Last week our blog post discussed the attributes of heroes and how those traits change in different cultures depending on that culture’s beliefs.
One thing that connects many hero stories across time and genres in our present day is the arc of the Hero’s Journey. The monomyth of the Hero’s Journey was developed by Joseph Campbell, who was an American writer and professor, and it outlines twelve stages that most heroes go through in their journey.
Throughout this post, we’ll give definitions of the stages of the Hero’s Journey and use Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s Stone to illustrate these stages in a movie. You will likely find that many different movies follow similar arcs with some variation.
Part 1 Call to Adventure
Stage 1: The Ordinary World
In this stage, the hero is born and there are oftentimes supernatural circumstances or a notable ancestor of the child. Harry Potter begins with life with the Dursleys, Harry’s caretakers, where Harry appears to be an outcast as he lives in a closet under the stairs, speaks to snakes, and many strange things happen around him.
Stage 2: Call to Adventure
At first, the hero accepts or reluctantly accepts the call to embark on their adventure. Oftentimes, this call comes from a messenger or an external event triggers the call. The invitation to go to Hogwarts is Harry’s invitation to adventure.
Stage 3: Refusal of the Call
The hero tends to refuse the call to adventure at first out of fear, hesitation, insecurity, etc. In this case, Harry does not refuse the call of adventure. Instead, the Dursleys refuse to let Harry attend Hogwarts.
Part 2 Supreme Ordeal/Initiation
Stage 4: Meet the Mentor/Helper
During this phase of the Hero’s Journey, the hero receives protection and help from someone. This helper is often a supernatural helper. Harry meets his mentor shortly after the Dursleys refuse to allow Harry to attend Hogwarts. Hagrid, the groundskeeper at Hogwarts, arrives to take Harry to the school of witchcraft and wizardry.
Stage 5: Crossing the Threshold
The hero embarks on his journey but must overcome some sort of test or ordeal to enter into the world of adventure. Diagon Alley marks Harry crossing the threshold into the wizarding world. In Diagon Alley, there is everything that Harry could need at school including a wand, robes, and an own named Hedwig.
Stage 6: Tests
On his adventure, the hero must undergo a series of tests that might include monsters, magic, warriors, or other barriers. Harry experiences several tests in Harry Potter. There are flying broomsticks, trolls on Halloween, three-headed dogs, and the Mirror of Erised.
Part 3 Unification and Transformation
Stage 7: Approach
This stage is also called the approach to the inmost cave. It may be representative of something in the hero’s story like a dangerous place or an internal conflict. The hero tends to struggle with the approach and must face any fears or doubts before continuing on the journey. The three-headed dog, Fluffy, protects the inmost cave, so figuring out a way past the dog and the other tests represents the approach to the inmost cave.
Stage 8: Ordeal
The ordeal is the dangerous test or crisis that the hero must face on his adventure. It might include facing the hero’s greatest fear or could be a deadly enemy. Once Harry reaches the inmost cave, he is alone since Ron, Hermione, and the professors could not accompany him. The ordeal represents Harry facing Voldemort alone.
Stage 9: Reward
The hero defeated the enemy, survived death, and/or overcame a personal challenge. This transforms and earns the hero a prize that may come in the form of a special power, secret, greater knowledge, or reunion with someone important. Harry receives the Sorcerer’s Stone and banished Voldermort, which makes Hogwarts a safer place for him.
Part 4 Road Back/Hero’s Return
Stage 10: Road Back
This represents the hero commencing the adventure and returning home from the quest. Returning home comes with a challenge though, and the hero must choose between his own personal desires and the aims of a higher cause. Since Harry was knocked unconscious, the readers do not learn about Harry returning back from his fight with Voldermort.
Stage 11: Atonement
The Hero comes to terms with the events that happened during the adventure and makes peace with what was learned and gained. Harry wakes up in the hospital and he is surrounded by gifts. Dumbledore is there to explain the events to Harry.
Stage 12: Return
The hero returns to the ordinary world after the adventure has finished. At the end of this book (or movie), Harry returns to school and eventually returns home to the Dursleys.