Heroine’s Journey at Midlife

heroine In further exploring my writers’ craft, I recently listened to a video interview between Jerry Jenkins and Gloria Kempton in which Gloria spoke of the Hero’s Journey. A few days later, at the library, a title popped out at me, “The Writer’s Journey: Mythic Structure for Writers” by Christopher Vogler – so I checked it out and ended up skimming through each chapter, pulling key points, from what was otherwise a quite dense read. This hero’s journey is rooted in the work of Joseph Campbell.

According to Joseph Campbell, professor of comparative mythology and comparative religions, “A hero ventures forth from the world of common day into a region of supernatural wonder: fabulous forces are there encountered, and a decisive victory is won: the hero comes back from this mysterious adventure with the power to bestow boons on his fellow man.” [Joseph Campbell. The Hero with a Thousand Faces. Princeton: Princeton University Press, 1968, p. 30 / Novato, California: New World Library, 2008, p. 23.]

The concept has been applied to literature and film for decades, with variations of interpretation but the key elements are outlined in 12 stages:

  1. Start in ordinary world – going about business.
  2. Call to adventure into special world.
  3. Refusing the call.
  4. Meeting with mentor.
  5. Crossing the threshold.
  6. Meeting allies and enemies.
  7. Approach to inmost cave (crisis scene).
  8. Ordeal – biggest challenge or threat.
  9. Reward after ordeal – gift or wisdom.
  10. Road back home to self – finding the tribe.
  11. Prove we’ve been transformed.
  12. Return with elixir – come back to share with those around us.

During the same timeframe, I kept hearing news reporters referring to individuals in their stories as heroes – often for actions that didn’t strike me as particularly ‘hero’ worthy.

Encountering these references to heroes, and the idea of this ‘hero’s journey’ had me wondering why? Why do the hero and the journey keep popping into my consciousness? Is this only about helping to shape my fiction writing? Or is there another reason – what is the point of this synchronicity?

One day, it struck me: Isn’t the journey into and through midlife all about the hero’s journey? Do we all go through it? Or is the hero’s journey reserved for larger-than-life individuals?

I decided to explore a bit more deeply, first with a simple dictionary search.

Merriam Webster dictionary defines the hero as:

  • a mythological or legendary figure often of divine descent endowed with great strength or ability
  • a person admired for achievements and noble qualities
  • one who shows great courage

Wikipedia defines a hero as one who, “in the face of danger, combats adversity through feats of ingenuity, bravery or strength.”

Words and phrases jumped out: endowed with great strength, admired for achievements, noble qualities, great courage, ingenuity, bravery.

A voice in my head screamed at me – doesn’t this sum up midlife? Don’t so many women experience this journey as they work to find their voice, honor their gifts and talents, and pass on their life lessons to others?

With a bit more of an internet search, I happened upon plenty of websites that discuss the hero’s journey from a feminine perspective.

The Heroine’s Journey Project presents Maureen Murdock, student of Campbell, who charted an alternative narrative paradigm to better mirror a woman’s life journey. Murdock’s 10-stage model, described in The Heroine’s Journey: Woman’s Quest for Wholeness, are:

  1. Heroine separates from the feminine.
  2. Identification with the masculine and gathering of allies.
  3. Road or trials and meeting ogres and dragons.
  4. Experiencing the boon of success.
  5. Heroine awakens to feelings of spiritual aridity / death.
  6. Initiation and descent to the goddess.
  7. Heroine urgently yearns to reconnect with the feminine but cannot.
  8. Heroine heals the mother/ daughter split.
  9. Heroine heals the wounded masculine within.
  10. Heroine integrates the masculine and feminine.

They also present Victoria Lynn Schmidt’s approach from 45 Master Characters: Mythic Models for Creating Original Characters. She distinguishes the Heroine’s Journey with 9 stages:

  1. Illusion of the perfect world.
  2. Betrayal or disillusionment.
  3. The awakening and preparing for the journey.
  4. The descent– passing the gates of judgment.
  5. The eye of the storm.
  6. Death/all is lost.
  7. Support.
  8. Rebirth/moment of truth.
  9. Return to a world seen through new eyes.

With definite similarities, I believe that they also have distinct differences that are worth exploring. So, I’ve decided to take the next 12 weeks to explore the different stages of Joseph Campbell, Maureen Murdock, and Victoria Lynn Schmidt in relation to how a woman finds her voice, learns to be content, and shares joy.

I don’t know where the journey will take me, but I hope you’ll join me for this 12-week series – as we finish up 2018 and head into 2019, each on a journey of our own.



  1. love – Love – LOVE this idea! I have also done dictionary searches for words that continue to “pop up” in my life. I have searched “journey” as it pertains to keeping a journal. I look forward to seeing how this familiar writing formula can be applied to this stage of my life. And I have a feeling I will be journaling through the process each week 🙂


    • Molly – so happy that you are interested in this topic — we’ll see if I can pull off an interesting, thought-provoking series. I look forward to your comments and insights along the way. Thanks for joining the conversation!


  2. “in the face of danger, combats adversity through feats of ingenuity, bravery or strength.” ~ So many women are unsung heroes. I’ve skimmed over Joseph Campbell’s work yet found it to be very deep. I remember ‘Follow your bliss” and that stayed with me to my advantage. I’m looking forward to see where this series goes Janet. 🙂


  3. Oh yeah, I’ll be following along. Your own words of “find their voice, honor their gifts and talents, and pass on their life lessons to others” really resonated with me as to the feminine mid-life journey I am on! I’m curious to see how you take the very esoteric (dragons, ogres, goddesses, gates of judgement, and eye of the storm) into practical and real.


  4. There’s a lot here to think about Mary Lou. I’m looking forward to seeing where this journey takes you and the insights you will share with us–about your writing and life in general.


  5. What a great idea! I’d never thought of this as applying to midlife, but it makes sense that it does – after all, aren’t we the hero of our own journey? Look forward to following along.


  6. I missed this post when it first came out, I came back to it after reading your Step One post. Interesting, I’m fascinated by the hero (Ine) journey. Especially Joseph Campbell’s because George Lucas used this framework to create Star Wars. Just reading the steps brings me through the steps of the movies. And other great adventures like the Lord of the Rings and Narnia all follow this concept. But, never before have I thought to look at my own life through the same stages. Much to ponder.


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