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In storytelling, the heroine's journey is a female-centric version of the Hero's journey template. Women felt that the Hero's Journey did not fully encompass the journey that a female protagonist goes through in a story.
The heroine's journey came about in 1990 when Maureen Murdock, a Jungian psychotherapist and a student of Joseph Campbell, published a self help book called The Heroine's Journey: Woman's Quest for Wholeness in response to Campbell's Hero's Journey model. She developed the guide while working with her female patients. Murdock stated that the heroine's journey is the healing of the wounding of the feminine that exists deep within her and the culture. Murdock explains, "The feminine journey is about going down deep into soul, healing and reclaiming, while the masculine journey is up and out, to spirit.”
Other authors such as Victoria Lynn Schmidt have created similar versions of the Heroine's Journey based on Murdock's. Schmidt's version changes some stages of Murdock's to help the model fit a bigger range of topics and experiences
Maureen Murdock's version of the heroine's journey
Murdock's model describes the female experience of a psycho-spiritual journey. Murdock proposed a cycle of eight stages. Like the Hero's Journey, these stages are able to be removed and switched around as necessary. It begins with the breaking away from feminine ideals and the turning towards the patriarchal values. Then comes the experience of spiritual death, and turning inward to reclaim the power and spirit of the sacred feminine. The ending stages consist of union of both the masculine and feminine values.
Shift from feminine to masculine
The heroine begins to distance herself from anything deemed feminine. Often it can be portrayed as a mother figure or a traditionally female role in society. The mother will be a representation of everything the heroine hates about her femininity. The mother may also be perfect, causing the heroine to reject her femininity out of feelings of inferiority.
Winkle: "During stage one, the heroine rejects the feminine in favor of the masculine. She may still be tied to the feminine, but she increasingly resents that attachment."
Identification with the masculine
The heroine begins to identify with external masculine values. This can be portrayed as a father figure or a traditionally male role in society. The father will be a representation of freedom from the mother figure. The father would praise the heroine for her strength, but also ridicule her for her femininity. The heroine will leave her feminine values behind completely and embrace the masculine values instead.
Murdock: "This stage involves an Identification with the Masculine, but not one’s inner personal masculinity. Rather, it is the outer patriarchal masculine whose driving force is power. An individual in a patriarchal society is driven to seek control over themselves and others in an inhuman desire for perfection."
Road of trials
Similar to the Hero's Journey, the heroine faces obstacles that lead to character development. These tasks will be related to gaining success, achieving higher status, and empowerment. Contrary to the Hero's Journey, the heroine also struggles with inner conflict. These tasks will be related to conquering preconceived notions of dependency, love, and inferiority.
Winkle: "By stage three, the heroine has faced great trials and emerged victorious. She feels the thrill of success, and her confidence is bolstered by the applause of others. She has built an impressive, masculine reputation."
Experiencing the illusory boon of success
The heroine will overcome the obstacles that she faced. This is usually where the Hero's Journey ends. Upon experiencing success, the heroine will realize she has betrayed her own values in order to achieve the goal. The heroine will feel limited in her new life.
Murdock: "She has achieved everything she set out to do, but it has come at great sacrifice to her soul. Her relationship with her inner world is estranged. She feels oppressed but doesn’t understand the source of her victimization."
The descent/meeting with the goddess
Crisis falls upon the heroine and the masculine traits she has learned fail. The crisis can be death in the family, mental or physical disabilities, or loss of self identity. Here the heroine must reconcile with her feminine side. The heroine meets with a goddess figure, who represents all the positive values of femininity she has left behind. After this meeting, she is inspired to return to femininity.
Yearning for the reconnect
The heroine wants to reconnect to her feminine side and may try to rekindle a bond between her and the mother. She may also try to go back to her previous style of living. However, the heroine will discover that she is not able to return to the old lifestyle she once lived. However, the heroine will see her old values and traits from a different perspective.
Reconciliation with the masculine
Another crisis falls upon the heroine and she must look inward and understand the masculine part of her identity. She will recognize that there are positives and negatives to her masculinity.
Murdock: "The next stage involves Healing the Unrelated or Wounded Aspects of her Masculine Nature as the heroine takes back her negative projections on the men in her life. This involves identifying the parts of herself that have ignored her health and feelings, refused to accept her limits, told her to tough it out, and never let her rest. It also involves becoming aware of the positive aspects of her masculine nature that supports her desire to bring her images into fruition, helps her to speak her truth and own her authority."
In the final stage, the heroine fully accepts and understands both sides of her true nature. She will find balance between both sides and actively work towards keeping that balance.
Murdock: "The heroine must become a spiritual warrior. This demands that she learn the delicate art of balance and have the patience for the slow, subtle integration of the feminine and masculine aspects of her nature."
Victoria Lynn Schmidt's version of the heroine's journey
Victoria Lynn Schmidt wrote two versions of a character's journey: The Feminine and the Masculine Journey. She published her version in 2001 in her book: 45 Master Characters. The most noticeable differences were the circular nature and that the female had to prove herself to herself. Schmidt's version is commonly used in writing as opposed to Murdock's version. Similar to the Hero's Journey, the stages can be interchanged and repeatable.
