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Reply To: The Hero’s Journey in Fantasy/Science Fiction of Today


I have to admit I am not at all familiar with Geralt or The Last Wish. However, all that’s required to undergo a Hero’s Journey is to meet all three stages of the journey: Departure (or Separation), Initiation, and Return.

Joseph Campbell does highlight 17 potential components along the way, but there is no requirement a hero undergo every single one of these on her or his journey. For example, though everyone does hear a Call, something that draws them out of the Ordinary World and onto the path of adventure,  the step many assume is next (Refusal of the Call) does not automatically follow. Campbell cites examples where an Arthurian hero on a hunt follows a magnificent stag (the Call) deep into the woods, perhaps to an ancient grove he’s never seen before, or into a fairy hill, and abruptly finds himself well along on an adventure – no Refusal of the Call there.

Similarly, Campbell observes four possible climaxes to the journey, different forms Initiation might take: Sacred Marriage; Atonement with the Father; Apotheosis; and the Elixir Theft – however, in no myth does a hero experience all four of these forms (a mistake many first time authors make – over the years I’ve received a number of manuscripts and self-published novels from novice writers who feel they have to work all four of these climaxes into their story, resulting in a work that feels bloated and contrived).

When asked if one must undergo all four of these initiations, Joe responded “There are four doors by which you can come into the room and find fulfillment” – the corollary being that you don’t enter a room through four different doors at the same time. You walk through just one, but end up in the same room no matter which door you use. Again quoting Campbell, “The whole sense of all of these is the bringing together pairs of opposites: consciousness and the unconscious; the male and the female; the son and the father . . . ” – that’s the dynamic underlying the Initiation stage of the journey.

Joe, for example, notes the Sacred Marriage motif is generally more common to fairy tales, while Atonement with the Father is found most often in Judea-Christian narratives, Apotheosis appears in Hindu/Buddhist/Taoist tales, and the Elixir Theft (aka theft of fire, or the bride-theft) is often part of indigenous shamanic traditions (such as Coyote or Raven tales in North America).

Of course, sometimes there is more than one form of initiation in a myth, but that usually involves different characters on their own parallel hero’s journeys (e.g., Ulysses experiences Sacred Marriage in the Odyssey, while his son, Telemachus, off on his own trek, experiences the Atonement with the Father; we see similarly individual variations on the journeys of different characters in The Lord of the Rings, tangential to the primary hero task undertaken by Frodo).

I tend to think of these elements as modular: not every one is essential, but how you arrange them allows for endless variation (which is why the Hero’s Journey trajectory is so valuable in video games: depending on the choices a player makes each time he or she plays (such as do you refuse the call or not), your adventure follows different paths to different places.

Campbell does stress that if there is no Return to the Ordinary World, then the journey remains incomplete, as this snippet from a yet to be published interview indicates:


The world you come back to is the one you left; otherwise the journey isn’t complete. The main problem is changing the location of your mind.


Yes. It may not be exactly the same locus, the same village, the same town, but you might say it’s the same career. You are coming back to your life⁠.

I hope you’ll forgive my pontificating at length, Alexander. I do very much love the idea behind your podcast.