March 26, 2012

back to basics: the hero's journey, stage nine

Continuing with the series on the Hero’s Journey, today we’re going to talk about stage nine of the mythic structure: the Reward. To see all the posts I’ve done so far, check out the “writing help” navigation tab at the top of the page.

Now that the hero has defeated the villain (or somewhat), he must reap the Reward. This stage deals with the consequences of surviving death, which is a big event for the hero. Following the defeat (or somewhat) of the big baddie, there will be a period of time in which the hero is recognized or rewarded for having survived the Ordeal. It’s a time for celebration. They’ve killed the baddie, and now they can enjoy their fruits of victory. Strength is needed for the return journey, so the Reward may be a time for rest, recuperation, and refueling. The heroes may brag about what they’ve done, relieved that the worst is over. It’s also a time for reflection. Having crossed into that strange territory of death, the hero can never be the same. For the reader, these scenes allow a moment for them to catch their breath after the ordeal. It is also a good time to get to know the characters better, and understand them more emotionally.

One of the most important aspects of this stage is the hero taking possession of whatever he came seeking. The hero takes possession of the magic sword, the lost treasure, the top secret file, the damsel, or whatever it may be. The hero has risked death or sacrificed life, and now he gets something in return… equivalent exchange. Most often, the Reward is a physical object, also giving this stage the name of Seizing the Sword, in Joseph Campbell’s outline. The idea of a hero Seizing the Sword comes from classic mythology and folklore in which heroes battle dragons and take their treasure.

But the Reward can also be experience, new perception, or an initiation in to a select group of people. The hero may gain supernatural power or something else of value. It may be peace after a time of war, or the safety of a threatened race or country. Other times, the Reward may be more of a consequence. Maybe the hero has upset the balance, angering other forces that he has yet to face.

Now, as I said in the last post, the Ordeal is not necessarily the climax. The hero may have to face a second ordeal before they can reap the reward and return home.

When Tristan Thorne faces the three witches in Stardust, his prize is Yvaine and the ruby that designates him the King of Stormhold. Harry takes the Sorcerer’s Stone from the Mirror of Erised (Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s Stone). Bilbo seizes the One Ring (The Hobbit). Ariel is turned into a human by her father (The Little Mermaid). Rapunzel remembers who her parents are (Tangled).

Facing death has life-changing consequences. Once the hero has appreciated the Reward of the ordeal, they must turn back to the quest. They might not have defeated the villain, who they are sure to face again before the end (yet another Ordeal). And they still have to get home, after all.

If you have any questions about the Hero’s Journey, don’t hesitate to ask. I know a lot more about it than I’ve said here, and I would be happy to clear anything up, if you need me to. This is a rather general overview, since I don’t want you guys to have to read insanely long posts, but if you would like a more in depth analysis as it pertains to writing, check out The Writer’s Journey: Mythic Structure for Writers by Christopher Vogler. If you are just interested in the Hero’s Journey in itself, check out A Hero With A Thousand Faces by Joseph Campbell.

What examples of the Reward can you think of from books or films you’ve experienced lately?


  1. I'm thinking of The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe. After defeating the White Witch, the sons of Adam and daughters of Eve accepted their seats as the kings and queens of Narnia. That seems an ample reward.

    1. Good example, Angela. The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe follows the Hero's Journey almost to a T. I'll definitely have to look into it further when I turn this series into a book. Seems like it would be a good one to do a full analysis of. Thanks!