Book Reviews

A hero’s journey

The hero’s journey as defined by Joseph Campbell is the great epic pattern behind all the great tales, from King Arthur to Siegfried. It’s also the pattern behind The Lord of the Rings, Harry Potter, and most epic fantasy. The hero, an orphan or unloved foster child, leaves his home to venture out into the wilderness, the Otherworld of magic and mystery. Mentored by the wise old Merlin or Gandalf, he receives a magic sword and does many heroic deeds. In the wild, he meets a magical woman and learns about the world beneath perception, that of emotion and sensitivity.



He learns magic, he develops skills, he grows as a person and develops as an individual. He makes friends and he makes enemies.

Finally, the hero descends into the darkest place of all to face his ultimate foe, the shadow that is all he has rejected in himself: Darth Vader, Voldemort, Mordred. By understanding and defeating this opponent, the hero grows from boy to man, understanding the buried side of his own nature. 


Once the reward is won, the hero and companions start on the road back. The hero is wants to complete the adventure and return to their ordinary world with their treasure. This stage is often referred to as either the resurrections or atonement. As they reach the threshold (returning from the unknown to their ordinary world) the reader arrives at the climax of the story. Here, the hero is severely tested one last time. This test is an attempt to undo their previous achievements. At this point, the hero has come full circle, and the major conflict at the beginning of the journey is finally resolved. In the return home, the hero has now resumed life in his/her original world, and things are restored to ordinary.

Great Sagas include:

– Harry Potter (Harry’s Journey)

– The Dark Tower (Roland’s Journey)

– A song of Ice and Fire (many, many journeys)

– The Hobbit

– Lord of the Rings

– The Talisman


Popular Examples following the Monomyth Structure

Homers Odyssey

Homer’s Odyssey (Note: this is one interpretation of the Heroic Journey from the abridged ninth grade version of the Odyssey. The original story is not linear, beginning in media res, Latin for “in the middle of things”.)

Stage Summary
Ordinary world King Odysseus is at home, in Ithaca, with his wife, Penelope, and newborn son, Telemachus.
Call to Adventure Odysseus sets out for a battle at Troy
Refusal He does not want to leave his family and sail to Troy; he knows it will be a long trip.
Mentor/Helper Athena, the Goddess of wisdom, crafts, and wa is Odysseus guide. She wants to help Odysseus, though she has been instructed not to. She takes pity on him while other gods forsake Odysseus, constantly saves him from death, and gives him guidance.
Cross the Threshold After the war, the gods become angry with the Greeks for their prideful ways. A great storm emerges and throws them off course.
Test/Allies/Enemies Odysseus is thwarted with many tests as he travels back to Ithaca:

  • Polyphemus
  • Circones
  • Lotus eaters
  • Lastrygonians
  • Sirens
  • Scylla & Charybdis
  • Cattle of the Sun God
Approach Odysseus nearly makes it home, but his crew opens a bag, given to Odysseus by Aeolus, god of the winds When the bag is opened, it releases a wind that blows them far away from Ithaca.
Ordeal Odysseus is sent to the underworld seeking information to guide him home. This quest brings him to the verge of death.
Reward The King of Phaeacia gives Odysseus passage home.
Road back Unlike other heroes, Odysseus was not in search of treasure. Instead, he was desperately trying to reach his home. Once he returns, he finds out that his house has been overrun with suitors trying to steal his wife and palace.
Atonement Instead of rushing in and killing the suitors, Odysseus is patient. He wishes to learn if his wife has been faithful. With the help of his son, and a loyal swineherder, he devises a plan. Athena disguises him as an old beggar so that he can enter his house undetected. Telemachus steals all the suitors’ weapons, and a final test is proposed. Penelope will Marry the man who strings Odysseus bow and shoot an arrow through a line of small circles; a seemingly impossible task.
Return Odysseus, still dressed as a beggar, completes the task and is restored to his original state. He and his son expel the suitors from their home by force. Penelope, seeing how Odysseus has changed, tests him to make sure it is actually him. She tells him she moved their bed. He replies, correctly, that this would have been impossible, and all is returned to normal.
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