The Hero’s Journey
The concept of the hero’s journey began with Joseph Campbell, who in 1949 wrote the widely known treatise The Hero with a Thousand Faces. Campbell studied stories, religions, and mythologies from diverse cultures around the world, and in this book he argued that many of these stories have common themes and structures. In particular he identified what he called the monomyth (later renamed the “hero’s journey" by other writers), which describes the kind of heroic journey he saw appear in mythology over and over again. This journey was made up of a series of stages the hero must complete, such as a miraculous birth, a series of trials, and a death and rebirth (literally or metaphorically).
Many more modern novels and movies follow a format similar to the hero’s journey. Star Wars is one famous example—director George Lucas used Campbell’s work and findings when creating the plot for his now famous series of films. Ender’s Game, Orson Scott Card’s well-known psychological science fiction novel, also closely follows the traditional hero’s journey. As we watch young Ender enter Battle School and prepare to fight humanity’s worst enemy, while at the same time dealing with his own inner demons, we are seeing the kind of epic quest that has been replayed over and over in many cultures and time periods.
Scholars and followers of Campbell have developed several different forms of the hero’s journey, and not all include the same stages. What follows are some of the most central and important parts of the journey, and the ones best illustrated by Ender’s Game. Each stage is described, and its relevance to Ender is explained. These stages carry us from the beginning of the story all the way through to the end, so this article contains spoilers for those who haven’t read the book. It will be most useful to those who have read it, hopefully shedding new light on the novel’s complex structure of events.