Key (Missing) Attributes of a Hero

Joseph Campbell wrote the blue print for the hero's journey, and it's almost spotless, but for one specific yet life-altering moment. A moment that separates the hero present from the hero past and what differentiates an adventure-seeking journey from the hero's journey. And he missed it.

According to Campbell, The Hero is the person who goes out and achieves great deeds on behalf of the group, tribe, or civilization and endures the following stages:

1.        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.

2.        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.  

3.        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.

4.        MEETING WITH THE MENTOR.  The hero comes across a seasoned traveler 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.

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

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

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

8.        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. 

9.        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.

10.      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.

11.     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.

12.       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.

The critical moment for the hero is in #8, but Campbell's stroke is too broad to see it. Christopher Vogler gets a little close when he writes, "The hero endures the supreme ORDEAL."

This is the moment at which the hero touches bottom.  He/she faces the possibility of death, brought to the brink in a fight with a mythical beast.  For us, the audience standing outside the cave waiting for the victor to emerge, it’s a black moment.  In STAR WARS, it’s the harrowing moment in the bowels of the Death Star, where Luke, Leia and company are trapped in the giant trash-masher.  Luke is pulled under by the tentacled monster that lives in the sewage and is held down so long that the audience begins to wonder if he’s dead. 
This is a critical moment in any story, an ordeal in which the hero appears to die and be born again.  It’s a major source of the magic of the hero myth. 

It's not facing the possibility of death and surviving that creates a hero, it's the actual death. They're self, their glory, and their personal achievements must be laid down at the alter. Then and only then can they embrace humility and become the hero.


  1. 8a Failure: The hero must fail, he/she must realize that they cannot fulfill the task alone, that they need help to continue. Often, this is the hero's deepest and darkest moment. It is the climax of the conflict, and because such, it is the most revealing (which is the purpose of conflict - to reveal truth).
  2. 8b Ownership: When the hero encounters this great of conflicts, they will be confronted with absolute Truth. To move on, they must take ownership and admit their faults, or as K.M. Weiland says, they must acknowledge that they've knocked down the first domino. 
    1. It's when Peter Parker realizes that, although he didn't pull the trigger, his inaction killed Uncle Ben.
    2. It's Andy Dufresne admitting that he killed his wife, by "driving her away" because he didn't know how to show his love. "She died because of me."
    3. It's Ivan Ilych admitting much too late that the way he had lived his whole life had been wrong, and he blames no one but himself.
  3. 8c Restoration: After the Truth has been revealed and the hero no longer sees themselves as innocent, the helper shows up and restores the hero. The helper, or supernatural power, reminds and affirms the hero of their role, their task, and what still needs to be done. They pull the hero from the ashes and breath new life into them - the hero is then reborn. But he/she still needs direction.
  4. 8d Humility: In Humilitas: a lost key to life, love, and leadership, John Dickson explains that humility, true humility, is not thinking lowly of oneself. Rather, it is the full acknowledgement of one's gifts, abilities, and strengths, but the choice to use them (or withhold them) for the benefit of others. 

It is this moment, this attribute, that has changed most since the ancient heroes and that Campbell never acknowledges. It's the difference between Odysseus and Batman, Achilles and Nelson Mandela. 

Heroes no longer return home for personal glory and family fame, they return home to save and protect the people - even if it means bearing the shame or enduring great loss. Because they can take it, because of the journey, and because that's what heroes do.

The reward then, in #9 isn't anything of great monetary value, it's a responsibility. And there is always danger in losing that because once the hero no longer lives with humility and for the benefit of others, they live for self, willing to sacrifice others for personal gain.

When they return home, they are resurrected - completely new and transformed. They've learned something and they have brought it home, "bearing some element of the treasure that has the power to transform the world as the hero has been transformed."

“The heroes of all time have gone before us,” Campbell writes in his concluding paragraph of the prologue, “the labyrinth is thoroughly known; we have only to follow the thread of the hero-path.  And where we had thought to find an abomination, we shall find a god.  And where we had thought to slay another, we shall slay ourselves; where we had thought to travel outward, we shall come to the center of our own existence; where we had thought to be alone, we shall be with the world.”