How does The Lord of the Rings: The Fellowship of the Ring follow Joseph Campbell’s Hero’s Journey breakdown?
Welcome to another installment of our new series A Hero’s Journey Breakdown where we explore Joseph Campbell’s mythological storytelling structure and how iconic films fit into that mold.
Christopher Vogler’s approach to Campbell’s structure broke the mythical story structure into twelve stages. For this series, we define the stages in simplified interpretations:
- The Ordinary World: We see the hero’s normal life at the start of the story before the adventure begins.
- Call to Adventure: The hero is faced with an event, conflict, problem, or challenge that makes them begin their adventure.
- Refusal of the Call: The hero initially refuses the adventure because of hesitation, fears, insecurity, or any other number of issues.
- Meeting the Mentor: The hero encounters a mentor that can give them advice, wisdom, information, or items that ready them for the journey ahead.
- Crossing the Threshold: The hero leaves their ordinary world for the first time and crosses the threshold into adventure.
- Tests, Allies, and Enemies: The hero learns the rules of the new world and endures tests, meets friends, and comes face-to-face with enemies.
- The Approach: The initial plan to take on the central conflict begins, but setbacks occur that cause the hero to try a new approach or adopt new ideas.
- The Ordeal: Things go wrong and added conflict is introduced. The hero experiences more difficult hurdles and obstacles, some of which may lead to a life crisis.
- The Reward: After surviving The Ordeal, the hero seizes the sword — a reward that they’ve earned that allows them to take on the biggest conflict. It may be a physical item or piece of knowledge or wisdom that will help them persevere.
- The Road Back: The hero sees the light at the end of the tunnel, but they are about to face even more tests and challenges.
- The Resurrection: The climax. The hero faces a final test, using everything they have learned to take on the conflict once and for all.
- The Return: The hero brings their knowledge or the “elixir” back to the ordinary world.
Here we turn to Peter Jackson’s The Lord of the Rings: The Fellowship of the Ring. This breakdown is unique because the whole journey of the hero (Frodo) is told throughout the course of three films. However, The Hero’s Journey can still be applied to the first installment.
Note: As with any application of story structure or formula, this is just a hindsight interpretation and implementation of The Hero’s Journey to this cinematic tale. There can and will be variances.
The Ordinary World
Frodo Baggins is living in the peaceful Shire amongst a village of Hobbits, including his uncle Bilbo and his trusted friend Sam. His good friend Gandalf enters the Shire to celebrate his uncle’s birthday, leading to a fun celebration.
Call to Adventure
Frodo is called to adventure by Gandalf when Gandalf entrusts him with the One Ring after Bilbo leaves the Shire.
Gandalf first asks Frodo to keep the Ring in this possession until he returns. He then returns to the Shire and asks Frodo if the ring is still safe. It is.
Gandalf then requests that Frodo take the Ring to out of the Shire.
Refusal of the Call
Frodo refuses the call to adventure at first, not believing that a simple Hobbit, like himself, can be entrusted. This Refusal of the Call is repeated throughout his journey as he tries to relinquish the responsibility by offering it to Gandalf, Galadriel, and Aragorn.
Crossing the Threshold
Frodo and Sam cross out of the Shire.
Tests, Allies, and Enemies
Frodo and his Hobbit friends face the Ring Wraiths for the first time on their way to meet with Gandalf at Bree.
They survive and manage to make it to Bree.
It’s there that they meet Strider, who will later be revealed as Aragorn.
With Strider’s help, they manage to escape the Ring Wraiths once again.
Frodo is later tested after he has survived what was thought to be a mortal wound. He’s rushed to Rivendell and later reunited with his friends, including Gandalf.
Frodo finally takes on full responsibility as the Ring Bearer. He meets new allies as the Fellowship is formed.
The Fellowship struggles to survive the journey through the mountains but is forced into the Mines of Moria. Frodo and Gandalf discuss Gollum and the dangers of the Ring.
The orcs are alerted to the presence of the Fellowship within Moria. Frodo and his friends are forced to fend off hundreds, if not thousands, of orcs — as well as a cave troll. They defeat the cave troll and just as the orcs are about to overrun them, their numbers are scattered as the Balrog appears.
Gandalf fights the Balrog and casts him into a chasm. However, the Balrog drags Gandalf down with him to his apparent death.
Frodo and the rest of the Fellowship mourn the loss of Gandalf.
The Fellowship, now led by Aragorn, reaches Lothlórien, home to elves Galadriel and Celeborn. Galadriel tells Frodo that only he can complete the quest. She then tells him that that one of the Fellowship will try to take the ring from him.
The Fellowship is rewarded with its own bravery for surviving The Ordeal in Moria. But it’s Frodo that receives the knowledge he needs to complete his quest. He knows that only he can take the Ring to where it needs to be destroyed — and that one of his friends will betray him for the Ring.
The Road Back
Saruman has created an army of Uruk-hai to hunt down and kill the Fellowship. Meanwhile, the Fellowship has left Lothlórien by the river.
Frodo wanders off on his own and is later confronted by Boromir. Boromir, seduced by the power of the Ring, tries to take it from Frodo. Frodo escapes.
Frodo realizes that he must travel to Mordor alone. He will no longer be part of The Fellowship.
The others are ambushed by the Uruk-hai.
Merry and Pippin are taken captive, and Boromir is mortally wounded by the Uruk chieftain, Lurtz. Aragorn appears just in time to kill Lurtz. Boromir dies in Aragorn’s arms.
Sam arrives at the shore as Frodo floats away in a boat. Frodo looks on with longing eyes, knowing that he must go on this adventure alone. However, Sam is having nothing of it. Despite not being able to swim, Sam lunges himself into the river in pursuit of his friend.
When Frodo pulls Sam up into the boat, they’re reunited. We’ve returned to where the adventure started — with Sam and Frodo venturing off on an adventure.
Meanwhile, Aragorn, Legolas, and Gimli go to rescue Merry and Pippin, understanding that it’s Frodo’s destiny to take the Ring alone (and with his dear friend Sam).
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