4 Hero’s Journey Examples From Beloved Stories

by | Aug 14, 2021

Ah, the hero’s journey. Some of the best hero’s journey examples make up the tried-and-true storytelling structure that makes up the bones of our favorite movies, books, and TV shows. You may not even know it, but most of your favorite stories probably follow the hero’s journey. 

If you’re an author, you’re probably also familiar with using the hero’s journey to outline. A solid outline can really make or break a draft, and the hero’s journey can be as detailed or flexible as you need for your story. 

But let’s slow down. What is the hero’s journey? And how can we learn to identify it in the stories we watch? Learning how the hero’s journey works is the first step in learning how to use it yourself, so let’s break down what the hero’s journey is and walk through a few examples of how it works in practice. 

What is the Hero’s Journey in Books? 

The hero’s journey is a narrative structure popularized by Joseph Campbell in his 1949 book The Hero With a Thousand Faces. Campbell was inspired in part by Carl Jung, who believed in overarching archetypes–the mother, the father, etc. Instead of creating a new story structure, Campbell identified common beats and pieces seen in stories across genre and type

The hero’s journey doesn’t necessarily apply to every story. While it does apply to many, this isn’t a universal structure–not every TV show, movie, or book will fall into this, and yours doesn’t have to, either. 

However, the hero’s journey examples, and therefore structure, reliy heavily on setup and payoff. These beats are familiar, and audiences have grown to expect them. In a lot of ways, these plot points and the order they’re in are what we know and understand as storytelling. 

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The Steps of the Hero’s Journey

We can break the hero’s journey into three big chunks: the departure, the initiation, and the return. This is your classic three-act structure, and if you don’t like a detailed outline, this might be enough. 

But we can go a little deeper. Let’s take a look at the whole thing, piece by piece. 

1. The Ordinary World 

This is our picture of the regular world, before anything comes along to muck it up. We get a shot of the characters, the setting, what the characters want and need, and maybe a little bit of what tensions and challenges exist in this world. The characters aren’t being challenged yet, themselves, but this is where we learn about the world’s premise. 

2. The Call of Adventure 

Our hero is called to action. Maybe someone shows up at their door and asks them to go on an adventure, or they run into the love of their life–whatever it is, this is the part of the story where the character is asked to leave their state of normalcy and embark on an adventure. 

3. Refusal of the Call 

This doesn’t always happen, but sometimes, the hero will refuse the call at first. Doing this means that the character must be thrust into the action against their will. 

 4. Meeting the Mentor 

The hero has either gone off on an adventure or has been thrust into one–now, they get some sort of guide to take them through this new world. This new guide is a mentor character, and they’ll often have something to help our hero out along the journey. Think Gandalf or Hagrid. 

5. Crossing the First Threshold

This is the point of no return! The hero has entered the unknown world, and there’s no going back to the way things were before. This is the start of the second act, or the initiation.

6. Tests, Allies, Enemies 

Also known as ‘the road of trials,’ this is the bulk of your novel, or that big middle chunk that authors like to complain about. Your character is making friends, enemies, facing trials, and adapting to the new world on their quest to achieve their goal. 

7. The Ultimate Boon 

This is the hero doing what they set out to do, or the climax of the piece. Everything in the novel culminates here, and everything afterward is resolution. This is the end of act two, and from here, we transition into act three. 

8. Crossing the Return Threshold 

It’s time to go back home. Sometimes, the journey back is a struggle unto itself, and sometimes it’s smooth sailing–this is our transition into the resolution. 

9. Master of the Two Worlds 

Our hero is now master of the normal world and the new world. 

10. Freedom to Live 

Now that the hero has mastered both the challenging, new world and the old world they came from, they have the freedom to live. The new world no longer poses a threat, and they have conquered the threat of defeat. Hurray! 

Can A Nonfiction Book Have A Hero’s Journey?

Yes, all books, whether fiction or nonfiction, should have some type of hero. This hero’s journey is what the book is about. Consider Donald Miller in his book Blue Like Jazz. Miller’s book is semi-autobiographical but he demonstrates his character arc and how he changes throughout the story. Even though his book is nonfiction, he writes his own hero’s journey.

Even with all that, there are still more steps to the hero’s journey we didn’t touch here. But this is more than enough to start getting into some examples, so let’s go! 

Hero’s Journey Examples 

Again, remember: not every story will fit perfectly neatly into this structure. Sometimes things are moved around or interpreted differently, especially across genres. That being said, here are some old favorites that follow the hero’s journey. 

The Hunger Games 

The Ordinary World 

Katniss Everdeen lives in District Thirteen in Panem. The audience learns about the Hunger Games, and that the reaping is coming up. 

The Call to Adventure 

The reaping happens–Primrose, Katniss’s little sister, is selected. 

Refusal of the Call 

Katniss volunteers in place of Prim, putting herself in the Hunger Games instead. 

Meeting the Mentor

Katniss and Peeta meet Haymitch Abernathy, who will be preparing them for the games.  

Crossing the First Threshold 

Our heroes go to the Capitol, where they’re thrust into Capitol life. The first aspect of this is optics–Katniss learns about how social games are played and how to move and perform for cameras. Then, she’s sent to the Games themselves, where she has to apply what she’s learned in the arena. 

