Study Guide

Pan's Labyrinth Hero's Journey

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Hero's Journey

Ever notice that every blockbuster movie has the same fundamental pieces? A hero, a journey, some conflicts to muck it all up, a reward, and the hero returning home and everybody applauding his or her swag? Yeah, scholar Joseph Campbell noticed first—in 1949. He wrote The Hero with a Thousand Faces, in which he outlined the 17 stages of a mythological hero's journey.

About half a century later, Christopher Vogler condensed those stages down to 12 in an attempt to show Hollywood how every story ever written should—and, uh, does—follow Campbell's pattern. We're working with those 12 stages, so take a look. (P.S. Want more? We have an entire Online Course devoted to the hero's journey.)

Ordinary World

Ordinary life for Ofelia isn't so hot. In fact, it's pretty frigid. Having just moved to Vidal's estate with her mother, Ofelia is feeling frightened by all the change, the scary nighttime sounds, and especially her intimidating stepfather.

Besides, in the ordinary world she's supposed to just stay out of the way and wear pretty dresses. It doesn't sound like much fun.

Call To Adventure

Ofelia's call to adventure comes in the form of a fairy, which in turn comes in the form of a bug. Seeing the magical being transform from hideous to cute in front of her, she can't help but follow it as it leads her outside of the house and into the night.

Refusal Of The Call

Ofelia never really refuses the call. In fact, quite the opposite is true: she's drawn toward it.

Actually, it may be the case that the call to adventure is of her own devising; she wants to escape the ordinary world and, despite the dangers of the creepy labyrinth, she never turns back.

Meeting The Mentor

Well, to say the Faun is a mentor is stretching things a bit. Specifically, it's stretching the idea that the mentor is always an 100% pleasant figure.

At times he seems sweet and nurturing and at other times we're just positive he's out to get her. Either way, it's the Faun who gives her the book and helps guide her through the tasks that lead her back to her true home—even if he is a bit hard on her at times.

Crossing The Threshold

Ofelia crosses the threshold when she accepts the book from the Faun and begins her first task. This is when she officially leaves the mortal realm and enters the world of the fantastical, though it may not be everything she expected.

Tests, Allies, Enemies

Ofelia's tests are super straightforward, in typical fairytale fashion. In typical fairytale fashion, they're basically described as, well, tests.

She has to feed three magic stones to the toad, take the dagger from the room with the Pale Man, and bring her brother to the Labyrinth so innocent blood can be spilled. Of course, after the toad things get a bit complicated, but we'll get there in a moment.

This stage also takes place in part in the real world, as Ofelia learns she can trust Mercedes and the Doctor. She learns their secret but doesn't say anything.

Approach To The Inmost Cave

The Pale Man trial is Ofelia's approach to the cave. It would have been easy if it weren't for those delicious looking grapes and the fact that Ofelia was too hangry to resist them. 

But when the Faun finds out that she touched the food and two of his fairies were eaten, he ends her tests and tells her she has just lost her chance of becoming the princess she was and rejoining her immortal family.



Ofelia's ordeal is her mother's death. And it doesn't get much worse than that for an eleven-year-old kid.

After the destruction of the mandrake, which her mother throws into the fire, she has a difficult pregnancy and passes away. Now Ofelia just has her infant brother and terrifying stepfather at the estate. This ordeal doesn't strengthen her, it just pushes her down further in defeat: a real world tragedy to match her fairy world failure.

Reward (Seizing The Sword)

Ofelia's reward—not for failing with the mandrake root or the Pale Man, but for trusting Mercedes—is a chance to flee the estate for good and go live with the rebels. One night, Mercedes grabs her and the two begin to sneak out of the compound in the rain.

The Road Back

This road back is not a pleasant one. Ofelia and Mercedes are discovered by Vidal who brings them back inside the compound. But in her room, Ofelia gets a final chance at redemption: she just needs to bring her brother to the Faun in the labyrinth, evading her drugged, wounded stepfather along the way.


Ofelia appears with her brother in the labyrinth, but when she learns what the Faun wants to do with him (hint: it involves a knife and rhymes with "crab"), she refuses to let his blood be spilled. This is actually the test, and Ofelia passes.

Unfortunately, Vidal catches up to her and, after taking his son, shoots her and kills her.

Return With The Elixir

Ofelia's elixir is twofold. As Vidal exits the labyrinth he's surrounded by the rebels who take his son, making Ofelia's brother safe from his evil father. Ofelia herself is transported into the fairy realm, even as her real-world body bleeds out on the ground of the labyrinth.

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