Teachers’ Notes for the Hero’s Journey Introduction


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Teachers’ Notes for the Hero’s Journey


These notes and handouts are for upper primary and secondary students. The purpose of learning about the hero’s journey is to give students insight into the story arc of the Hero’s Journey and into the character arc of the Hero. This insight will help students analyse novels and films as well as assist with their own creative writing.

The purpose of these Teachers’ Notes is to outline the archetypes found in the hero’s journey as well the general story arc. I have included examples from popular film, however I anticipate you will use examples to suit your class. Understanding the archetypes and the overall story arc and character arc of the hero is important, not the detail of what plot development constitutes a stage of the hero’s journey. Experts have been known to disagree on what constitutes a stage in relation to particular films. An overall understanding is what is important.

The handout containing the Outline of Harry Potter and the Philosopher’s Stone and Star Wars: A New Hope shows the similarity between their story arcs as well as being examples of the hero’s journey.

The handout for students to complete can be adapted to suit a novel or film being studied or a novel or film chosen by individual students.

The Archetypes

Hero: Heros almost always have courage, have one or more special talents, are idealistic, have been “wounded” (physically, disgraced or lost a loved one), are clever and resourceful and take action. Heroes are usually, loyal, forgiving, physically superior in some way, have a special birth and have a special destiny. Heros sometimes have a scar. Bella Swan and Luke Skywalker got their scars during their journeys, whereas Harry Potter got his before his journey begins.

Mentor: Mentors are wise and noble. They are often former heroes who are now passing on their knowledge and wisdom. A Mentors main function is to teach or train (e.g. Obi Wan teaches Luke about being a Jedi). A Mentor often gives the hero a gift (e.g. Dumbledore gave Harry his father’s invisibility cloak and Obi Wan gives Luke his father’s light saber). The Mentor’s function is also to motivate the hero and help him overcome fear. Grace is Jake’s mentor in Avatar.

Threshold Guardian: All heroes encounter obstacles on their adventure and threshold guardians are often at the gateway to a new world. Their function is to test the hero. (e.g. the Sorting Hat in Harry Potter). So they might not be characters, they could be a puzzle, like the game of chess in Harry Potter and the Philosopher’s Stone. Flich and Fluffy, the three headed dog, are Threshold Guardians. They often turn into allies if the hero passes his tests. Think of your parents being Threshold Guardians. They question some of your decisions in order to test your commitment to a path. For example, before they buy a guitar and sign you up for lessons, they question your commitment to practice.

Herald: A herald character often delivers the Call to Adventure. He is the messenger and can provide the motivation and offer the hero a challenge. The herald may be a positive or negative figure or even a situation (a war) or a thing (a treasure map). The Herald signifies the need for change. (In Star Wars, Princess Leia’s message to Obi Wan and the fact that Darth Vader captured her). In Avatar, the seeds of the scared tree (pure spirits) land on Neytiri’s bow when she’s about to shoot Jake and later they land all over his body, which is a messages to Neytiri that Jake is important to her people.

Shapeshifter: Shapeshifters can change appearance or mood.They might mislead the Hero or keep him guessing and their loyalty or sincerity is often in question. A Shapeshifter brings doubt and suspense into a story. (e.g. Snape and Quirrell in Harry Potter) Any character can wear the mask of a Shapeshifter. (e.g. The wicked Queen in Snow White wears disguises herself as an old woman to trick Snow White into eating the poisoned apple.)

Shadow: The Shadow is often the villain or the character who opposes the hero on his journey. Shadows create conflict and they force the hero to rise to the challenge. Often the more interesting and stronger the Shadow, the better the story. Voldemort and Darth Vader are great Shadows. Draco Malfoy in Harry Potter is a junior shadow. Buzz Lightyear is the shadow in Toy Story 1. The Prospector is in Toy Story 2. Lotso is in Toy Story 3.

Trickster: A mischief maker or a character who provides comic relief. Headless Nick, the ghost in Harry Potter, is a Trickster. The Joker in Batman is both a villain (Shadow) and a Trickster.

