Return with the Elixir: last Stage of the Archetypal Story Pattern and the last blog on characters and mythic story structure. We’re drinking elixir as we toast the last of the novel.
Return with the Elixir, the conclusion of our novel, is certainly not a toss-off that we complete with our writing eyes closed.
As writers, we have slaved to create intriguing characters, unexpected twists in plot, enthralling details with symbols, motifs, and setting and motifs, and captivating elements of word craft on every page.
None of it matters if the last scenes don’t deliver.
It’s a Return = 1st.
The last three stages—the Road Back, the Resurrection, and the Return with the Elixir—belong to the greater ASP segment of Return and Re-Integration.
Our protagonists return to their Ordinary World / Stage 1, their starting point. They have changed, transforming like an acorn into a mighty oak.
The roots they sent deep into their souls to discover who and what they are have become the honor and ethics that guide them. Their trunks (their inner strength) are sturdy. Their limbs reach into the sky. And they are fulfilled with the potential for more and more and more, each year a new harvest of acorns.
They know how they are different from the antagonist as well as from the rather ordinary people of their OW.
They are no longer ordinary people facing extraordinary events.
By facing those extraordinary events, they have become extraordinary.
Harry Potter destroys his connection to the Elder Wand, a decision neither Ron nor Hermione understand. No one needs that much power ~ even though Harry has that much power within himself. (Remember? Voldemort tried to use the Elder Wand to defeat Harry / Harry defeated Voldemort AND the Elder Wand because of the power within himself.)
Aragorn, the returned king, releases the cursed Dead Men of Dunharrow.
The Iron Man no longer needs the rush of power from his suits.
Elizabeth and Darcy (Pride and Prejudice) no longer depend on the world to determine who they are and what they want.
Our protagonists have succeeded.
How do they now re-integrate with the OW that they left behind?
For they must re-integrate. No one—not even protagonists—can live perpetually in Alt. The humdrum daily world intrudes. Life;) happens.
That settling back into the OW helps the reader/audience settle the story in their mind. Deny them that re-integration, and they will be “unsettled” about the story.
It requires an Elixir = 2nd.
An Elixiris the drink of the gods. Better than honeyed nectar, the gods’ elixir is magical and miraculous.
The Elixiris tied directly to the Reward which harks back, all the way back, to the original Dear we destroyed at the Call to Adventure (C2A/ Stage 2).
The original Dear drove the protagonists into their journey. That desire transformed and mutated as much as our protagonist did.
At the Reward/ Stage 9 the protagonists grasped their new and renewed Dears, a first opportunity to celebrate with the Treasure that sustained their persistence through tribulations and motivated them to continue through the ultimate battle.
Now, the protagonists have the transformed Dear. The Returnof both to the OW is a celebration.
Tangibles and Intangibles
Depending on genre, the Elixirtakes various forms, but all contain the duality of literal and figurative.
Protagonists and audiences need a tangibile Elixir, not a symbol or metaphor.
The King Crowned
The Broken Sword Restored
The Ring on her Finger
The award or diploma or lectern that represents the Pinnacle Achieved.
The intangible is all that those items represent:
The King’s Crown: authority, status, respect. Wow, I just learned that the Elixircan help improve a character’s motivations all the way back to Stage 1, OW. (This is the reason for planning, rather than pantser-ing. [Is “pantser-ing” a word?])
The Restored Sword: veterans appreciated, wounds healed, rank re-acquired
The Betrothal Ring: love and devotion, commitment and truth, health and home.
The Pinnacle Achieved: esteem from others, recognition for work and persistence, adulation—which sets up the next book, doesn’t it? As the protagonist struggles with personal pride and extreme adulation.
I hope this year of bi-monthly blogs has enlightened you as much as it has me.
Archetypes seem simple—they are not. They are not stereotypes, not cookie-cutter models. They create a framework for our delving into causes and motivations, fears and fortes, and desires and needs for our characters. These six—causes, motivations, fears, fortes, desires, needs—these create individuals from flat character outlines.
Archetypes build a foundation. Exploring the character types and the elements of each stage of the ASP build stories with unexpected depths that please our audiences.
And when our audiences are pleased, we are, too.
Not quite certain. I’m sure I’ll think of something. I always do.
Although famous authors have played with the idea of resurrection, our protagonists don’t have to turn into zombies. Neither do our antagonists.
Resurrectionis not new life. It is the reanimation of the old life, the former problem, the continuing central conflict of the entire story.
Stage 11 of the Archetypal Story Pattern is a dual resurrection.
Before we go into exposition, let’s look at three famous resurrectionscenes from the world of film.
“What I tell you three times is true.” ~ “The Hunting of the Snark”, Lewis Carroll
In Quentin Tarantino’s Kill Bill, the bride is buried alive. Grave-deep, encased in a pine wood coffin. Her enemies believe she is “dead and buried” with no hope of resurrection.
