By Dani Greer
Magic! Don’t we all want and need some in our lives? Some spark of power that gives us a bit of edge and more control over our tenuous lives? It’s small wonder that my hero in life is Merlin the Magician – an imaginary character in literature! Not just any Merlin, mind you, but specifically the character from Mary Stewart’s version of the Arthurian legend, a timeless tale with archetypes that never cease to resonate. As in most classics, it is the telling of this particular hero’s journey that speaks to me in a strong and distinct way.
What exactly is the hero’s journey? American scholar, Joseph Campbell, describes it as a pattern of narrative that appears in drama, storytelling, myth, religious ritual, and psychological development. Here are the steps the hero takes in his personal development as explained on the Writers Journey website:
- THE ORDINARY WORLD. The hero, uneasy, uncomfortable or unaware, a situation or dilemma. The hero is shown against a background of environment, heredity, and personal history. Some kind of polarity in the hero’s life is pulling in different directions and causing stress.
- THE CALL TO ADVENTURE. Something shakes up the situation, either from external pressures or from something rising up from deep within, so the hero must face the beginnings of change.
- REFUSAL OF THE CALL. The hero feels the fear of the unknown and tries to turn away from the adventure, however briefly. Alternately, another character may express the uncertainty and danger ahead.
- MEETING WITH THE MENTOR. The hero comes across a seasoned traveler of the worlds who gives him or her training, equipment, or advice that will help on the journey. Or the hero reaches within to a source of courage and wisdom.
- CROSSING THE THRESHOLD. At the end of Act One, the hero commits to leaving the Ordinary World and entering a new region or condition with unfamiliar rules and values.
- TESTS, ALLIES AND ENEMIES. The hero is tested and sorts out allegiances in the Special World.
- APPROACH. The hero and newly found allies prepare for the major challenge in the Special world.
- THE ORDEAL. Near the middle of the story, the hero enters a central space in the Special World and confronts death or faces his or her greatest fear. Out of the moment of death comes a new life.
- THE REWARD. The hero takes possession of the treasure won by facing death. There may be celebration, but there is also danger of losing the treasure again.
- THE ROAD BACK. About three-fourths of the way through the story, the hero is driven to complete the adventure, leaving the Special World to be sure the treasure is brought home. Often a chase scene signals the urgency and danger of the mission.
- THE RESURRECTION. At the climax, the hero is severely tested once more on the threshold of home. He or she is purified by a last sacrifice, another moment of death and rebirth, but on a higher and more complete level. By the hero’s action, the polarities that were in conflict at the beginning are finally resolved.
- RETURN WITH THE ELIXIR. The hero returns home or continues the journey, bearing some element of the treasure that has the power to transform the world as the hero has been transformed.
Now think about your own personal heroes, whether from real-life or the media. Have they taken some of the steps in this journey? Have they completed the journey? Can you recognize the process that makes you think of them as your heroes?
What about you? Yes, you are on a hero's journey, too! Is there one step in your own experience that particularly hits home? Is there a step where you are stuck? What would it take to move beyond it?
Even as writers consciously create characters like Merlin and King Arthur in classic literature, so, too, can you journal about your life and gain insight into your process and your journey, whether you consider yourself a hero or not. To someone you probably are!
Using the list above, where are you in your hero’s journey? Please leave us a comment!
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