Allies: Characters who help the hero. Hermione and Ron in Harry Potter, Han Solo, C3PO and R2 D2 in Star Wars, the other toys in Toy Story and Grace, Moat and Trudy in Avatar.

The Hero's Journey Outline

The Hero’s Journey is a pattern of narrative identified by the American scholar Joseph Campbell that appears in drama, storytelling, myth, religious ritual, and psychological development.  It describes the typical adventure of the archetype known as The Hero, the person who goes out and achieves great deeds on behalf of the group, tribe, or civilization.

Its stages are:

THE ORDINARY WORLD  The hero, uneasy, uncomfortable or unaware, is introduced sympathetically so the audience can identify with the situation or dilemma.  The hero is shown against a background of environment, heredity, and personal history.  Some kind of polarity in the hero’s life is pulling in different directions and causing stress.

Examples from popular film are:

Toy Story 1: Andy playing with his toys. Woody is the hero of the play.The toys in Andy’s bedroom are friends. Woody is Andy’s favourite toy and the leader of the toys. It’s Andy’s birthday party today and the toys are worried they might be replaced by new toys. The song is You’ve got a friend in me.

Toy Story 2: Woody is still Andy’s favourite toy and Andy wants to take him on summer camp. But when Andy plays with Woody, his arm rips, so Andy leaves him on the shelf and he goes to camp.

Toy Story 3: The toys now live in the toy box and aren’t played with anymore. Andy is about to go to college and decides to take Woody. He puts the other toys in a garbage bag to store in the attic.

Star Wars: Luke Skywalker is bored to death working on his aunt and uncle’s farm.

Harry Potter: The orphan who lives in the small room under that stairs at his Aunt and Uncle’s house. He’s treated poorly compared to his cousin, Dudley.

Avatar: Jake in a wheelchair with the hope of earning the money to fix his spine and legs.

THE CALL TO ADVENTURE  Something shakes up the situation, either from external pressures or from something rising up from deep within, so the hero must face the beginnings of change.

Toy Story 1: Andy leaves a present (Buzz Lightyear) on his bed, accidentally pushing Woody off his bed. How will Woody react to the competition of Andy’s new toy?

Toy Story 2: Woody tries to save another toy from being sold at the yard sale, and ends up in a box. When Andy’s Mum won’t sell Woody, Al steals him. Woody needs to get home and be reunited with Andy and the other toys.

Toy Story 3: Andy’s mother thinks the garbage bag is rubbish and takes it to the garbage. Woody attempts to save them.

Star Wars: Princess Leia’s holographic message to Obi Wan Kenobi. Obi Wan then asks Luke to join the quest.

Harry Potter: The letters delivered by owl. When Hagrid arrives at the miserable little shack on the large rock in the sea to take Harry to Diagon Alley and to put him on the train for Hogwarts.

Avatar: Being assigned to link with his brother’s Avatar and get to know the Omaticaya people.

REFUSAL OF THE CALL  The hero feels the fear of the unknown and tries to turn away from the adventure, however briefly.  Alternately, another character may express the uncertainty and danger ahead. This Stage doesn’t occur in all stories.

Toy Story 1: Woody tries to reclaim his position on Andy’s bed. He refuses to believe he may no longer be Andy’s favourite toy. “I’m still Andy’s favourite toy.” We see Buzz in bed with Andy, while Woody is in the toy box. Song: Strange things are happening to me.

Toy Story 2: Woody comes to see the benefit of going to the museum in Tokyo because he’ll never be outgrown and he’ll always be appreciated. (This happens about half way through the story.)

Toy Story 3: The toys escape to a box that is delivered to Sunnyside childcare centre. The toys are happy to stay, except for Woody who decides to leave. He and Buzz fall out when Woody refuses to shake Buzz’s extended hand.

Star Wars: Luke refuses Obi Wan’s call to adventure because his Uncle needs his help on the farm. He returns to the farm to find it and his aunt and uncle have been destroyed by the Emperor’s stormtroopers. Suddenly Luke is motivated to answer the call to adventure.

