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Film and Media Studies

Film and Media

The Hero's Journey Outline

The Hero’s Journey is a pattern of narrative identified by the American scholar Joseph Campbell that appears in drama, storytelling, myth, religious ritual, and psychological development.  It describes the typical adventure of the archetype known as The Hero, the person who goes out and achieves great deeds on behalf of the group, tribe, or civilization.


The hero, uneasy, uncomfortable or unaware, is introduced sympathetically so the audience can identify with the 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.

Example: In The Lord of the Rings Frodo is content living his life in Shire with his friends and family.


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. 

Frodo receives the One Ring from Bilbo. Gandalf explains to Frodo what the Ring of Power is and why it is so significant ,and that it must be destroyed.


 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.

Frodo is reluctant to leave the Shire and offers Gandalf the ring which he refuses. It is only when Ringwraiths come to the Shire looking for him and the ring he realizes he will never be safe as long as the ring exits. 


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.The mentor can go so far with the hero.  Eventually the hero must face the unknown by himself.  Sometimes the Wise Old Man/Woman is required to give the hero a swift kick in the pants to get the adventure going.


Frodo takes The One Ring to Rivendell were a Fellowship of Man, Dwarf, and Elf are formed, to help Frodo take the ring to Mordor to be destroyed. 


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. The hero fully enters the special world of the story for the first time.  This is the moment at which the story takes off and the adventure gets going.The hero is now committed to his/her journey and there’s no turning back.

Frodo sets out from Rivendell with the Fellowship to Mount Doom in Mordor, the only place where the One Ring can be destroyed.


The hero is tested and sorts out allegiances in the Special World.The hero is forced to make allies and enemies in the special world, and to pass certain tests and challenges that are part of his/her training. 

Along the way Frodo and the Fellowship encounter many test, allies and enemies-

  • Journey's over a mountain pass 
  • Escape a Balrog losing Gandalf in the process
  • Receive aid from Galadriel and the elves 
  • Being separated from the rest of the Fellowship
  • Almost captured by Saruman's forces
  • Is attack by Gollum then later receives help from him to get to Mordor  
  • Nearly eaten by a carnivorous spider called Shelob


The hero and newfound allies prepare for the major challenge in the Special world.The hero comes at last to a dangerous place, often deep underground, where the object of the quest is hidden. Sometimes it’s just the hero going into his/her own dream world to confront fears and overcome them.

Frodo must depart from the Fellowship with Sam to continue journeying to Mount Doom. Frodo and Sam use Gollum as their guide into the depths of Mount Doom.


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. This is the moment at which the hero touches bottom.  He/she faces the possibility of death, brought to the brink in a fight with a mythical beast.  For us, the audience standing outside the cave waiting for the victor to emerge, it’s a black moment.

Aragon and the others lead an assault with the armies of Rohan and Gondor as a detraction to draw Sauron eye away from Frodo and Sam. Meanwhile Frodo and Sam make it to Mount Doom about to destroy the Ring into the lava when Frodo is corrupted by the Rings power and decides to keep it for himself. Gollum then attacks Frodo bitting off his finger and falling into the mountain finally destroying the Ring. 


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.Having survived death, beaten the dragon, slain the Minotaur, her hero now takes possession of the treasure he’s come seeking.  Sometimes it’s a special weapon like a magic sword or it may be a token like the Grail or some elixir which can heal the wounded land.

The reward is the destruction of the One Ring and the victory over the forces of Sauron.


 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 hero’s not out of the woods yet.  Some of the best chase scenes come at this point, as the hero is pursued by the vengeful forces from whom he has stolen the elixir or the treasure.

Frodo and Sam are rescued by Gandalf and the eagles. Frodo then falls unconscious from extreme mental and physical exhaustion. 


 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.The hero emerges from the special world, transformed by his/her experience.  There is often a replay here of the mock death-and-rebirth of Stage 8, as the hero once again faces death and survives. 

Frodo awakes several weeks after the conflict and is greet by the surviving members of the Fellowship. Aragon marries his long time love Arwen and ascends to the throne. 


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. 

The hero comes back to the ordinary world, but the adventure would be meaningless unless he/she brought back the elixir, treasure, or some lesson from the special world.  Sometimes it’s just knowledge or experience, but unless he comes back with the elixir or some boon to mankind, he’s doomed to repeat the adventure until he does.  Many comedies use this ending, as a foolish character refuses to learn his lesson and embarks on the same folly that got him in trouble in the first place.

Sometimes the boon is treasure won on the quest, or love, or just the knowledge that the special world exists and can be survived.  Sometimes it’s just coming home with a good story to tell.

Frodo returners to the Shire with stronger tires and friendships. He eventually journeys with Gandalf, Bilbo, Elrond, Celeborn and Galadriel to the Grey Havens the undying lands to live in peacefully.

A Hero's Journey in Popular movies

Hero's Journey diagram

Hero's Inner Jouney