The hero's journey is a theory concerning the structural and thematic elements that are usually present in a large portion of the world's myths. It highlights the different stages that the protagonist of most myths must suffer. The hero's journey is a basic outline of the hero's departure from the familiar into the fantastic, where he must cope with and overcome a series of trials before earning the right to return home.
Joseph Campbell proposed this concept in his book The Hero with a Thousand Faces. The title alludes to the hero model that seems to be present in almost all of the world's myths. Not all of the 17 stages that Campbell mentions will necessarily be included in the monomyth, as Campbell called the journey.
There have been several other analyses of the hero's journey since its initial proposal by Campbell. Phil Cousineau simplifies Campbell's steps from 17 to eight, combining similar steps and rearranging others. David Adamas also produces an eight step journey based on Campbell's original.
The stages of the hero's journey can be divided into three separate phases. These are the departure phase, the initiation phase, and the return phase. While some individual stages may not be included in a given story, each of the three phases must be passed through.
The departure stage begins in the normal world, where the hero is summoned by some agent of fate to undertake a task or is called to adventure, as Campbell puts it. This is frequently followed by an initial refusal on the part of the hero for various reasons. Then the hero receives aid from a supernatural guide who sets him on his quest. This leads to the crossing of the first threshold, where the hero departs from the normal into the unknown.
The departure phase ends in the belly-of-the-whale stage, in which the hero is completely detached from everything that he knew. He realizes that there is no turning back. He must then adapt to this new world.
The next phase of the hero's journey is the initiation phase, in which the protagonist faces several burdens, which Campbell calls the road of trials. These will try the hero and provide much of the necessary conflict within the story. It is often during or following the trials that the hero meets the goddess, the stage during which the protagonist realizes a pure and complete love, either for someone that he has recently met or has known for some time.
Following this stage, the hero experiences some form of temptation that has the power to pull him away from his mission. Then the hero continues to atonement with the father, which the entire journey through the fantastic has been leading up to. This step is a necessity in the world's myths. The father represents the being in the hero's life whom he regards as the most perfect and fundamental force.
Atonement is inevitably followed by apotheosis. The hero transcends the realm of the mortal and the fantastic and achieves a greater, or sometimes the greatest, insight and knowledge, leading to bliss. After this stage comes the ultimate boon. The hero completes what he originally set out to do, obtaining this reward as a result of every event that occurred prior to this moment.
In order for the hero's journey to be complete, however, he must return home. He has a tendency to refuse his return home, as he now identifies himself with the other realm. If the boon is meant to return to the natural world, the hero can face a new set of dangers when attempting to remove the gift from its fantastic world.
Rescue from without is the next step in which the hero again receives some sort of aid from a guide, usually another supernatural force. The hero crosses the return threshold where he will be confronted by the normality of everyday life and the people that take part in it. He must endeavor to retain what he learned on his journey.
The final two stages of the hero's journey are the master-of-two-worlds stage and the freedom-to-live stage. During the master of two worlds stage, the hero has found a way to cope with the normal world and integrate what he has discovered. Having survived each preceding stage, the hero has gained the freedom to live. He has delivered himself from fear and is no longer hindered by its hold on the living.