Harry Potter: It is the Dursleys who step in and refuse the call by not passing on the letters and then taking Harry to a remote location. Harry says to Hagrid, ‘I think you must have made a mistake. I don’t think I can be a wizard.’

Avatar: Not relevant in this story.

MEETING WITH THE MENTOR  The hero comes across a seasoned traveller of the worlds who gives him or her training, equipment, or advice that will help on the journey.  Or the hero reaches within to a source of courage and wisdom.

Toy Story 1: not applicable

Toy Story 2: not applicable

Toy Story 3: not applicable

Star Wars: Obi Wan gives Luke his father’s light saber and teaches him about the Force.

Harry Potter: Hagrid, who has been sent by Dumbledore, is the first mentor for Harry. Hagrid advises him what to buy for Hogwarts in Diagon Alley. However, Dumbledore is Harry’s true Mentor.

Avatar: Jake meets Grace, who is the expert on Pandora, its people and she speaks Na’vi. She says to Jake, “I need your brother.”

CROSSING THE THRESHOLD  At the end of Act One, the hero commits to leaving the Ordinary World and enters a new region or condition with unfamiliar rules and values. 

Toy Story 1: Woody accidentally knocks Buzz out the window. Woody’s world changes here as he realises what he has done. Mr Potato Head says: Are you going to knock me out the window if Andy plays with me more?

Toy Story 2: Woody is taken to the office of Al’s Toy Barn. Woody decides to stay with Jessie and go to Japan to live in a museum. (He’ll never be outgrown and will be appreciated forever.)

Toy Story 3: Woody leaves Sunnyside and the other toys and is found by Bonnie.

Star Wars: Luke goes with Obi Wan and the droids to another planet to find a good pilot who can take them to the planet Alderon.

Harry Potter: This stage comes in three stages. Diagon Alley; walking into the bricks at the train station and onto Platform 9 ¾/Hogwarts; and in the boats going across the lake to Hogwarts.

Avatar: When the chopper lands and Jake, Grace and Norm (as avatars) explore. After being chased by a wild animal, Jake has to jump off a cliff into the river below and he’s on his own.

TESTS, ALLIES AND ENEMIES  The hero is tested and sorts out allegiances in the Special World.

Toy Story 1: Woody and Buzz become stranded on the way to Pizza Planet and are taken by Sid. At Sid’s place they meet his tortured toys and his ferocious dog. Woody is tortured by Sid with a magnifying glass, then is trapped under a plastic crate while Buzz is strapped to a firework rocket. Woody decides he isn’t worthy of being Andy’s favourite toy, but Buzz convinces him he is (just as Woody convinced Buzz he was a toy). Sid’s toys become Woody and Buzz’s newfound allies.

Toy Story 2: Woody meets Jessie, the Prospector and the horse (Bullseye). He sees the TV show where he is the hero. The prospector offers him immortality (as a collector’s toy) if they stick together.

Toy Story 3: At Bonnie’s place, Woody meets her other toys and is played with and loved. He hears the story of what the toys at Sunnyside are really like and he changes his mind about going back to Andy. He decides to save his friends.

Star Wars: At the cantina, Luke and Obi Wan meet Han Solo, Captain of the Millennium Falcon and escape the Imperial Storm Troopers.

Harry Potter: Lessons in magic, flying on a broomstick and Quidditch are tests. Harry is tested when he has to resist the Mirror of Erised - that shows the most desperate desire of a person’s heart. The Head of Gryffindor, Professor McGonagall, becomes an ally when she recruits him as Seeker. Ron and later Hermione become Harry’s closest allies, while Malfoy becomes an adversary. Harry proves himself to be a worthy Seeker. And he and Ron save Hermione from the troll.

