What Makes a Hero?

In western culture, the concept of the hero pervades the storytelling in every medium. American scholar Joseph Campbell analyzed these trends in literature and synthesized the monomyth, or the hero's journey, that every character must follow in the process of becoming a hero. The hero's journey follows the hero from obscurity to ultimate victory in the face of adversity.

Campbell's monomyth is often used as a template for understanding heroic characters and can be used as a guideline to creating heroes. In the hero's journey, the future hero begins in whatever world is ordinary to the hero and then receives a call to action. The hero refuses the call to action, out of fear of the unknown or some other restricting force, but then meets a mentor who encourages the hero and passes along important information or training.

One way or another, the hero crosses the threshold into a world outside the norm, meeting allies, encountering enemies and facing tests. The hero joins with new-found allies to prepare for a major challenge, and in so doing faces death. Overcoming the danger, the hero is rewarded in some way for overcoming death but is driven to continue the quest, which often involves returning home as a changed person. On the threshold of returning home, the hero is faced with the greatest challenge and must make a sacrifice to overcome it.

Often cited as examples of the hero's journey in popular culture are Luke Skywalker's struggle in "Star Wars" and the quest of Frodo and Sam in "The Lord of the Rings."