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Saturday, 30 December 2017

Hero's Journey in Fiction

What do major film or novel franchises have in common? The ones that feature stories involving a protagonist on a quest to save the world from some sort of disaster. There's typically a love interest, a villain, a sidekick or band of sidekicks, and a resolution where everyone lives happily ever after. Themes of Good vs Evil ring true. This is known as the 'Hero's Journey' story structure.

Here are some movies/novels/franchises that use this structure:
  • Most Disney cartoons
  • Marvel/DC comics
  • The Matrix
  • Star Wars
  • Star Trek
  • Harry Potter
  • Narnia
  • Lord of the Rings/The Hobbit
  • His Dark Materials
  • Alice in Wonderland
  • The Hunger Games
  • Divergent
  • Percy Jackson
  • The Wizard of Oz

The structure is very simple. First we begin with the Ordinary World. In Harry Potter, this involves Harry living at home with the Dursleys. In Star Wars, Luke is on his uncle's farm. Alice is sitting with her sister who is reading a book to her. Katniss is out hunting with Gale. They all showcase the opening setting, showing us the characters in their everyday state.

Then there is the Call to Adventure. This can be seen in The Hobbit when Gandalf asks Bilbo to come with him to the mountains. In HP, Hagrid tells Harry he is a wizard and asks him to come to Hogwarts. This is the first point of inner conflict in the story, sometimes leading to Refusal of the Call, where the protagonist is reluctant to go along with the person asking them to come. Luke was reluctant to go with Obi Wan and leave his family during the time of the harvest. But after initially being doubtful, they succumb, out of curiosity or interest.

Then we have Meeting the Mentor, who takes the form of Gandalf, Dumbledore, Aslan, Obi Wan, Hamish, the Fairy Godmother, Phil in Hercules; you get the picture. They don't necessarily come at the same time, but they have the same message. Every star of the show, be they Skywalker, Harry, Cinderella or the Pevensies, needs some wise old guide to instruct them on their path. 

And once they have met their mentor, they are able to Cross the Threshold. This might be the part in the movie where there's a montage and music playing of the protagonist (and their sidekick/s) crossing mountains and seas and fields. Like that scene in Shrek, which has a bit of a laugh at the standard 'Hero's Journey' trope by making the hero an ogre and his princess become an ogress. In the case of Narnia we have the Pevensies travelling through the land to meet Aslan at the Stone Table. Or in Lord of the Rings, Frodo and the other hobbits travel on their way to destroy the One Ring.

Which of course, brings us to Tests, Enemies, Allies. When you're trying to save the world, people are going to get in your way. Neo finds himself up against those freaky Agents. The Pevensies are attacked by Queen Jadis' cronies. Harry Potter is up against Dementors, Death Eaters, and a basilisk to name a few. At this point, the protagonist learns who to trust and who not to trust. Someone might also betray them or show themselves to be working for the 'dark side.'

And then we travel to the Inmost Cave where the Ordeal takes place. This includes fighting Voldemort, outsmarting the Queen of Hearts, defeating the Empire, conquering Sauron, or fighting the Capitol. This is the climax of the story; usually some major battle takes place where the protagonist comes face-to-face with their enemy. There's a massive showdown, and the good guy/gal always wins.

And so they collect their Reward, if there is one. It might be a seat at Cair Paravel as a King or
Queen of Narnia. Perhaps it's simply the joy of knowing that Voldemort is finally dead and there can be peace in the wizarding world. It might be a medal of honour from Princess Leia, or being a national treasure of China like in Mulan.

So after they've defeated the enemy and done their good deed, they begin the Road Back, a changed person. In some stories this may lead to Resurrection and Return of the Elixir, in which the hero may have one final obstacle to overcome, usually internal. In The Wizard of Oz, Dorothy may have defeated the witch, but she still longs to return to her home where she belongs. They will be a changed person and things will be different; they've grown, perhaps lost someone they loved on the way, or have a sense of sadness at all they've gone through. But in the end things are usually rosy, and there's some kind of celebration. 

Characters include:

Hero: Harry Potter, Katniss Everdeen, Luke Skywalker, Dorothy Gale, Alice, Lyra Belaqua, Shrek, Robin Hood, Mario. 

Mentor: Obi Wan, Gandalf, Dumbledore, Aslan.

Ally: Samwise Gamgee, Ron and Hermione, Han Solo, Donkey, Mushu from Mulan, Cinna from the Hunter Games, Trinity from the Matrix, the Tin Man the Scarecrow and the Lion, Mr Tumnus. 

Herald: usually a letter or an invitation that gets the hero into their journey. R2D2 and Hagrid are live examples, although Hagrid is a major character in HP.

Trickster: usually a comic relief type character that offers an outside perspective for the audience and challenge conventions. Dobby, Anansi the Spider, Peeves, Robin Hood, Tweedledum and Tweedledee, the Cheshire Cat.

Shapeshifter: starts as good but then end up betraying the hero. Gollum, Cypher from the Matrix, Gilderoy Lockhart.

Guardian: kind of sounds like the Mentor, but they're actually the one that tests the hero before they face greater challenges. Might be a type of crossing or bridge, or a riddle they have to answer. The Doornob from Alice, Dobby. 

Shadow/Villain: Maleficent, Voldemort, Sauron, Ursula, Queen of Hearts, Wicked Witch of the West, Darth Vader, the Emperor, Mrs Coulter, the Capitol. Could also be the darker side of the protagonist.

I'd like to also add in one more - 

Love Interest: Princess Fiona, Princess Peach, Prince Phillip, Catwoman, Mary Jane Watson, Ginny Weasley.


End Note: Game of Thrones doesn't follow 'Hero's Journey.'

It's a perfect example of a major franchise that plays around with archetypes rather than follows them. In GOT, there are several villains, no one protagonist, good characters get killed early on, everyone is 'the shapeshifter' to someone, and nothing is black or white. Who you root for depends on who you like. I guess you could say:

Heroes: Jon Snow, Tyrion Lannister, Arya Stark, Daenerys Targaryen, Ned Stark (gets killed), Robb Stark (gets killed).

Allies: depend on whose House you're loyal to.

Trickster: Patchface. You could say Tyrion is in a way.

Shapeshifter: Ironically, Jaime and the Hound are examples of characters that start of negative and become positive. I guess Littlefinger is a good example of a shapeshifter, along with Cersei.

Villains: Ramsay Bolton, Joffrey Lannister and Cersei Lannister are good example of villains; characters that have little to no 'likeable' traits. But in a way, Daenerys is a hero as she is a villain based on her actions. With this series, it's more about the person's point of view as opposed to having clear-cut moral/immoral characters.

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I'm Zarina Macha, an author, blogger, and musician from London. I write about stuff on the internet 'cos having opinions is fun -- if you want to join the games, please note your thoughts below. All thoughts welcome, even if they're mean (just no spam links please -- can't tell you what a liability those are to remove).
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