Avatar: Jake gets to know his allies and faces tests when first exploring Pandora. Riding a horse-like animal, shooting an arrow, learning the language, learning about the network of energy that flows through all living things and capturing and riding a Banshee. Jake with the help of Neytiri (his Pandora mentor) learns to survive in the environment of Pandora. The Wise Woman of Pandora tells Neytiri, “Teach him our ways. See if his insanity can be cured.” Jake learns about the Omaticaya world, develops a strong bond with Neytiri and bonds with his own banshee. Jake feels, “Everything is backwards now. Out there is true world. In here is the dream.” Neytiri and Jake take part in an initiation ceremony and become mates for life.

APPROACH  The hero and newfound allies prepare for the major challenge in the Special world.

Toy Story 1: Woody makes the decision to save Buzz from Sid when Sid straps a rocket to Buzz’s back. Woody asks Buzz for help and tells him he’s a cool toy. Sid’s toys become Woody and Buzz’s allies and they fix Buzz’s broken arm.

Toy Story 2: At first Woody refuses to go with Buzz and toys back to Andy. He chooses immortality.

Toy Story 3: Woody and the toys execute their plan to escape from Sunnyside. Woody says: “From now on we stick together.”

Star Wars: Luke, Obi Wan andHans Solo are sucked into the Death Star where they will rescue Princess Leia.

Harry Potter: Harry, Hermione and Ron discover sufficient information about the Philosopher’s Stone and work out where it is hidden.

Avatar: When the bulldozers roll in to destroy the scared place of the Omaticaya, Jake as Avatar destroys the video cameras on the vehicle thereby showing where his loyalty lies. Jake pleads with Omaticaya to leave their sacred place, but fails.

THE ORDEAL  Near the middle of the story, the hero enters a central space in the Special World and confronts death or faces his or her greatest fear.  Out of the moment of death comes a new life. We identify with the hero, so we experience the brink-of-death and have our taste of death. When we experience the hero’s return from death we feel elated because you’re never more alive when you think you’re going to die.

Toy Story 1: Woody stands up to Sid with the help of Sid’s toys who come to life. They defeat Sid by coming to life and surrounding him. Sid screams and runs away.

Toy Story 2: Woody changes his mind when he’s reminded that life is all about being with friends and family.

Toy Story 3: The toys escape Sunnyside, but are stopped by Lotso and end up in the garbage truck. At the dump, the toys are on the conveyor belt on their way to the oven. Woody redeems himself by holding Buzz’s hand and all the toys hold hands and face death together.

Star Wars: When Luke, Leia and Hans Solo are in the Death Star trapped in the giant trash masher. Luke is pulled under by the tentacled monster that lives in the sewerage and is held down so long that we wonder if he’s dead.

Harry Potter: Harry goes into The Forbidden Forest and sees the hooded figure drinking the blood of a slain Unicorn. The hooded figure is about to attack Harry when Firenze, the centaur, saves him. The centaur tells him that the blood of a Unicorn will keep someone alive even if they’re close to death and hints it must be Voldemort.

Avatar: The army gases and then fires on the Hometree and it falls, killing many Omaticaya. The Colonel finds the mobile unit and the plug is pulled on Jake and Grace’s avatars, so they fall. Jake and Grace are locked up.

THE REWARD  The hero takes possession of the treasure won by facing death.  There may be celebration, but there is also danger of losing the treasure again.

Toy Story 1: Buzz says thanks and shakes Woody’s hand. Their friendship is the reward.

Toy Story 2: Woody realises that Andy (his family) and the other toys (his friends) are what makes his life worth while.

Toy Story 3: The toys are about to be incinerated and they all hold hands - they’re together until the end. Light shines down and The Claw saves them (remember in Toy Story 1 the aliens saw The Claw as their God).

Star Wars: Saving Princess Leia and the plans of the Death Star that are hidden in R2D2.

Harry Potter: Harry’s life has been saved and he knows he’s up against Voldemort.

Avatar: Max frees them and Trudy helps them escape in a chopper. They take a mobile unit so they can link with their avatars.

THE ROAD BACK  About three-fourths of the way through the story, the hero is driven to complete the adventure, leaving the Special World to be sure the treasure is brought home.  Often a chase scene signals the urgency and danger of the mission.

