Posted in Essays

The Hero’s Journey

At last, the promised essay on the Hero’s Journey. In 1949 Joseph Campbell wrote a book entitled, The Hero with a Thousand Faces. In this book he broadly analyzed mythology and determined a pattern to the journeys that each of the heroes faced. He identified 17 steps in the Hero’s Journey; however, not every step is contained in every Hero’s Journey. For purposes of this essay, I will be discussing the steps in terms of the Harry Potter series.


The adventure begins with the hero receiving a call to action, such as a threat to the peace of the community, or the hero simply falls into or blunders into it. The call is often announced to the hero by another character who acts as a “herald”. The herald, often represented as dark or terrifying and judged evil by the world, may call the character to adventure simply by the crisis of his appearance.

In this series the call to adventure would be the night that the Potters were killed. Voldemort is the terrifying herald who threatens the peace of not only the magical community but also the world at large. By attacking Harry, Voldemort creates his rival. Harry is given no choice but to accept the adventure because Voldemort will never stop hunting him till he kills him.


In some stories, the hero initially refuses the call to adventure. When this happens, the hero may suffer somehow, and may eventually choose to answer, or may continue to decline the call.

Not all cases does the hero refuse the call. Someone else may refuse the call on behalf of the hero. The refusal in this case comes from Lily. When Voldemort tried to kill Lily, she was given the choice to live. She knew Voldemort was after Harry. She refused the call on Harry’s behalf by offering to die in his stead. However, she was killed in spite of her efforts.

After the hero has accepted the call, he encounters a protective figure (often elderly) who provides special tools and advice for the adventure ahead, such as an amulet or a weapon.

The Supernatural Aid arrives in the form of Albus Dumbledore. Dumbledore knew that Harry was still in danger from the rest of the Death Eaters. In order to keep Harry safe till he was old enough to enter Hogwarts, Dumbledore invoked an ancient charm or the “amulet” that would protect Harry in the place where his mother’s blood dwelt. Throughout the series, Dumbledore constantly watches Harry and gives him enough information so that he is able to complete the task given to him at the beginning of each book.


The hero must cross the threshold between the world he is familiar with and that which he is not. Often this involves facing a “threshold guardian”, an entity that works to keep all within the protective confines of the world but must be encountered in order to enter the new zone of experience.

The Leaky Cauldron is the threshold in the series. This is the portal between Muggle London and the magical world. The threshold guardian is the back wall that must be tapped with a wand in a certain manner. Once Harry passes the wall he enters a new realm of experience- biting books, beatles eyes, Ollivanders Makers of Fine Wands, and the prejudice against Muggle-borns.

The hero, rather than passing a threshold, passes into the new zone by means of rebirth. Appearing to have died by being swallowed or having their flesh scattered, the hero is transformed and becomes ready for the adventure ahead.

Once Harry enters Hogwarts he is essentially swallowed by the magical world. It is here that he learns to be a hero. The first person Harry stands up for is Hagrid. Draco refers to Hagrid as being a sort of savage. Harry stands up for Hagrid by telling Draco that Hagrid is brilliant. The next time Harry acts heroically he actually acts. This is when Draco takes Neville’s Rememberall and flies away with it. Harry climbs on his broom and follows Draco in the air to make Draco return the object.


Once past the threshold, the hero encounters a dream landscape of ambiguous and fluid forms. The hero is challenged to survive a succession of obstacles and, in so doing, amplifies his consciousness. The hero is helped covertly by the supernatural helper or may discover a benign power supporting him in his passage.

Each book in the series can be described as a road of trials because Harry must always over come a major obstacle before the end of each school year. First Harry prevents Voldemort from obtaining the Sorcerer’s Stone. Next Harry succeeds in destroying the Basilisk and closing the Chamber of Secrets forever. Third Harry rescues Sirius and Buckbeak from the Ministry. In the GoF , Harry must not only participate in the Triwizard Tournament, he must also survive Voldemort’s Rebirth. In the OotP , Harry must survive the Ministry’s attempts to discredit him and have him expelled from the wizarding world. He also has to rescue Sirius from Voldemort and prevent Voldemort from obtaining the prophecy. In the HBP , Harry has to discover how many horcruxes Voldemort has and discover the location of each. In each adventure he is assisted in the background by Dumbledore who is the supernatural aid; he is also assisted by Hermione and Ron who could be described as the benign powers.

The ultimate trial is often represented as a marriage between the hero and a queenlike, or mother-like figure. This represents the hero’s mastery of life (represented by the feminine) as well as the totality of what can be known. When the hero is female, this becomes a male figure.

There are two possible marriages in the series. The first is Mrs. Weasley who is the mother than Harry never had. The second is Ginny Weasley is the girl that Harry ultimately realizes is the perfect girl for him.


His awareness expanded, the hero may fixate on the disunity between truth and his subjective outlook, inherently tainted by the flesh. This is often represented with revulsion or rejection of a female figure.

