Discussion Post

;the hero’s journey vs. the heroine’s journey

A few years ago, I did my Masters in Creative Writing, and as part of it, had to break down the tropes and pitfalls present in the fantasy genre – the genre I was writing in – for it. I never thought of presenting that on the blog, but a while back, I was thinking on it again. And I thought, why not?

Did you know that there is a difference between the Hero’s journey and the Heroine’s journey? Until I started this research, I sure didn’t!

The traditional Hero’s Journey is when the (generally) male protagonist is called upon to act in a secondary world, usually of strange powers and events, whereupon he usually receives some supernatural aid, often in the form of a magical advisor or mentor, in order to face some trials and tests.

Sound familiar?

We see this in so many fantasy movies and TV shows, up to and including the Harry Potter series. One thing that sticks out is that the protagonist often rejects inner exploration in favour of external.

“His journey ends with questioning authority and his role in society, and by finding his authentic self.” – Joseph Campbell, The Hero With A Thousand Faces (1949)

On the other hand, the Heroine’s journey is largely one of self-reflection throughout the external journey.

“The feminine journey is a journey in which the hero gathers the courage to face death and endure the transformation toward being reborn as a complete being in charge of her own life.

Her journey starts by questioning authority, then gaining the courage to stand up for herself, and finally embodying the willingness to go it alone and face her own symbolic death.” – Victoria Schmidt, 45 Master Characters (2001)

The stages of the Heroine’s Journey can be divided into three acts:

  • Act 1, The Illusion of a Perfect World; the Betrayal or Realization; the Awakening or Preparing for the Journey
  • Act 2, the Descent or Passing through the Gates of Judgement; the Eye of the Storm; Death or where All is Lost
  • Act 3, Support; Rebirth or the Moment of Truth; and finally, Full Circle or the Return to a Perfect World.

How many of the YA novels we read reflect some of this? The more I think about it, the more I can see it. In my thesis, I did break down the approach to this in TV shows and movies, but I won’t do that here.

Despite the titles of these journeys, the protagonists can be of any gender (or no gender). Both stories in a way can be seen as a coming-of-age.

However, I’ll be frank. The mainstream media reflects that the Hero’s Journey appeals more to a masculine audience, while a Heroine’s Journey can appeal to both masculine and feminine audiences. Where a Hero’s Journey is commonly showcased in film and television and prose alike, a Heroine’s Journey is not as widely acknowledged or appealing – just see how people react to YA stories!

Many people do not realize that there are other archetypes beyond the Hero’s in storytelling. A growth in character, a realization of inner strength, is more applicable across the board, but less acknowledged as important in the coming of age story.

What are some of your favourite stories that may reflect these archetypes and journeys?

I’m Ara, a Southeast Asian writer who someday hopes to have published a novel, and who is currently losing herself in the worlds created by others. I love books and food and television and blogging and I get distracted and sidetracked easily.

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