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Story, Screenplay Structure: Lord Of The Rings (2001) Deconstructed

   By: Kal Bishop

From our deconstruction of hundreds of Hollywood blockbusters....

The Hero's Journey is the template upon which the vast majority of successful stories and Hollywood blockbusters are based upon. In fact, ALL of the Hollywood movies we have deconstructed are based on this template.

Understanding this template is a priority for story or screenwriters.

The Hero's Journey:

a) Attempts to tap into unconscious expectations the audience has regarding what a story is and how it should be told.

b) Gives the writer more structural elements than simply three or four acts, plot points, mid point and so on.

c) Interpreted metaphorically, laterally and symbolically, allows an infinite number of varied stories to be created.

and more...

Sample Movie Deconstructed: Lord of the Rings (2001)

FADE IN: Context: the backstory of the ring; introducing Allies and Enemies: an alliance of men and elves fight the dark Sauron etc.

Introduce Hero in his Ordinary World: Frodo Baggins.

Introduce the Mentor: Gandalf.

Creatures in the Hero's Ordinary World: the people in the village.

Hero and Mentor relationship: "Gandalf, I'm glad you're back."

Foreshadow of the Journey: "you haven't aged a day."

Status and Capabilities of the Hero: Gandalf and Bilbo discuss Frodo.

Meeting Allies: Sam, Pippin et al.

Ally's Challenge: the girl.

Developing Characters and Relationships: at the party.

Call to Adventure : Bilbo disappears with the ring.

Interdiction: "there are many rings in this world and none of them should be used lightly…"

Refusal : Bilbo won't leave the ring behind.

Foreshadow of the Journey: Bilbo leaves.

Pull of the Call: the rings speaks and Frodo picks it up.

Magical Gift: Gandalf puts the ring in an envelope and gives it to Frodo.

Antagonism Developed: the castle; the night riders leave.

Backstory: Gandalf in the ancient library.

Time Pressure: the night riders reach the border of the village.

Foreboding of the Journey: Gandalf afraid on his return to the hobbit village.

Backstory of the Antagonist: Gandalf and Frodo discuss Sauron.

Time Pressure: the enemy is approaching.

Hero forced out of his Ordinary World: "the ring cannot stay in the Shire…what must I do…?" Pushed to a New Self: "you'll have to leave your name behind."

Allies forced to travel with the Hero: "I have a better use for you, Sam..."

Warnings of the Journey: "be careful, the enemy has many spies…""the ring wants to find its master."

Marker out of the Ordinary World / to the First Threshold : the scarecrow; "this is it, if I take one more step, it'll be the farthest I've ever been…"

Time pressure / Pursued by the Enemy: night riders.

Threshold Guardian battle on entry to the First Threshold : Gandalf meets and battles Saruman.

Meeting Allies: Frodo meets Pippin et al.

Meeting enemies: Frodo et al barely escape the night riders.

Threshold Guardian to the Inner Cave: the gate keeper.

The New World and Creatures of the Inner Cave: the Inn.

Rules set by an Authority Figure: the barman.

Meeting the Shape Shifter: Aragorn.

Backstory of the night riders: they were kings who each received a ring.

Physical Separation : leaving the Inn under Aragorn's lead.

Character Development and Relationships: "we have no choice but to trust him..""what about second breakfast…?"

Antagonist Development: Sauron asks Saruman to build an army.

Mentor's challenge: Gandalf must escape from the tower.

Road of Trials:

Trial 1: Frodo et al attacked by the night riders; stabbed; rescued by Aragorn.

Mentor's Challenge: Gandalf speaks to the moth.

Antagonism Developed: the birth of the ferocious army.

Trial 2: the wound is killing Frodo; saved by Arwen; the river of horses.

Trial 3: Frodo near death; saved by the Elves.

Mentor's Challenge overcome: Gandalf escapes Saruman.

Celebrating the passing of the Trials: Sam et al join Frodo.

Meeting the Oracle: Elrond.

New World of the Sword: the Elvish World.

Marker of Change: Bilbo is older and has written a book.

Pulled Back: "Sam wants to go back and so does Frodo.

Time Pressure: Sauran's evil cannot be contained by the Elves.

Meeting New Allies: Legolas, the dwarf et al.

The Oracle guides toward the Sword: the fires of Mount Doom.

Hero and Shape Shifter meeting: Aragorn confronts Boromir.

Hero's Romantic Challenge: Aragorn and Arwen.

Hero and Shape Shifter confrontation: Boromir and Aragorn confrontation.

Warning against seizing the Sword: there is evil there that does not sleep.

Push toward the Sword: Legolas stands.

Time Pressure: Dwarfs and Elves argue.

Seizing the Sword : Frodo will take the ring to the fires of Mount Doom. The Fellowship is born: Aragorn, Legolas, the Dwarf, Boromir, Sam et al join Frodo.

Magical Gifts given by the Mentor: Bilbo gives Frodo a sword and a vest.

Warnings of the Journey: Bilbo momentarily turns devil.

Developing Characters and Relationships: the break on the rocks

Night Sea Journey: forced onto the pass by the birds.

Foreshadow of the Shape Shifter's turning: Boromir hesitatingly gives back the ring.

Antagonist Developed: Saruman sends out his army.

Night Sea Journey: forced into the mines.

Serpent Battle : Frodo taken by the serpent.

Inner Challenge Conquered: "I wish the ring had never come to me.."

Reward: "that's the way out…"

Atonement with the Father : Gandalf taken by the ancient beast.

Hero and Shape Shifter conflict: outside the mines.

Refusal: they have entered the realm of the Lady of the Wood, they cannot go back.

Shape Shifter's Inner Challenge: "even now, there is time…"

Apotheosis : Frodo knows what he must do, he is just afraid to do it; "even the smallest person can change the course of the future…"; looking in the water; meeting with the Lady of the Wood.

Antagonist Development: Saruman releases his armies.

Magic Gift: the Lady of the Wood gives Frodo the Light…

Time Pressure: Saruman's armies approaching.

Ultimate Boon : Looking upon the Kings of Old; the huge statues.

Time Pressure: "something draws near, I can feel it…"

Shape Shifter shows his True Nature: Boromir tries to take the ring from Frodo.

Magic Flight : Frodo runs from Boromir and then Aragorn and then Saruman's army; "can you protect me from yourself;""run Frodo, run…"

Crossing the Return Threshold : the Antagonist's armies arrive.

Rescued from Without : Boromir saves Pippin; the horn of Gondor.

Shape Shifter's reward: Boromir dies.

Master of the Two Worlds : Aragorn defeats the beast leader; comforts Boromir.

Refusal of the Return : Frodo get on the boat; refuses to go back; Sam walks into the water.

FADE OUT: Boromir buried; Aragorn et al follow Pippin et al; Frodo and Sam go on.

Learn more…

The Complete 188 stage Hero's Journey and other story structure templates can be found at

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Kal Bishop


You are free to reproduce this article as long as no changes are made and the author's name and site URL are retained.

Kal Bishop is a management consultant based in London, UK. His specialities include Knowledge Management and Creativity and Innovation Management. He has consulted in the visual media and software industries and for clients such as Toshiba and Transport for London. He has led Improv, creativity and innovation workshops, exhibited artwork in San Francisco, Los Angeles and London and written a number of screenplays. He is a passionate traveller. He can be reached at

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