There are two instances of the rejection of the female figure. In the OotP, Harry realizes that he needs to know more information about Voldemort’ actions. Mrs. Weasley true to her role as a mother wants to protect him. Despite this, Harry rejects her coddling and demands that Sirius tells him what is going on. The second instance comes where Harry breaks up with Ginny. While he knows that while Ginny is his best source of comfort, he is realistic enough to realize that Voldemort will use Ginny to get close to him. As he cannot bear the thought of being responsible for Ginny’s death, he rejects her by breaking up.

The hero reconciles the tyrant and merciful aspects of the father-like authority figure to understand himself as well as this figure.

To a certain degree we have not seen this reconciliation yet. Throughout the series Harry has been told what a wonderful man his father was. However, in the OotP in the Pensieve scene, Harry sees the tyrannical person his father and Sirius were. Harry has a difficult time getting past this. He no longer takes comfort in being compared to his father. In fact with what he saw he imagines that his father must have forced his mother into marrying him. From that point on the series shifts to tell more about his mother’s personality.

The hero’s ego is disintegrated in a breakthrough expansion of consciousness. Quite frequently the hero’s idea of reality is changed; the hero may find an ability to do new things or to see a larger point of view, allowing the hero to sacrifice himself.

To a large degree this hasn’t been seen yet in the series. The only thing that comes close to this is the scene in the Cave in the HBP. Harry’s sacrifices his ideals by force feeding Dumbledore the poison. Prior to this point, Harry never had to willing choose to do a hard thing. This whole experience makes Harry realize that he has to give up comfort and give up his dependence on others. He has a larger point of view because he realizes that he can’t stay at Hogwarts; we see him state that he’s going out into the wide world beginning at Privet Drive then heading to Godric’s Hollow.

The next steps haven’t been seen in the series yet because the next steps deal with obtaining the boon and returning to the “real” world. But I think we can take some educated guesses as to what may happen

11. The Ultimate Boon
The hero is now ready to obtain that which he has set out, an item or new awareness that, once he returns, will benefit the society that he has left.

The boon in this case would be the destruction of the rest of the horcruxes and the death of Voldemort. This will allow the world both Wizard and Muggle to continue in relative peace.

12. The Refusal of the Return
Having found bliss and enlightenment in the other world, the hero may not want to return to the ordinary world to bestow the boon onto his fellow man.

I don’t think the journey will give Harry much bliss. Will he be enlightened? In a sense he will be enlightened. Creation of horcruxes is an unknown fact in the Wizarding world. He is also very much knowledgeable about the fact that authority is not always in the right. From this point he will be like Dumbledore in the fact that if he ever comes across this again in the future he will understand what he is looking at. I think his not wanting to return to the ordinary world will probably be in the form that after defeating Voldemort he will feel a separateness from everyone else. It may spoil his ability to enjoy or partipate in life going forward.

13. The Magic Flight

When the boon’s acquisition (or the hero’s return to the world) comes against opposition, a chase or pursuit may ensue before the hero returns.

From the U.S. cover of the Deathly Hallows, it seems as though there are spectators to the final battle. The shapes look hooded- perhaps they are Dementors or Death Eaters. When Harry is successful at defeating Voldemort, they may try to retaliate by killing him. So he will have to fight his way out.

14. The Rescue from Without

The hero may need to be rescued by forces from the ordinary world. This may be because the hero has refused to return or because he is successfully blocked from returning with the boon. The hero loses his ego.

If the spectators try to retaliate against Harry he will need help. This help may come in the form of Ron and Hermione, the benign powers. It may also come in the form of Ginny, Neville, Luna, or other members of Dumbledore’s Army who respect Harry as their leader.

15. The Crossing of the Return Threshold

The hero returns to the world of common day and must accept it as real.

After Voldemort’s defeat Harry may return to Hogwarts or even his Aunt at Privet Drive. The experience may seem surreal at first. But in time he will readjust to life. He will be aided in this by his love for Ginny who will play a crucial role in establishing reality for him.

16. Master of Two Worlds
Because of the boon or due to his experience, the hero may now perceive both the divine and human worlds.

I think what will happen is that Harry will become the new Dumbledore. He will be like his mentor in that he cares for the Magical and Muggle worlds. He will be constantly on the look out for great evils.

17. Freedom to Live
The hero bestows the boon to his fellow man.

In the act of defeating Voldemort and the Death Eaters, Harry automatically grants the boon to humanity. Wizards and Muggles no longer have to live their lives in fear. Possibly all the magical races will be reconciled as equals ending millennia of prejudice against non-humans and part-humans because the Wizard world will understand that this prejudice was used by Voldemort to recruit powerful followers.

So now you know all about the Hero’s Journey. So the next time you watch Star Wars or Lord of the Rings or read Beowulf or any epic tale, you will be able to see, understand, and predict the progression of the story. Feel free to head over to the google group and debate this topic amongst yourselves.


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