I Missed an Off-Ramp on the Hero’s Journey

There’s this thing called the Hero’s Journey, which is not the same as driving to El Paso with three kids in the back seat. It’s a type of story that is found in many different cultures at different times in history. In recent years Joseph Campbell explained it extensively. It’s sad that he’s dead now, but at least he can’t tell me I’m wrong about everything I will now say.

Most movies and many books leave out the best part of the Journey!

Every Hero’s Journey has certain parts that always come in the same order. For example, one of the parts is Refusing the Call. It shows up in Star Wars: A New Hope, which is the Real Star Wars Movie.

Obi Wan: “You must become a pilot, Luke.”

Luke: “No, I’ve got to fix evaporators and stare at the desert while my theme music plays.” (Refuse the Call)

[Then the Empire barbeques Uncle Owen and Aunt Maru]

Luke: “I guess I’m going after all. Sell the speeder!”

People often use the Real Star Wars Movie as an example of the Hero’s Journey because it shows the steps so clearly. For example, three of the last steps in the Journey are:

  • The Ordeal (destroying the Death Star)
  • The Road Home (flying back to the luckiest moon in the universe)
  • Return with the Elixir / Prize / Weapon / Magic Horse / Hope for the Future / Whatever (Luke getting a hero’s medal from his sister, which really gives the rebels new hope—until the next movie, which starts on a planet so cold they wish they’d die)

Yet the best part is left out—the Resurrection. It comes after the hero has bitch-slapped the bad guy and hit the road for home, but before he returns with the prize (not a toy unicorn). It’s the last challenge, often unexpected, that threatens to destroy the hero and everything he loves. The Real Star Wars Movie doesn’t have it, but the Lord of the Rings books do. (Peter Jackson left it out of the movie.)

When Frodo comes home to the Shire, it is being destroyed. He (and some of his very tall buddies) fight and save it. Frodo commands the defense as if he were a mighty lord, or maybe a squatty king. He is transformed from the hobbit who started the journey.

The Resurrection is where the hero is finally transformed into his new self by everything that’s happened on his journey. He becomes worthy to bring home the prize. The prize Frodo brings home is peace. You just don’t have time to put that sort of thing in a movie. It’s probably the first thing you’d have to cut.

The moral of the story: Read more books.

You want me to go where?

photo credit: fanpop.com

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