The Villain’s Journey

Joseph Campbell defined the journey of the hero in his seminal work "Hero With a Thousand Faces." That journey includes several steps, each of which you, as the villain, play an important role in.

  1. The Hero's JourneyThe call to adventure
  2. The refusal
  3. Meeting the Mentor
  4. Crossing the Threshold
  5. Tests, Allies and Enemies
  6. Ordeal, death and rebirth
  7. Reward
  8. The Road Back
  9. Resurrection
  10. Return with the Boon

With this path in mind, let us focus on the Villain’s journey and it’s relationship to the Hero.

The Evil Plan

As the villain in the play of life, your role is to bring blight to the world. This is crucial so that the hero can clearly hear his Call to Adventure.

Movie poster showing the head of a man on the top right looking to the left. At the center of the image is a man wearing a raincoat, as the film's title overlaps him. At the bottom of the image is the head of another man looking to the right. Cracks are shown across the image. Text at the top and bottom of the image lists the starring roles, the credits, and tagline.In the movie Unbreakable, the villain, Elija Price stages a series of horrific disasters including a train derailment looking for the lone survivor. His deeds make it possible for the hero to arise as the lone survivor of the train crash that killed 131 others.

Our plan is to take from and hide the thing that the hero most desires. It may be freedom, security, loyalty, or trust. They seek it and we must keep it from them.

We don’ need to work hard at our evil plan. It is often within our nature. Our own fears and neuroses will manifest the plan in theft, addiction, infidelity or abuse. You must understand the nature of your particular plan. Self examination and brutal honesty are critical components.

Your hero may refuse the Call to Adventure. This is part of the process. Your innate role will eventually draw them out.

Establishing a Place of Trust

The hero, often still not clear of their role or yours, will begin to suspect something. Others will see it clearly, but the hero does not. They are usually someone close: a spouse, business partner, sibling, neighbor, son or daughter.

For your plan to unfold, you must place yourself in a position of trust.

However, a mentor will engage the hero. They will begin to open their eyes. This mentor will give them the important tools – the "Magical Help" – that will be key if they are to complete their journey.

The mentor will also point them to the threshold that begins their epic battle with you.

On occasion, you may find yourself playing the mentor, guiding the hero to the ensuing conflict. This was the case in "Unbreakable."

Pushing the Hero through the Threshold

While you may believe that lying is a key tool of the villain, truth is actually the most important tool. Lies eat at our strength. They unravel unexpectedly. At the right time, the discovery of a truth about your plan will push the hero through a threshold into a world they see only as alien.

Their carefully crafted self-denial will drop away. They will begin to see the world for what it is, and it will appear strange and disorienting.

You will bring this about through your acting out. You may be caught in the act of committing your dastardly crimes, but the hero will not know the extent of your betrayal. Yet.

Creating Tests and Trials

As the hero struggles to understand what has happened to shake their world, they will move to uncover your deceptions. As part of your evil plan, you will have put blocks in their way. Your fear will move you to find allies to unwittingly help you foil the hero’s advances.

You will claim to be the injured one. You will finger scapegoats. You will put legal and procedural barriers in the way. You will turn friends and children against your spouse.

All of this tests the merit and resolve of the hero. It weakens them. It will be the magical help of their mentor that will get them through.

Revealing the Truth

Finally, when you stand face-to-face with the hero in the climactic battle of your life’s journey, you will reveal to them the total truth. You will unveil the full extent of your plan.

In the movies, this is where the villain monologues, where all is revealed. The classic example is Darth Vader, revealing to the trapped and injured Luke Skywalker that he was his father.

Without this full revelation, the hero-villain conflict goes on. This serves neither of you.

At the right time, you will reveal all, and the hero will be destroyed. Allies fall. Their magical help is ineffective.

All of their beliefs and understanding of life as they imagined it are gone. The devastation of truth allows them to see the world as it really is, as  their false self dissolves.

What remains is a new person, the resurrected hero. The conflict has stripped away all remnants of the old world and has revealed a stronger foe, a foe that will ultimately destroy us.

Revealing our Weakness

At the time when the hero is re-emerging from their destruction, we, as the villain, are obligated to overplay our hand. In a moment of "weakness" we may have compassion for our hero. We may let feelings of regret and shame overcome us. Our plan suddenly seems too much. We can’t really believe what we’ve done.

The newborn hero holds a mirror up to us and reveals us for who we really are. When we look away in horror, we reveal our weakness. It can be anything, but it is what we fear most.

The hero will reveal it to us and use it to complete their journey by destroying us.

Self Destruction

This is our ultimate destination on our path. For we, as villains, seek self-destruction. We must be dashed against the rocks, all of our plans revealed and foiled.

In this sense, we have the same destination as our hero: To strip away the false world we see, a world that requires us to hide our true selves and take from others so that we do not have to face our fear.

Giving up the Boon

In the final catharsis, the hero takes what we have been withholding from them. They regain the trust, the freedom, the happiness which they can bring back into the world and share with others.

They set the example for others. They become the mentors for future heroes whose journey will be made in lock-step with another villain.

At this point we have completed our duty. While the hero returns to glory, we sit in ruins.

At this point we have a final choice.

The Choice

Upon our destruction, we have a choice. We can sneak away to exile and bide our time waiting for another chance to engage in our villainous ways; or we can look deeply into ourselves and see what is being withheld from us.

The choice to heal allows us to prepare for our own calling and to begin the hero’s journey for ourselves. We can return to the world and hope that we will be called to wrestle with the villains in our lives and psyches.

Whatever our choice, the cycle begins again.

– Dorian


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