Science Fiction Writers Workshop:
Joseph Campbell's Hero's Journey

This page contains a bunch of material to help you understand traditional plotting using mythologist Joseph Campbell's notion of "the hero's journey" or "the monomyth" from his book, "The Hero with a Thousand Faces." Do not think of this as a formula you must follow; in fact, this has kind of been done to death, as many critics suggest. It's also more useful for longer works than short stories. However, it's still perhaps the most-useful tool for helping you get past that point when you run into plot problems, or you feel you're forcing your characters to do something unnatural, or can't figure out why your story just feels flat. Enjoy, and here's hoping your protagonist drags your reader along on her journey!

First you'll see a few diagrams that show the journey visually, which I find really helps, and then you'll find a wonderful chart on the bottom of this page that analyzes how Star Wars and The Matrix used Campbell's monomyth.

Here's a simplified diagram:

Next up, a detailed diagram by Lisa A. Paltz Spindler:

Now one with great detail:

Finally, I love this gameboard-style depiction:

Next up, a nice analysis of two popular SF works and how they use Campbell's ideas, by the "Star Wars Origins" people.


Star Wars

The Matrix

I: Departure

The call to adventure Princess Leia's message "Follow the white rabbit"
Refusal of the call Must help with the harvest Neo won't climb out window
Supernatural aid Obi-wan rescues Luke from sandpeople Trinity extracts the "bug" from Neo
Crossing the first threshold Escaping Tatooine Neo is taken out of the Matrix for the first time
The belly of the whale Trash compactor Torture room

II: Initiation

The road of trials Lightsaber practice Sparring with Morpheus
The meeting with the goddess Princess Leia (wears white, in earlier scripts was a "sister" of a mystic order) The Oracle
Temptation away from the true path Luke is tempted by the Dark Side Cypher (the failed messiah) is tempted by the world of comfortable illusions
Atonement with the Father Darth and Luke reconcile Neo rescues and comes to agree (that he's The One) with his father-figure, Morpheus
Apotheosis (becoming god-like) Luke becomes a Jedi Neo becomes The One
The ultimate boon Death Star destroyed Humanity's salvation now within reach

III: Return

Refusal of the return "Luke, come on!" Luke wants to stay to avenge Obi-Wan Neo fights agent instead of running
The magic flight Millennium Falcon "Jacking in"
Rescue from without Han saves Luke from Darth Trinity saves Neo from agents
Crossing the return threshold Millennium Falcon destroys pursuing TIE fighters Neo fights Agent Smith
Master of the two worlds Victory ceremony Neo's declares victory over machines in final phone call
Freedom to live Rebellion is victorious over Empire Humans are victorious over machines

Common Mythic Elements

Two Worlds (mundane and special) Planetside vs. The Death Star Reality vs. The Matrix
The Mentor Obi-Wan Kenobi Morpheus
The Oracle Yoda The Oracle
The Prophecy Luke will overthrow the Emperor Morpheus will find (and Trinity will fall for) "The One"
Failed Hero Biggs In an early version of the script, Morpheus once believed that Cypher was "The One"
Enemy's Skin
Luke and Han wear stormtrooper outfits Neo jumps into agent's skin
Shapeshifter (the Hero isn't sure if he can trust this character) Han Solo Cypher
Animal familiar R2-D2, Chewbacca N/A
Chasing a lone animal into the enchanted wood (the animal usually gets away) Luke follows R2 into the Jundland Wastes; The Millennium Falcon follows a lone TIE fighter into range of the Death Star Neo "follows the white rabbit" to the nightclub where he meets Trinity

And there it is, a pretty good introduction to Campbell's Hero's Journey; now start using this to analyze your own work. I hope you find this useful!

Back to Workshop resources page.

updated 6/30/2012

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