Illusion of the perfect world
The heroine believes the world she lives in is perfect. She has deluded herself into thinking everything will turn out alright. The heroine may acknowledge that the world isn't ideal, but has some kind of coping mechanism to deal with this fact. These mechanisms may be naivety, denial, or subservience.
A crisis befalls the heroine in which her coping mechanisms fail her and the illusion of the perfect world is shattered. The crisis may be a personal betrayal, realization of the false world view, or her coping mechanisms become unhealthy.
At first, the heroine may not want to accept her current state of being, but will decide to do something about her conflict. She will receive discouragement from others, but she knows she cannot remain in the illusion. The heroine will be searching for external means of help and guidance. The heroine may often bring tools from her perfect world to help her along her journey.
The descent: passing through the gates of judgement
The heroine will experience doubt towards her new lifestyle or identity. To move on, she must give up her tools and let go of the doubts holding her back. This stage can be moved around throughout the journey.
"She may be ashamed of her new identity, guilty about sexual feelings or expression or have fears or shame associated with expressing herself, honoring intuition, or letting go of relationships that aren’t working for her."
Eye of the storm
Similar to Boon of Success, the heroine triumphs for a short period of time. However, this victory serves as a false calm. This stage can be moved around throughout the journey.
"In the true Heroine’s Journey, the heroine may experience momentary but not sustained success because those around her do not want to be led by a woman/women for long, or the men around her begin to undermine her, or after the crisis passes she is left trying to fill multiple roles that are inconsistent or impossible for a single person to fulfill."
All is lost/death
The heroine realizes that her newly learned skills cannot help her and she cannot fall back on her old ways either. The situation around her gets worse and she has no choice but to accept defeat.
The heroine finds support in a person who will help her out. This person can be anyone ranging from a spirit to a goddess to a friend. The heroine accepts the help of the supporter and comes to understand that "being alone is never enough." This stage can be moved around throughout the journey.
Rebirth/moment of truth
Due to the support she has gotten, the heroine finds courage and hope again. She fully understands her place in the world and how she will face her doubts.
"She “awakens” and sees the world and her role in it differently."
Return to a new world
The heroine sees the world as it truly is. She understands herself better and this will change the way she lives her life from then on. This change is more spiritual and internally driven than external.
At the time of publication (1990), Murdock's book was a new concept for the world. It impacted both men and women and was published in seven different languages. However, Joseph Campbell had already rejected the model entirely. The Heroine's Journey was popular with women as many went to her lectures to learn more about the new topic. At one of her lectures, Murdock states, "At Mythic Journeys the feminine journey was being discussed in the basement in a room too small, while the masculine journey was discussed upstairs in the hotel’s Grand Ballroom!" Nowadays, the Heroine's Journey has become more popular as many different versions of the model have been made since Murdock's publication.
Murdock's book was written specifically for women and therapists, therefore it was hard to be used for writing. Murdock used her model to help her patients and has had many lectures to spread her teachings to others. Other versions such as Schmidt's allowed the Heroine's Journey to be more flexible and able to touch upon a number of different topics rather than just a spiritual journey.
Joseph Campbell reportedly said when shown Murdock's model: "Women don’t need to make the journey, they are the place that everyone is trying to get to." Campbell felt that there was no need to have a feminine version of the hero myth because they do not go on the journey. Women were the goal of the hero. It is worth noting that Campbell was examining myths with male heroes in them when he created the Hero's journey.
Heroine's journey in pop culture/literature
- Moana in Disney's Moana 
- Coraline Jones in Coraline 
- Katniss Everdeen in The Hunger Games 
- Dorothy in The Wizard of Oz 
- Rey in The Force Awakens/The Last Jedi 
- Murdock, Mareen (2010). "The Heroine's Journey". Encyclopedia of psychology and religion. New York: Springer. ISBN 9780387718026. OCLC 567352938.
- Davis, Mary (2005). "Maureen Murdock" (PDF). Jung Society of Atlanta. Retrieved 2019-04-02.
- "Victoria Lynn Schmidt's Heroine's Journey Arc". The Heroine Journeys Project. 2015-03-19. Retrieved 2019-04-03.
- Wrinkle, Chris (2014-09-26). "Using the Heroine's Journey". www.mythcreants.com. Retrieved 2019-04-02.
- "Maureen Murdock's Heroine's Journey Arc". The Heroine Journeys Project. 2015-02-12. Retrieved 2019-04-03.
- Paton, Carla (2017-05-24). "How to Rescue Your Heroine's Unique Character Arc". The Writing Cooperative. Retrieved 2019-04-21.
- "The Heroine's Journey Narrative Structure". Word Hunter. 2015-10-26. Retrieved 2019-04-03.
- "Heroine's Journey | Valerie Estelle Frankel's Pop Culture Blog". Retrieved 2019-04-26.
- Miyamoto, Ken (2017-06-19). "Why Screenwriters Should Embrace The Heroine's Journey". ScreenCraft. Retrieved 2019-04-26.