Adapted from The Hero’s Journey: a Guide to Literature and Life by Reg Harris and Susan Thompson The Lion King was one of the most successful films of 1994. The film owes much of its success to its mythic impact. It is a metaphor for human experience and growth which touches us on a profound level. The film is also a classic Quest or Hero’s Journey. Simba, the main character, is initially a childlike figure who thinks mainly of himself and his desires: to be king and to appear tough. His worst faults are that he is naive and trusting. This flaw shows that he is in need of a Quest in order to help the pride.
Sadly, he is too young to understand this and must spend years in exile with his two friends/helpers, Pumbaa and Timon. Simba hears the Call when Nala attacks Pumbaa and he stops her. When she realizes who he is, she assumes that he will return to Pride Rock with her and challenge Scar. At first, he refuses, acting as his own Threshold Guardian, keeping himself from growing and achieving his destiny. Nala, however, insists that he is not living up to the greatness of his ancestry by refusing to return. Facing his shortcomings represents the greatest Challenge of his life – the Abyss – for Simba.
Angry with Nala, he storms away to pace under the stars by himself. Then he looks to the heavens, and we hear the agonizing cry of the dying child-self, with its anger, bitterness, and blame, as the adult emerges from within. “You said you’d always be there for me,” he wails to his dead father, lurking among the stars, “but you’re not. And it’s because of me. It’s my fault. It’s my fault. ” Recognizing his self-centeredness shows the start of Simba’s Transformation.
Rafiki helps Simba complete his Transformation, and becomes Simba’s mentor. He says that he can show Simba that his father is not dead and leads him in n all-too-quick journey through snags and tangles, branches and thorns (which represent a number of Challenges), to a quiet pool. Simba looks at his reflection and eventually sees his father’s face mixed with his own. Confused, Simba heads onto the plains alone, where he sees his father’s image in the clouds. “Remember who you are,” the image implores him. “My son and the one true king. ” The vision fades, but Simba has found the path to Atonement: to fulfill his destiny as a great king. Speaking of his intent to return to the pride, Simba tells Rafiki that it will be hard to face the past which he fled from for so long.
Then Rafiki helps Simba to the revelation he needs to make the change: he hits him with a stick. Simba asks him why he did that. Rafiki replies, “It doesn’t matter…it’s in the past. The way I see it, you can either run from the past or learn from it. ” He swings the stick again, but Simba ducks. He’s learned and is ready to Return. The remainder of the film is the natural outcome of this “Simba-lic” death and rebirth. Simba, aided by his helpers, challenges and defeats Scar. He is ready to lead the pride as their great king.