Tests, Allies, Enemies 

This is the meat of the Hunger Games themselves. Katniss buries Rue, escapes other tributes, and works to save herself and Peeta from being killed. 

The Ultimate Boon 

Katniss and Peeta are the last tributes standing, and the Capitol wants them to kill each other for the drama of it all. Thinking quickly, Katniss tells Peeta they’ll both eat nightlock berries, which will kill them both. The Capitol doesn’t want to have no victor, so they name Katniss and Peeta both victors. 

Master of the Two Worlds 

Katniss and Peeta return from the Games alive. Katniss has mastered performing for the cameras and surviving in the arena. 

Freedom to Live 

In the Hunger Games, this isn’t quite as clean cut–Katniss is allowed to live, but she doesn’t know what’s in store. 

Tangled 

The Ordinary World 

Rapunzel is locked away in a tower. She spends her days cleaning and reading and wondering, despite herself, what might be out there. 

The Call to Adventure 

Lanterns appear every year on Rapunzel’s birthday. She’s about to turn eighteen, and she wants to see the lanterns for herself, in person. 

Refusal of the Call 

Meeting the Mentor

Flynn Rider crash-lands into Rapunzel’s tower. He agrees to be her ‘guide’ and take her to see the lights before returning her safely to her tower–all this in exchange for a crown he’s stolen and wants back from Rapunzel. 

Crossing the First Threshold 

Rapunzel leaves the tower! From this point onward, she cannot ever go back to living in a time where she hadn’t left the tower. 

Tests, Allies, Enemies 

Rapunzel makes friends with the roughians in the Snuggly Duckling, gets closer to Flynn (whose name is Eugene, turns out), explores the kingdom, and learns that the world is a beautiful, kind place, and Mother Gothel was wrong. Mother Gothel attempts to steal her back by tricking her into thinking Eugene has left with the crown and takes Rapunzel back to the tower. 

The Ultimate Boon 

Rapunzel realizes she is the lost princess. Eugene breaks into the tower to save Rapunzel and is stabbed by Mother Gothel–Rapunzel tries to save him in exchange for her compliance, but Eugene cuts her hair to save her instead. This kills Mother Gothel, and Rapunzel’s healing tear brings Eugene back to life. 

Master of the Two Worlds 

The princess returns to the kingdom! 

Freedom to Live 

Rapunzel and Eugene, without the shroud of Mother Gothel hanging over them, can live happily ever after. 

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Shrek

The Ordinary World 

Shrek is an ogre. He lives in a swamp, and he hates everyone. 

The Call to Adventure 

A group of fairytale creatures show up at Shrek’s door–they’ve been forced there by Lord Farquaad.

Refusal of the Call 

Shrek doesn’t want to be a hero. He just wants to be left alone, but he must go see Lord Farquaad to achieve that. 

Meeting the Mentor

Even though he finds him annoying, Shrek brings Donkey with him to take to see Lord Farquaad. 

Crossing the First Threshold 

Shrek wins a tournament and agrees to find Princess Fiona in exchange for the removal of the fairytale creatures from Shrek’s swamp. 

Tests, Allies, Enemies 

Shrek and Donkey set off on an adventure, which involves finding Princess Fiona, saving her from a dragon, befriending her, and bringing her back to town. Shrek falls in love with Fiona, and we learn that Fiona is also an ogre.

A misunderstanding leads Shrek to believe Fiona despises him, and he doesn’t tell her how he feels, instead taking her to Lord Farquaad. 

The Ultimate Boon 

Because of the relationship he’s developed with Fiona, Shrek is able to interrupt the wedding before Fiona marries Lord Farquaad. Fiona turns into an ogre forever. Farquaad attempts to have them both killed, but is eaten by the dragon. 

Master of the Two Worlds 

Shrek has his swamp back, and he’s learned to be less emotionally closed. He marries Fiona. 

Freedom to Live 

Shrek and Fiona live happily ever after (and there’s a sick dance number, which never hurts). 

Moana

The Ordinary World 

Moana is the daughter of the village chief, and she’s expected to lead her village one day. The reef is destroying their island’s resources. 

The Call to Adventure 

The sea calls Moana–she wrestles with this call in ‘How Far I’ll Go.’ She can’t abandon her people in pursuit of her adventurous nature, but she can’t sit still and act the perfect daughter, either. 

Refusal of the Call 

Moana tries to venture past the reefs to find out what is ruining them, but her ship capsizes and she washes up back onshore. 

Meeting the Mentor

Moana’s grandmother shows her a cave filled with ships and tells Moana the tribe used to be voyagers. She dies, and on her deathbed, she gives Moana the heart of Te Fiti and tells her to find Maui. 

Crossing the First Threshold 

Moana sets sail to restore the heart of Te Fiti and find Maui–no going back this time. 

Tests, Allies, Enemies 

Moana meets Maui, a demigod in search of his hook. Maui teaches her to sail, and the two get closer through their travels. They try to restore the heart, but Moana blows the mission with her recklessness. She attempts to return the heart, but after speaking with her grandmother again, she decides to take the heart and try again. 

The Ultimate Boon 

Moana restores Te Fiti’s heart. 

Master of the Two Worlds 

Moana returns to her village as a hero. 

Freedom to Live 

Her people are now able to be voyagers again. 

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