If you’ve been writing or reading fiction (particularly fantasy) for a while, you’ve heard of the Hero’s Journey storyline or at least are aware of it (even unconsciously).
Most of the writing books I’ve read that talk about the Hero’s Journey use either Star Wars: A New Hope, The Hobbit, or the Lord of the Rings trilogy for their example. I’ve always done pretty well with Star Wars illustrations, but I’m not that familiar with the plotline of Tolkien’s work. (Until recently, as I’ve begun reading them.)
So today, I’m going to use The LEGO Movie as my illustration.
Please note, I’m talking about the first movie that released in 2014. There will be spoilers. Lots of them. But don’t worry, they’ll be awesome. (It’s a batpun.) 😋
If you do a Google search, you can find the basic outline on thousands of sites. I used the outline here for creating this post.
Most sources divide the journey into three parts, the three act structure some writers like to talk about. I’m just going to list the points.
At the beginning of most Hero’s Journey stories, the hero is shown living his normal life.
The LEGO Movie starts in Emmet’s (our hero) ordinary world. We see him following the instructions, going to work, and singing “Everything is Awesome.”
This is his life. Everything is normal. He’s content to stay right where he is. There’s no desire to change.
At this point, the ordinary world is disrupted with a call to adventure. A wizard comes to your door or your uncle buys a pair of used droids.
Emmet is on his way home from work when his instructions blow away. He chases after them. In the process he scares a trespasser on the construction site. He chases after her, but falls into a pit, discovering the “piece of resistance.”
The Refusal of the Call
After receiving the Call, the hero usually will refuse to take action. He’d rather stay home and continue living his life as he has been. Why would he disrupt his routine to go on an adventure of all things?
When Emmet wakes up in prison, he realizes the piece of resistance is attached to his back. The trespasser from the construction site comes to rescue him. As they are fleeing, Emmet realizes in order to escape, he’ll have to break the instructions for the first time in his life. He refuses to answer the call.
Crossing the Threshold
But by then, it’s too late. They have already crossed the threshold (literally) from Emmet’s ordinary world into the adventure. There’s no going back now.
At this point, the hero is going on the adventure whether he wants to or not. Things have changed too much for him to go back to his ordinary life.
Meeting the Mentor
Sometimes, the hero meets the mentor before crossing the threshold or the mentor will issue the call. But in this case, Emmet meets his “mentor,” Vitruvius, after entering the adventure world.
Heroes always have friends or allies on their quests. While at the beginning, they might not be actual friends (often they’re thrown together), but by the climax, they have some sort of camaraderie. In Emmet’s case, his allies are: Wildstyle, Batman, Benny, Unikitty, and MetalBeard.
Besides helping the hero accomplish his mission, the traveling companions often provide comic relief and are foils for the hero. Foils show the main character’s flaws or virtues by contradiction.
For example, Batman is cool, smart, and everyone loves him. Emmet, on the other hand, is super ordinary, sometimes stupid, and most of the time, someone is mad at him. Batman’s arrogance and popularity act as foils to Emmet’s dull, ordinariness.
Tests, Trials, And Obstacles
At this point of the story, the hero and his companions face many difficulties. These challenges can take many forms.
- Being chased by Bad Cop
- Lack of support from the Master Builders
- Destruction of their submarine
- Failure of their plans
- Death of Vitruvius
Note the last point. Many Hero’s Journey stories involve the death of the mentor. In Star Wars: A New Hope, Ben dies. Gandalf “dies” in The Fellowship of the Ring. (“Do you see the quotation marks I’m making with my claw hands?”)
This tragedy forces the hero to make his own decisions and face his fears. Alone.
When the hero must face his fears by himself, he has reached the dark moment. This is his lowest point. He’s ready to give up, to throw it all away. He’s lost his mentor, maybe some of his friends, his entire ordinary world, the villain is about to win, and there’s nothing he can do.
This (and the next section) is my favorite part of the Hero’s Journey. There’s nowhere for him to go but up.
I think Emmet’s Dark Moment comes in the Think Tank as the computer counts down to self-destruct. He’s rubberbanded to a battery, his friends are all going to die, he’s not The Special, and Vitruvius is dead.
As the hero is wallowing in his despair, he realizes there is something he can do. But it will require either a great sacrifice or facing his deepest fear.
This is his epiphany. His “Aha” Moment.
Emmet’s epiphany comes right after his dark moment. The countdown is nearing its end. But after Ghost Vitruvius delivers a final message, Emmet is ready. He realizes he can save his friends, that he has the power to be special. He jumps into the endless void in order to detach the battery and prevent the self-destruct.
The hero is now ready to defeat the external villain since he has conquered his internal antagonist. If he can face that, he can take on anything.
After Emmet wakes up in the human world and retrieves the piece of resistance, he returns to Bricksburg, ready to defeat President Business. While there is no actual battle, he defeats the villain by using the “power of The Special.” He uses the knowledge he gained in his epiphany (that everyone can be special) to convince President Business to stop using the Kragle.
Return to the Ordinary World or to a New World
Now that the quest is done, the hero may return home, to his ordinary life, family, and home, like Bilbo does at the end of The Hobbit. Other times, the hero cannot return or chooses not to. In A New Hope, Luke can’t return to his ordinary world, even if he wanted to. He must live in a new world—the world of the Rebellion.
This part isn’t really covered in The LEGO Movie. It ends with a promise of more adventure. Poor Emmet doesn’t even get to catch his breath!
I love the Hero’s Journey. Even thought it’s very common, there are so many stories and twists you can put on it!
What About You?
Can you think of any other stories with the Hero’s Journey plotline? Do you like the Hero’s Journey? Have you ever gone on an adventure?