Yet she wakes, assesses her situation, and implements a plan. She punches through the soft pine then kicks and crawls out of the grave. Her resurrection shocks an old man.
More shocks await the audience.
Her enemies have turned on each other. The Black Mamba (Daryl Hannah as Elle Driver) killed the loyal brother Budd, and soon she is destroyed by the Bride (Uma Thurman as Beatrix Kiddo) in a battle that was voted in 2005 as “Best Fight” at the MTV Movie Awards.
We are shocked when the Bride snatches out Elle’s remaining eye—just as Pai Mei snatched out her first one.
3 Lessons from Kill Bill
Lesson 1: the Resurrectionmust shock.
Lesson 2: the Resurrection, whether for the protagonist or the antagonist, must be parallel to another event in the story. It should not be deliberately foreshadowed; however, it should mirror the event. In the audience’s afterthought, the parallelism will become a logical foreshadowing.
Lesson 3: the Resurrectionmust present poetic justice. Elle Driver killed Pai Mei, whom she hated because he snatched out her eye. Beatrix Kiddo kills Elle Driver, not only in defense but also because Elle killed Pai Mei, whom Beatrix “loved”.
Harry Potter’s Deathly Hallows part 2 gives us a resurrectionof the protagonist after J.K. Rowling played throughout the entire series with the resurrectionof the antagonistic force.
Because of the philosopher’s stone, Harry does not die. In his Reward, he is re-united with Dumbledore and discovers victory is not only possible but nigh. In the Resurrectionstage, he returns to his body. Voldemort is celebrating. Hagrid is grieving. Yet we the audience see the beginning tatters of the Death-Eaters’ collapse, as Draco Malfoy’s mother actually lies to Voldemort.
Her lie tells us that Voldemort is not omniscient. Those who are not omniscient are also not omnipotent.
The mano y mano battle between Harry and Voldemort is intercut with scenes of Hermione and Ron tackling Nagini, the horcrux-holding python. Hermione and Ron can seemingly do nothing against Nagini. Harry seems equally matched to Voldemort, neither able to get an advantage over the other.
Enter Neville Longbottom.
Two events are juxtaposed. Neville’s unexpected defeat of the snake precedes Harry’s expected defeat of Voldemort. Neville is the surprise in this parallel resurrectionscene. Nagini’s death receives our audience’s exultant shout while we merely celebrate Voldemort’s disintegration. We glory in Harry’s power overwhelming Voldemort, but we are not punching the air in celebration.
3 Lessons from Deathly Hallows
Lesson 1A: If the protagonist’s battle with the chief antagonist will contain no shock, then another character playing an unexpected role should step forward.
Lesson 2A: The parallelism of the resurrection scene can be with other characters besides the protagonist or antagonist.
Lesson 3A: The poetic justice occurs with Voldemort’s defeat and death. The best part of this scene is his horrified look at the Elder Wand. Now, at his end, he realizes it does not answer to him as he expected it would. His richly-deserved death almost seems anti-climatic: deserved yet subdued, pitiful while we feel no pity, almost beautiful in his dissolution.
Return of the King
Golem’s re-appearance in J.R.R. Tolkien’s culminating resurrectionscene for The Return of the King is a necessary surprise. The surprise occurs because Frodo and Sam left Golem behind. Golem’s participation in this scene is a necessity because the Ring has finally corrupted Frodo’s intention.
Like Rowling’s Voldemort, Golem is a “dead” creature throughout the series. He lived off the dead goblins who fell into the abysses of the Mines of Moria. His old Hobbity self warred constantly with his evil self until the Hobbity self died completely, letting only the evil self alive.
His disappearance seemingly “removed” him from the immediate storyline. Then he re-appears to fight Frodo in the lava-filled doom of Mount Mordor (just as Bilbo had his own mental battle with Golem in The Hobbit = parallelism!).
Because Golem once possessed his precious, he understands how to find a wearer of the Ring. No one else in the series has understood this. Yet, for the audience, it is still a shock when he leaps upon the invisible Frodo. They fight, a staggering stumble of pummels and buffets on the edge of the rocky spit over the lava river. The second shock occurs when Golem bites off Frodo’s finger to get the Ring. He dances to his death.
And with the Ring’s destruction, Sauron’s entity is destroyed. The trapped Eye of Sauron’s essence frenziedly tries to tear itself away from the destroyed Ring but cannot.
3 Lessons from RotK
Lesson 1B: Golem’s surprising return, his shocking ability to “see” Frodo as well as biting off his finger (mutilation to the hand is somehow more horrible than other grievous bodily harm).
Lesson 2B: Frodo and Bilbo had parallel battles, physical and mental, against Golem. Bilbo outwits Golem; Golem “defeats” Frodo.