Toy Story 1: Woody and Buzz (who still has the rocket strapped to his back) run after the moving van, while being chased by Sid’s dog. Woody and Buzz save each other. At first Andy’s other toys think Woody is trying to get rid of Buzz. The toys realise their mistake when they see Woody and Buzz on the remote car chasing them.

Toy Story 2: On the airport baggage conveyor belt.

Toy Story 3: Back at home, the toys say goodbye to Woody and are happy to be going into the attic.

Star Wars: The chase and fight as Luke, Princess Leia and co escape from the Death Star with the plans that can defeat Darth Vader.

Harry Potter: Jumping down the trap door that was guarded by Fluffy, being strangled by the plant they land on top of, which Hermione works out how to pass. Then Harry had to catch the right key while riding a broomstick to get through the door. Then Ron plays and wins the Wizard Chess Game, so Harry can continue on.

Avatar: While the sky people and the clans of Pandora prepare for the final confrontation, Jake’s Avatar prays to Eywa, which demonstrates his spiritual transformation.

THE RESURRECTION   At the climax, the hero is severely tested once more on the threshold of home.  He or she is purified by a last sacrifice, another moment of death and rebirth, but on a higher and more complete level.  By the hero’s action, the polarities that were in conflict at the beginning are finally resolved.

Toy Story 1: Woody and Buzz can’t get on the moving van. Woody lights the rocket with Buzz’s helmet and they fall with style into the car next to Andy.

Toy Story 2: Woody rides the cart to the plane cargo hold and they get stuck on the plane when the door shuts. They jump off the moving plane onto Bullseye, who is being ridden by Buzz.

Toy Story 3: Woody sacrifices being with Andy and writes a note to Andy to donate the toys.

Star Wars: Using the Force, Luke penetrates the Death Star, blows it up and escapes.

Harry Potter: Harry finds Quirrell and the Mirror of Erised. When Harry looks into the mirror the Philosopher’s Stone appears in his pocket, because Dumbledore had put a spell on the mirror. The spell caused the stone to go to the person who wanted to find it, but not use it himself. Harry discovers Voldemort is a parasite on the back of Quirrell’s head. When Harry touches Quirrell, Quirrell burns because Harry’s mothers love resides within his skin and protects him. Harry suffers a metaphorical death and is unconscious for three days.

Avatar: The battle between the sky people and the clans of Pandora in the floating mountains. Also the fight between Jake and the Colonel where the Colonel is killed. For a time it looks like Jake will die, but Neytiri saves him.

RETURN WITH THE ELIXIR.  The hero returns home or continues the journey, bearing some element of the treasure that has the power to transform the world as the hero has been transformed.

Toy Story 1: Back in his Ordinary World, Woody is no longer afraid of Buzz being Andy’s favourite toy and isn’t jealous of him. On Christmas Day, Buzz is worried what present Andy might get - a puppy!

Toy Story 2: Woody home again with Andy. Woody knows to enjoy being Andy’s toy while it lasts. And when it ends, he’ll have Buzz to keep him company.

Toy Story 3: Woody writes a note telling Andy to donate the toys to Bonnie. Andy takes all the toys to Bonnie’s place and introduces the toys to Bonnie. Andy says to her: “You think you can take care of him [Woody] for me?”

Star Wars: Destruction of the Death Star in time to save the Rebel Base. Luke and Hans Solo are honored by Princess Leia and the Rebels in a ceremony.

Harry Potter: The destruction of the Philosopher’s Stone and winning the House Cup for Gryffindor. Harry has taken on Voldemort and won this round. He has proven himself as the boy who lived. Harry returns to live with the Dursleys with a newfound confidence. He tells Ron and Hermione that the Dursleys don’t know he isn’t allowed to use magic and he’ll have a lot of fun with Dudley this summer.

Avatar: When Jake’s eyes open and we know that he has found a new home, a new body and he can live in accordance with his new beliefs. That is, in harmony with his environment.

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