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How Many Steps in the Hero’s Journey?

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      I wrote this MythBlast because it struck me that a lot of my writer and myth friends couldn’t see the forest for the trees when it came to the Hero’s Journey.

      What do you think?


      This is a beautiful piece of writing, David, that coalesces so many thoughts on the subject I’ve had over the years, probably because I’ve fielded many of the same “certitudes” about the steps of Hero’s Journey. I can recall so often receiving manuscripts sent to JCF that first-time authors want to share that just feel, well, contrived – as if the author is checking off the boxes (“worked in the meeting-with-the-mentor: now I have to cross that threshold and cue up the brother battle”).

      Which is just the opposite of what Campbell intended. He was setting up a procrustean bed into which every plot must fit, but observing what emerges naturally from a tale well told. But Joe’s genius, at lest from my perspective, is in seeing in this motif more than just a narrative device – not ” blueprint of a plot outline; it’s a description of psychological process, one each of us goes through every time we’re challenged and have to change and grow,” as you put it.

      Definitely one of the finest explications of the Hero’s Journey I’ve read, David. Have you ever considered becoming an author?

      (And right there I looked for my winking face emoticon … turns out this isn’t Facebook)


        Lol. Turns out there’s one advantage to using your phone or iPad to follow the forums — quick access to emojis. 😉

        Thanks, Stephen! Yeah, Campbell conceived of the Hero Journey as a protean process, not a linear series of landmarks. My experience watching and reading a lot of popular works that have hewn to the schema is that with many I feel as if I can hear the creator turn the pages of The Hero with a Thousand Faces as I’m watching or reading. Which, as you say, and as I was trying to suggest, seems to be missing the point.

        And yes, I am talking about The Matrix, why do you ask? 😉😉😉


        Hi David,

        I have read your writing before and it is nice to meet you. I like how you have accentuated/simplified the Hero’s Journey here into the three basic/main stages.

        –Mary Ann


          It is a reduction to the basic core: birth, blessing, death and resurrection (“…out from the Dark Appears an Angel of Fire, to vanish in those flames again…”). Omittted are the borders and translators. Curious difference in perspectives from either side of the Atlantic! Where you are reducing the circle to a square, I’m adding the ‘missing pieces’ to get the wobbling story truly ’round’. I’ve already posting something alike here, but seen from the three basic strata of consiousness, the instinct is the simplest one, squareness fits its voice. The Heros Journey is the emotional level, causing havoc and bliss. Ruling science of our daily life is the language of reason. Do not explain emotions, and feelings does not fill hungry hearts.


          True indeed, Mars – this is the trajectory of the Hero’s Journey reduced to its core – but that simple structure allows endless variations (all those “missing pieces”), which makes these motif so useful for writers.


            Maybe it not only a reduction alone, but also a ‘western’ (occidental viewpoint) to separate it four quarters. Four Cardinals, four classic Elements, four Seasons, four Dayquarters.

            Other cultures count in three (the tropics) or six (eg the australian devision of seasons by the indigenous people). Everyday a ‘saint’ is revered somewhere. So, when is reduction done or what pieces are invisible? Writers (storytellers in general, in any art form) can and do take a chunk out of it to enhance it on their choosen stage. From such a stand one cannot omit missing pieces. They’re essential parts too.



              There is the rub .

              When does a good Spontaneous journey and story of discovery digress into a staged Contrived narrative ???

              How do we stop repeating and forge our own individuated path ??? With the knowledge that all journeys conform to the archetype ???



                That is a fundamental question indeed. How else then but to tell the same archetypal story from the personal contemporain perspective? Reformatting the Heroins and Heros, Gods and Goddesses, Kings and Queens. The individual adventure is the next story to guide society. It is not the reader, it is the writer that matters.


                  The personal contemporaneous perspective is a priori to the archetype …

                  The newly individuated Being creates the archetype to conform to …

                  The writer is secondary to this being … The being is Does … The writer writes of the being and doing …


                  Space is reciprocal Time



                    I prefer to keep things aground, having the archetype as a conductor to act in reality, hence the writer/teller/artist in the first place.

                    And space cannot be reciprocal time as relativism forbid or no universe could exist. Where concerning matter and space the relativism factor works in the denominator, in time it is in the numerator. We can travel with our bodies through space, but not through time, save casting off our personal physical appearances, and all the rest reducing it to such an archetypal essence. To believe, or not – to come forward again to express dearly hoped, or nought.


                      For me The archetype is a abstract construct of the human mind create from reality but reality is a priori to it .

                      “Back in the 1800s, there was space and there was time. … But there was no notion that space and time were in any sense “the same thing”. But then along came Einstein’s Special Theory of Relativity—and people started talking about “spacetime”, in which space and time are somehow facets of the same thing.”

                      For me space and time do represent an equivalence thereby becoming reciprocal.

                      From a narrative mythic perspective I like how Joyce expresses it through Stephen Dedalus in the Proteus chapter of Ulysses.

                      “Stephen closed his eyes to hear his boots crush crackling wrack and
                      shells. You are walking through it howsomever. I am, a stride at a time. A
very short space of time through very short times of space. Five, six: the
Nacheinander …”

                      Lots of fun to contemplate the space time continuum from scientific and mythopoetic perspectives .


                        Joyce, I have to get a copy of it, but somehow it feels just to distant (to loose from mine…) to read it in its original language, where a translation might go astray (…lost from its realm). Maybe first start with JC’s Key. Though, as an electronic engineer, priviledged to have been educated in relativity an quantum mechanics on a base level (uncompassible extrapolations), for me there is a distinct, academic framed, demythologised difference between space and matter, and time as counter. The observations and rational explanations are in contrast with for many the common and for me some personal experiences where the senses just fail. As if the dead are alive again. As said, with our physical bodies we can travel through space, but not through time.  Time is reciprocal and only transparent without mass, without space. Without physical impairings, there are no limits. It is my personal challange to cast that in a story. First: the Key.


                        I thought I would add a comment to bump this up in the queue – and I changed the name of this thread to “How Many Steps in the Hero’s Journey” to draw more eyes. It’s a relevant topic more people need to see (which I think of every time I visit a webpage that declares there are exactly 17 (or 12, as per Chris Vogler) steps in the hero’s journey – but it tended to get lost under the title of the MythBlast (“Separation, Initiation, Return”).


                        An illuminating writing.

                        Thanks David, I think it is extremely valuable not only for the conciseness and depth of the approach, but because it helps to return the look on the hero’s journey to its essence.

                        For some time now I have been particularly interested in the first stage (Separation) and its respective difficulties. In thinking about the obstacles, both internal and external, to answering the call. Specially those family, socially, or culturally imposed. It is something that has continually come up in my classes on myth.

                        I really enjoyed this reading.

                        Best regards

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