journey According to VOGLER, JUNG AND JOSEPH CAMPBELL
Introduction According to theorists, the hero’s quest occurs in cultures around the world and throughout time. It comes from the collective unconscious. Each storyteller bends the mythic pattern to fit the needs of the specific culture or tale, which is why, according to Joseph Campbell, “the hero has a thousand faces.” The following 12 stages of the hero’s quest archetype do not necessarily always go in the order presented; they may be re-arranged.
Stage 1: The Ordinary World Most stories take the hero out of the ordinary, mundane world and into a special world, new and alien. However, to show a new world, the story must first show the hero in the ordinary world to create a vivid contrast with the strange new world the hero is about to enter.
Stage 2: The Call to Adventure The hero is presented with a problem or adventure to undertake. Once the hero is presented with this call to adventure, he/she can no longer remain indefinitely in the comfort of the ordinary world. The call to adventure establishes the “stakes of the game” and makes clear the hero’s goal: to win treasure or a lover, to get revenge or right a wrong, to achieve a dream, to confront a challenge, to change a life, to find an object, etc.
Stage 3: The Refusal of the Call (The Reluctant Hero) This stage is about fear: after all, the hero is facing the greatest of all fears– terror of the unknown. At this point in the quest, the hero balks at the threshold of adventure, expressing reluctance. The hero has not fully committed to the quest and may be thinking of turning back. Some additional influence– a change in circumstances, a further offense against the natural order of things, or the encouragement of a mentor– is required to get the hero past this turning point of fear.
Stage 4: Mentor By this time, many stories will have introduced a mentor, who may appear in many forms. This relationship between hero/mentor stands for the bond between parent/child, teacher/student, god/man. The function of the mentor is to prepare the hero to face the unknown. They may give the hero advice, guidance, or magical equipment. However, the mentor can only go so far with the hero– eventually the hero must face the unknown alone. Also, sometimes the mentor has to give the hero a “swift kick in the pants” to get the adventure going.
Stage 5: Crossing the First Threshold In this stage the hero finally commits to the quest and fully enters the special world of the story for the first time. This is the moment where the story really takes off and the adventure begins. The hero, overcoming fear, has decided to take action or confront the “problem.” The hero has fully committed to the quest, so there is no turning back after the first threshold is crossed.
Stage 6: Test, Allies, Enemies Once across the first threshold, the hero encounters challenges and tests, makes allies and enemies, and learns the “rules” of the special world. Aspects of the hero’s character are revealed to the audience during these moments– we learn about the hero’s integrity, values, morals, etc.
Stage 7: Approach to the Inmost Cave The hero comes to the edge of a dangerous place, sometimes deep underground, where the object of the quest might be hidden. When the hero enters this dangerous place he/she will cross the second threshold…but at this point in the quest the hero is pausing at the gate of this place to prepare, plan and outwit. This is the approach stage, which covers all of the preparations for a very difficult ordeal, such as confrontation of death or supreme danger.
Stage 8: The Supreme Ordeal or the Belly of the Whale Here the fortunes of the hero his bottom in a direct confrontation with his/her greatest fear. The hero faces the possibility of death and is brought to the brink in a battle with a hostile force. This is a critical moment in the quest in which the hero must die, or appear to die, so that he/she can be reborn. The supreme ordeal is in film terms a “black moment” for the audience, as we are “in the dark” and held in suspense and tension, not knowing if the hero will live or die. We identify with the hero as well, and feel what the hero does. At this stage in the quest, the hero and the goals of the quest itself are in mortal jeopardy. This stage also represents the hero’s separation from his/her old self; by entering this stage, the person shows their willingness to undergo a metamorphosis, to “die” to him or herself.
Stage 9: Reward (Seizing the Sword) Having survived death, beaten the dragon, or slain the monster, the hero and the audience have cause to celebrate. The hero now takes possession of the treasure he/she has come seeking, his/her reward. Sometimes the “sword” may be something magical, or an elixir which can heal a wounded land, or special knowledge and experience that leads to greater understanding and a reconciliation with hostile forces.
Stage 10: The Road Back The hero is not “out of the woods” yet. The hero begins to deal with the consequences of confronting the dark forces of the supreme ordeal. The hero may need powerful guides to bring them (or force them) back to the ordinary world; sometimes the hero must “escape” with the reward or face dangers upon return. The hero realizes that the special world must eventually be left behind and there are still dangers, temptations and tests ahead; the hero may also need to be reminded that others may need the reward– it must be returned.
Stage 11: Resurrection Through the supreme ordeal the hero must be reborn and cleansed in one last ordeal of before returning to the ordinary world. This is often a second life and death moment; Death and darkness get in one last, desperate shot at the hero before finally being defeated. The hero must draw upon all their lessons learned to cross this last threshold. This is a kind of final exam for the hero, who must be tested once more to see if he/she is really ready to share the wisdom/ the reward with the rest of the world. The hero is transformed by these moments of death and rebirth and is able to return to ordinary life reborn as a new being with new insights; he or she has learned their purpose and identity.
Stage 12: Return with The Elixir The hero returns to the ordinary world, but the quest is meaningless unless he/she brings back the reward: an elixir, treasure, or lesson from the special world. The elixir may be something magic with the power to heal, or it may be love, freedom, wisdom, information, or the knowledge that the special world exists and can be survived. Sometimes it’s just coming home with a good story to tell. This stage often shows the hero now free of fear; he/she now has the freedom to live.
Conclusion Remember that the hero’s quest pattern/plot line is a skeletal framework that can be altered for any individual story. The order of these stages can be shuffled without losing any of their power. This archetype is infinitely flexible, capable of endless variation without sacrificing any of its magic and will out live us all, since it’s as old as human thought.