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Episode 12: The Hero’s Journey

The homework for the episode:
Pete: “Of Beren and Luthien,” chapter 19 of The Silmarillion
Martha: The Book of Life, 2014 animated film directed by Jorge R. Gutierrez
Calee: Shrek, 2001 animated film directed by Andrew Adamson and Vicky Jenson

Two lovers forced to perform impossible tasks before earning their happily-ever-after.

A bullfighter-turned-musician embarks on a magical journey through the land of the dead to reunite with his living love and save his town.

An ogre steps up to reclaim his swamp and finds more than he bargained for on the way.

The hero’s journey as a storytelling map has been part of human culture for thousands of years. Joseph Campbell codified it in The Hero With the Thousand Faces, and when illustrated by infographic, it looks a little something like this:


The hero’s journey can be broken down into three necessary stages and seventeen substages, because Joseph Campbell is a categorizing animal with an answer to everything. As we note in the episode, not all of these substages show up in every hero’s journey, and frequently they get shuffled around a bit as the story calls for it. In convenient outline form:

  1. Departure
    1. Call to Adventure
    2. Refusal of the Call
    3. Crossing the First Threshold
    4. In the Belly of the Whale
  2. Initiation
    1. Road of Trials
    2. Meeting with the Goddess
    3. Temptations
    4. Atonement with the Father
    5. Apotheosis
    6. The Ultimate Boon
  3. Return
    1. Refusal of the Return
    2. The Magic Flight
    3. Rescue from Without
    4. Crossing the Return Threshold
    5. Master of Two Worlds
    6. Freedom to Live

Your podcasters’ credentials:

Pete: Embassytown by China Mieville
Martha: Bondi Ink Crew on Netflix
Calee: Real Genius

We take a brief detour down the rabbit hole of Val Kilmer’s IMDB page, Martha talks tattoos and Pete is involved in speculative fiction.

Thoughts to Think on for The Hero’s Journey

  1. Admittedly, the hero’s tale is a very formulaic one. How does this aid the narrative, and how does it hinder it? If a tale diverges from this, is it considered better or worse?
  2. Are we cheapening the act of the Return of the hero? Does it mean as much when we expect it?
  3. Why has the hero’s journey become this lasting, resonant storytelling structure?

A lot of our discussion circles around the question: how does a storytelling structure that is so ingrained in us do anything new or innovative? Using Tolkein, Shrek, and an animated celebration of the Day of the Dead (The Book of Life, hey-o) we talk about the elements that make up the archetypal hero’s journey and why it’s important to understanding the way we have and continue to tell stories. We also briefly mention Star Wars, because honestly, I don’t think you can talk about the hero’s journey without at least touching on it.

I dug up this article about why the hero’s journey has particular resonance and staying power, particularly from the perspective of someone creating stories: “Writing and the Importance of the Hero’s Journey,” by Evelyn Bertrand.

Next episode, we’re taking things in a little lighter direction and discussing fandom and how it gets treated by media. Join us for our chat on Fandom in Media and enjoy doing your homework!

Your homework for July 19:
Martha: Fangirl by Rainbow Rowell
Calee: Fanboys, 2009 film directed by Kyle Newman
Pete: Galaxy Quest, 1999 film directed by Dean Parisot

And remember, if you have questions, comments, or ideas for a show, give us a shoutout here or send us an e-mail to We’d love to hear from you!



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