I was first introduced to the story pattern of the Hero’s Journey when I took a screenwriting course in college and read The Writer’s Journey which uses the Hero’s Journey concept to help storytellers create their story. The Hero’s Journey describes the stages the main character (the hero or heroine) goes through in nearly every story in existence from plays to books to film.
The Hero’s Journey can also relate to our own personal lives and the lives of those around us. In fact, using the Hero’s Journey a person can find inspiration to create their own extraordinary life story.
But this is not a post about you or me. It’s not about creating or bringing meaning to our own story. Instead, it’s about the journey that first time campers take, how they go through the stages of a hero’s journey. The next post will be about how we can enhance that journey and help our young heroes and heroines to grow and become better people through this experience we call summer camp.
Stage 1 – Ordinary World
Every Hero starts off in the mundane world. They go to school, participate in activities, etc. But many times they have this feeling that something is missing, that there is more out there. Most kids have this sense of adventure and exploration that isn’t met at school or in the city. With dangers all around, parents don’t allow their children to stay out of the house and explore their surroundings like they used to years ago. That sense of adventure stays inside them, laying dormant.
Stage 2 – The Call to Adventure
In every Hero’s journey there is a moment when they get the Call to Adventure. For future campers they may hear about camp from an enthusiastic friend or from their parent who has sent away for a brochure. Some kids may have found information online. No matter how they found out about camp, they have been Called to this new Adventure that awaits them and all the exciting opportunities it brings.
Stage 3 – Refusal of the Call
Now, our Hero, our future camper, has heard the Call to Adventure but is nervous about it. There are so many unknowns; will I make friends, will I have to shower with others, I’ll miss home, what if I don’t like it, will there be spiders in the cabin, will the other kids make fun of my snoring, will I like the food, are there bears, etc. This new adventure can be exciting but it can also be dangerous (and possibly life threatening). It wouldn’t be a real adventure otherwise. Our Hero is refusing the Call to Adventure.
Here is where I change the pattern of the Hero’s Journey a bit. In the classic version the Hero meets a Mentor that guides him or her to heed the Call to Adventure. So step 4 would be Meeting with the Mentor. Step 5 is Crossing the Threshold where our Hero commits to the Adventure. In my structure, those two steps are reversed, as the Mentor in this typical scenario is the camp counselor that helps our Heroes and Heroines through the tests of the Journey.
Now back to our story…
Stage 4 – Crossing the Threshold
Our Hero is now encouraged to answer the Call by parents, other family members, friends and even camp videos. Through this encouragement many children finally decide to commit to the Journey. They are going to camp. This commitment leads to all kinds of feelings and emotions. The camp fee has been paid and our Hero is gathering his/her gear for this Adventure (sleeping bag, toiletries, camera, clothes, etc.) and the feeling of excitement mixes with dread and anxiety. But our Hero must have courage (taking action in the face of fear). They must go forward. And our Hero does. They take the drive to camp and cross the Threshold onto the camp property where there are new sounds and sights. This is an unfamiliar place that is scary. Our Hero is committed though.
Stage 5 – Meeting with the Mentor
Now our Hero meets their Mentor, the camp counselor. The Mentor is confident, wise and protective. The Mentor knows that our Hero must face challenges during this Adventure but is there to help guide them through. The Mentor understands that our Hero will have to stretch him or herself, that they will grow through this experience.
While the Mentor may want to shield our Hero from adversity by letting them sit out of the challenges a camper faces (community living, camp competitions, high ropes course, swimming, performing, etc.) they also are wise enough to know that these challenges, these trials, are important to the Hero’s Journey.
Stage 6 – Tests, Allies and Enemies
Our Hero will face tests during this Journey. Our Hero may not know it but he/she is on a Journey for Treasure. That Treasure is completion of the Journey. It’s like a treasure chest filled with all the experiences, personal growth, relationships and memories that the Journey brings. But no treasure is worth having if there aren’t obstacles, challenges, tests, adversity.
The good news is that our Hero will not only have a Mentor but also Allies that will help our Hero get through it all. If our Hero goes to the pool for swim instruction their Ally will be the swim instructor. On the archery range it’s the archery instructor. Our Hero also has a cabin or group full of Allies (and possibly a few Enemies, which is also part of the Journey). These peer Allies will be important when it comes to camp competitions, ropes courses and team building, performing skits and evening activities such as camp dances.
