First, what is the hero's journey? This was popularized by that wonderful mythology professor Joseph Campbell in his lectures and books on mythology and comparative religion, but he was influenced first by Carl Jung who explained that the hero must experience certain steps that represent the struggle for psychological wholeness, which Jung called individuation. Campbell called it the monomyth, a term he got from James Joyce. Whether we actively seek these steps or not, the best literature seems to follow them.
What are these steps? Broken down to their simplest components:
1) A call to adventure or quest
2) trials and tribulations along the way
3) gaining knowledge and tools from wise ones
4) achieving the quest and receiving special powers
5) returning to the mundane life and applying those powers for the betterment of the community
Granted, that is a significantly abbreviated form of the message, but if applied to any number of "mythologies" we can see the pattern repeating. The Illiad and the Odyssey, Egyptian religion of the gods, Beowulf, the Bible, Buddhist writings, The Lord of the Rings (which took its mythology from many Norse and Celtic sources), Star Wars (where George Lucas says he used thes stages of the hero's journey deliberately), and the Harry Potter series, to name a few.
The bigger question besides do I use this hero's journey in my novels (which I will talk about in a moment) is why is this set of steps so satisfying to the human psyche? Why have we repeated these tales in this way over campfires under starry skies for thousands of years? Why do we continue to use it and need it and want it?
Well, we know it works. We call the first step our character's motivation. To illustrate, we can look at these steps in Gone with the Wind (though in Jung's idea, the hero is decidedly male. But let's forget him for a moment. I'll think about him tomorrow when I can stand it better :) Scarlet gets a call to action, firstly because she wants Ashely Wilkes (mostly because she can't have him). Mammy is her archetypical wise elder from whom she seeks advice but Melany also serves this purpose. She has many trials including the war and survival and she comes out stronger for it with her "special powers" of money and influence. Though she doesn't quite use her powers for niceness instead of evil, hers is a satisfying story because she achieved most of the stages. She is, after all, somewhat of an anti-hero, but the metaphors still work. And why follow her in her story if the reader knows she is never worthy of this journey? The character is compelling enough and she drags the reader with her through her trials and achievements and her failures. It is her spirit we admire if nothing else.
But you can bet that Margaret Mitchell didn't sit down and say, "All right then. In which stage in the hero's journey shall I put Scarlet in today?" For writers, this natural sense of storytelling inevitably fosters this hero's journey in all its confabulations. I'm willing to bet that most authors don't consciously put their characters on this journey, particularly those in a series like mystery authors pen. And I didn't do it either, but the archetypes are there nonetheless. Which makes it very interesting to look back over what you have written and find those steps or stages so clearly drawn out by Professor Campbell.
It is those very satisfying stages that make this journey fun to write. Crispin Guest followed his call and it thrust him upon a journey he never wanted. A journey that includes many trials. Often he seeks the advice of learned elders and each time, though he achieves parts of his goal, he comes out of it better for it though he doesn't realize it or doesn't feel it at the time. Yes, darn it, the hero's journey works and we will continue to see it again and again in the many different ways it can be presented.