The Hero’s journey – The Road of the Trials

The road of the trials The Hero has to prove himself worthy and earn the right to achieve transformation . This stage is not a singular moment, it’s a number of steps spread across the second act. The Hero need not necessarily pass these tests but failure will not deter him from completing his quest. They are designed to expose the Hero’s vulnerabilities and prepare him for greater ordeals yet to come. It is common for these tests to come in threes. These tests are to provide knowledge to the Hero, who his friends are, who his enemies are. He implements or takes advantage of the assistance given to him by the Supernatural Aid and to demonstrate how he reacts when he succeeds or fails.

Joseph Campbell broke down the trials into different recurring types of tests and not all Heroes would have to endure all the stages only the ones specific to his journey; Brother battle, Dragon battle, Dismemberment, Crucifixion, Abduction, Night-sea journey, Wonder journey

Brother battle – against a familiar foe which the Hero has some connection or affinity. It involves a dark side of the Hero’s persona and he must placate this Threshold guardian to pass.

Dragon battle – against something completely alien and unknown, a superior force which he has no experience with. He must overcome this Threshold guardian to pass.

Dismemberment and crucifixion – the Hero loses to this Threshold guardian, dismemberment means he loses a part of himself like a limb. Crucifixion means he is slain, publically tortured and left to die. He must give up his old life; accept that it has been destroyed, so he can continue on with the quest.

Abduction – Someone close to the Hero or the Hero himself is abducted and taken away. The decision to go on this journey has been thrust upon him, and he must deal with it.  As the hero chases after the captors he may go on the Night-sea journey.

Night-sea journey – The Hero has to travel a great distance, sometimes overseas or on a long night journey. The Sea is symbolic of a giant barrier between home and your destination. And a night journey is symbolic of things happening with stealth.

Wonder journey – The hero has gone to a special magical place. This world is full of wonder, a stark contrast to his previous mundane existence.

The different types of tests

  • Deadly terrain
  • Monsters
  • Temptations
  • Deadly opposites
  • Journey to the underworld

Terrain The environment, the ground beneath the hero’s feet, it can be hostile because it’s large, dry, wet, lifeless. Whatever it is, it’s difficult and the Hero must get across it.

Monsters A monster is a creature which is not only trying to do someone harm, it also represents something wrong with the natural order. Jaws is a monster, he’s not just a shark, he’s hunting the hero, an animal taking on a human trait. Frankenstein’s monster, Dinosaurs, Alien- the natural order of things out of control.

Temptations Temptations are designed to lure, attract, seduce the Hero into something he shouldn’t be doing, most likely, not completing his quest. They are loaded with the dilemma – is this worth giving up my quest for? The Hero has to make a decision.

Deadly opposites The Hero must navigate a narrow path between two deadly opposing dangers. In Titanic the Hero is shot at and has to run below the deck whilst at the same time avoid death from the sinking ship. A narrow path between killed by a gunshot wound and drowning.

Journey to the Underworld Descend into a place where ‘dead people’ dwell. These dead people can horrify the Hero by representing what will happen to him if he fails. They also have the opportunity to provide information to the hero from people who have gone on the journey and failed.

How to use it in your writing There are twelve points listed here from Joseph Campbell and The Seven Basic Plots by Christopher Booker. Not all of these tests will appear in every story however, a good exercise is to go through your story and list all of the tests your Hero has to overcome. Is it a short list? Is it a non existent list? Can you get anything out of your story by adding or developing any of these stages further? Further reference

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