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The Hero Journey December 19, 2009

Posted by jassnight in Change, Life.
Tags: , ,

Change has been depicted metaphorically throughout the ages with the story theme called the hero journey. It commonly takes the shape of the protagonist, or ‘hero,’ thrust into change. The change is depicted as an unwilling departure from home and then the ensuing struggle to return to their original origin. The efforts, mistakes and setbacks are huge and bring our hero to the brink of disaster every time. However, he manages to learn and grow from each experience and with that, he eventually returns to safety. Here is where the hero journey becomes powerful. Almost always, our hero does not return to his original life but instead, finds that there is a new existence waiting for him – one that is more aligned to his purpose and wisdom gained on the journey.


The earliest piece of known literature to follow the hero journey theme is the ancient Greek poem by Homer, the Odyssey. In this epic story, Odysseus, our hero, reluctantly sets out from his home of Ithaca to fight in the Trojan War. On his journey home, he encounters sea monsters, shipwrecks, witch goddesses and sirens to name a few. When he finally returns to Ithaca, not only has he changed but his home has changed as well.

More modern depictions of the hero journey can be seen in movies such as the Wizard of Oz and Cast Away, starring Tom Hanks. Both films depict the hero (Dorothy/Chuck Norland) thrust abruptly away from their homes. There are terrible trials that they encounter in their struggle to return. When they eventually find their way, they encounter a new reality that is cast out of their wisdom and experience during the journey.

In the Wizard of Oz (MGM, 1939,) Dorothy is swept up in circumstances beyond her control. When the dust finally settles, she finds herself in a land of witches, munchkins, strange magic and dark forests. On her quest to return to her home, she finds unusual friends with diverse backgrounds (to say the least) that she otherwise may have never befriended within the confines of her normal world. She also gained insight and knowledge by experiencing powerful events that would have never transpired in the comfort of the familiar land she came from. During all of this there was always the red shoes. Metaphorically, the shoes represented a talisman with untapped power that could only be realized from a new perspective born from the growing enlightenment within Dorothy. In the end, Dorothy only had to come to the realization that “there is no place like home.”

In Cast Away (2000, DreamWorks) we see the hero, Chuck Norland, thrust in a much different situation – a journey of silence and solitude that facilitates his progressive self-discovery. His encounters with struggle and pain are his own. He finds his enlightenment mostly by trial and error as he first learns to just survive in a new strange environment and later as he discovers cooperative and productive solutions. In this story, the foreshadowing talisman is the wing logo printed on one of the Fedex packages that washes ashore with him. Here is the representation of his future new world although he cannot see it just yet. Later it all becomes very clear to him. When presented with crossroads at the end of the story, the wings lead him to his new world.

The hero journey can be found in our own personal narratives. We all encounter an unwanted or unexpected turn into change at some point in our lives. With this there are trials that test us, darkness that misleads us, and pain that distracts us. But each event brings us closer to enlightenment. We grow in wisdom and understanding about who we are and what we can accomplish. Eventually, the efforts we make are more focused and effective as we work toward solution. In this path there can even be a talisman full of unrealized power or prediction that will come clearer as we reenter a new world more aligned to who we are.

In the movie Cast Away, there is a poignant scene where Chuck Norland tells a friend about his darkest moment. That moment when in the deepest of despair, there is still light. There is still hope. It is a powerful scene;

The only thing I could control was my own death so I made a rope and went up the summit to hang myself. I had to test it, of course, you know me. The weight of the log snapped the limb of the tree. I couldn’t even kill myself. I had power over nothing. And that’s when this feeling came over me like a warm blanket. I knew, somehow I had to stay alive. Somehow, I had to keep breathing even though there was no reason to hope and all my logic said that I would never see [home] again. So that’s what I did. I stayed alive, I kept breathing. And one day that logic was proven wrong because one day the tide came in and gave me a sail. And here I am, I’m back…

  • Do you have a hero’s journey in your own personal narrative?
  • Are you still on your journey today?
  • What was/is the darkest moment in your journey?
  • How did you find your way home?
  • What is the enlightenment that you brought back with you?
  • Did you have a talisman that stirred hope in you on your path?
  • Was your talisman’s power revealed at the end?


1. PJ - December 19, 2009

I think I know what book you need to get under the Christmas tree:


2. TheWildMind - December 23, 2009

This is a wonderful post and the questions are excellent thought provokers for my own personal reflection. I still have to flesh out the answers to them a bit but here is my initial gut response to your questions:

Do you have a hero’s journey in your own personal narrative?
Hmmm, I have a journey. Not sure whether it is the hero’s journey or the exiled villaness (is that a word?). I’ll let you know how it turns out…

Are you still on your journey today?
Yes…further down the road…but still on the journey.

What was/is the darkest moment in your journey?
Wow. Can I list the top ten? I can’t pick out just one, there are a bunch vying for that dubious honor.

How did you find your way home?
Still working on it.

What is the enlightenment that you brought back with you?
So far, the biggest thing I have to fear, is fear itself. Most of my worst decisions were made out of fear. Fear of failure, fear of not being loved or accepted, fear of losing my children because I couldn’t provide for them, fear of being homeless, fear of being alone for the rest of my life. None of the decisions made out of fear were good ones.

Did you have a talisman that stirred hope in you on your path?
Hmmm, interesting. I have to ponder this a bit more.

Was your talisman’s power revealed at the end?
Again, more pondering needed.

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