Stage 7 – Approach to the Innermost Cave
On the first day of camp our Hero has met their Mentor and Allies, heard about the upcoming tests and challenges and have possibly met some Enemies (bullies, inner fear, bad food). At some point during the Journey our Hero will venture into the Innermost Cave, the darkest place they can imagine, the ultimate test. For many first time campers at resident (sleep-away) camp that Cave is night-time where they will face their worst enemy – homesickness. As night approaches our Hero feels a knot growing in the pit of their stomach. They begin to think about home and mom and the safety of their rooms. Even their little brother, who they fight with constantly, is being missed right now. If our Hero has not created Allies, or has created more Enemies than Allies at this point, then homesickness will be strong.
For other campers the Innermost Cave can be the fear of heights on a ropes course, the fear of drowning in the pool, the fear of body image teasing when in the community shower, the fear of not making friends, the fear of being made fun of or losing a camp challenge.
Stage 8 – The Ordeal
Our Hero must now deal with their fear. Hopefully the Mentor has recognized that our Hero is in the Cave facing his or her ultimate camp fear and is able to give our Hero advice on how to deal with it. Allies can also be a big part of getting through the Cave. For example, if our Hero has a fear of heights then his/her Allies will encourage our Hero to persevere as our Mentor gives clear, calm instructions. If our Hero does not face his/her demons then the Treasure may be lost to them. If homesickness leads to the parents taking our Hero home, if our Hero never leaves the ground at the high ropes course, if fear keeps our Hero from entering the water, then the memory of the Journey will be tainted, the sense of accomplishment will be lost, our Hero will not have stretched himself/herself and will have the hole in their soul to prove it. They MUST accomplish the task.
Stage 9 – Reward
Our Hero has conquered the fear, climbed the mountain, seized the sword, vanquished the dragon. They have emerged from their Ordeal. This was their initiation. They should now be recognized as special, a part of the select few that have conquered their fear. Now is the time for celebration. This may be an ending campfire, a group celebration of cheers and whoops, a token or trophy of their accomplishment or even a proud look from a mentor.
Stage 10 – The Road Back
Our Hero has done it – gone through all the experiences camp has to offer (and then some). The Treasure has been earned. Camp is over. Now it is time for our Hero to leave this Special World and return to the Ordinary World. But our Hero is not the same person they used to be. The Journey has strengthened them. Camp is no longer an unknown and scary place. It is a place of wonder filled with friends and Allies – a place where our Hero has learned that he or she can be courageous and do things they didn’t think possible. It is a place that taught them they could be without electronics, a place they found independence, a place they stretched and grew.
Stag 11 – Resurrection
But the story does not end there. Now that our Hero is home they must cope with a new Ordeal – the Ordinary World. The excitement fades as the Special World is out of sight. Our Hero wants to return to the place of wonder, but they cannot. They have left a place of acceptance, encouragement, love, peace, challenge and accomplishment only to return to a harsh reality. This separation anxiety is tough for many Heroes. Their new friends and Allies are missed, as is the Mentor who guided them through so much.
Camp is a place where kids can be someone else, someone better. They can start fresh. When they come home they return to the people who know them and their weaknesses. These people (family and hometown friends) weren’t there to see the strength our Hero used and the accomplishments our Hero made.
This is a time of rebirth, where our Hero sheds the personality of camp and builds a new one suitable for the Ordinary World, taking the lessons they learned on their Journey and fusing that with the best parts of their old selves – like a Phoenix rising from the ashes.
Stage 12 – Return with The Elixer
Now that our Hero has returned to the Ordinary Life and has resurrected into their new selves they bring back with them the Elixer – stories, pictures, mementos of their Journey, their Adventure, that they can share with others. This may inspire friends to go on journeys of their own. This may be the Call of Adventure for others that hear our Hero’s tales. The Elixer is the final part of our Hero’s Journey. It is the proof that our Hero was there, that he or she vanquished the dragon showing all others what is possible and that it is a Journey worth taking.
Once everyone back home has heard the tales our Hero has brought back – the time is right to plan the next journey.
Click Here to find out how your camp can take this idea of a Hero’s Journey and create a better camp experience.