Lesson 3B: Golem dances as he falls to his death. And with the Ring’s destruction, Frodo is returned to his “pure” self; his innocent intent is resurrected. Sauron bonded his essence to the Ring. He believed in the Ring’s indestructibility. With its destruction, he discovered he break the bond.
Four Compass Points of the Resurrection
The Resurrectionrequires from us writers four important points as we begin wrapping up our story.
Aim North = 1.
The protagonists face their own mortality, whether it is a brief brush or an imminent danger or an actual death.
How the protagonists confront death is the salient point. Facing death reveals the extreme importance of the protagonists’ desire to achieve the ultimate goal that set them on this journey.
The goal may have changed. The original desire has not. The Dear may have changed—and should have. The desire that fuels the old and new Dear will not have changed.
Contrast the Bride with Frodo.
She is fully conscious; he is under the influence of the Ring. She is driven; he becomes aimless. She visits poetic justice twice upon Elle Driver: the eye snatch and her presumed death from the viper she used to kill Budd. Frodo receives no ironical justice: Golem defeats him then falls to his death. Frodo is ring-less and ring-finger-less.
Our protagonists’ honor and nobility shine through when they face their mortality and still plunge into the last battle. Death may occur. They willingly face it. Why? Their desired goal is more important than their own self.
Drive Southward to the Doom = 2
The antagonists face their own mortality.
To kill an antagonist who does not realize he is being killed creates a sense of futility.
And the antagonists’ response to impending death is diametrically opposed to the protagonists’ response. The antagonists fear death. Voldemort hid parts of his soul in the horcruxes then hid his horcruxes in a bid to live on and on and on. Unlike the Energizer bunny, however, his life is more in danger because of his piecemeal soul.
Obsession and Fear
Golem’s obsession with his precious Ring is so powerful that he is blind to his own danger and death. He “died” years and years before. His obsession with the Ring gave him purpose. Its loss restored him to the upper world. The new ringbearer almost—almost! What a pitiful word!—resurrectedhis humanity. Only in Golem’s last blink does he recognize death is on him. Then we see a brief glimpse of his terror. In the next blink he disintegrates.
The death and destructionof Sauron’s Eye, however, gives us the essential realization of impending death. The Eye’s frenzy becomes more powerful than Golem’s blink.
Head to the Expected East = 3
The Resurrectionis both destructionand re-creation.
The antagonist is destroyed. The antagonistic force is defeated. The evil is stuffed into a coffin.
Writers who want a sequel need to take lessons from Tolkien and Rowling: each book must have its own antagonist to be defeated while the series’ antagonist must be completely defeated in the final book of the series.
No hiding additional horcruxes. Give the story up.
Love your protagonists too much to let them live happily ever after? Start a new series. Years on, with a completely different antagonist.
Re-creationis as important asdestruction.
Harry is his own self and more. He breaks the Elder Wand and tosses it into an abyssal canyon (the film. In the book, he restores it to Dumbledore’s tomb, still a severed connection). Harry refuses to wield the great power gifted to him. He refuses to allow power to corrupt him. (Thank you, Lord Acton.)
Frodo’s own self is restored—yet wearing the Ring has also broken him. He must leave with the last elves.
The Bride is now free to seek her daughter, restoring the connection and creating a future with her daughter. Her battle with Bill is not titanic although it is matchless. It allows the Elixirwhich is the last Stage of the Archetypal Story Pattern.
Skew West = 4
As noted in the lessons, the Resurrectionmust shock the audience.
Not with gore. Not with a new twist. A new twist only continues the story longer.
The shock must be something the audience didn’t anticipate yet in hindsight truly appreciates. No foreshadowing for the shock. We have to build the elements in such a way that we logically accept their occurrence even as we emotionally celebrate them.
This shock is particularly hard to write since the early-on Stage 2 set up our anticipation of the final battle.
Neville’s chopping off of Nagini’s head is the shock. Voldemort ripped Neville’s “soul” away when he killed his parents. Neville has had to rebuild his “soul”. How fitting that Neville kills the last holder of Voldemort’s piecemeal soul.
As for the audience, well, we anticipated Voldemort’s defeat.
Careful with Shocks
Knowing the antagonist will be defeated is not where the shock will occur. Unless our audience is reading one of the so-called “edgy” new series in which the protagonist is killed.
(Killing the protagonist is not edgy, BTW; it infuriates the audience. It’s a cheap way to be edgy. We writers are better than that. Find another way. Keep the audience reading to your next series.)
Quentin Tarantino gives us an unexpected relish with the eye-snatch.
Golem’s reappearance surprises. The SHOCK occurs when he takes both ring and ring finger from Frodo.
And then we nod, at Neville, at the Bride, at Frodo. Yes, that is symbolic parity.
Remember the 3 Lessons and the 4 Compass Points when constructing the ultimate battle scene of destructionand resurrection. The expected and the unexpected will satisfy the audience.
Not only will they keep reading to the end of the book; they will also buy the next and the next and the next.