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.
We’re driving the Road Back to our protagonists’ Ordinary World.
As we head into the Road Back of the story we’re writing, how are we doing?
Let’s see: In the past 80% of story, we’ve
Transformed the protagonists.
Changed their goals into new Dears.
Provided a transformed Dear to the protagonists as Rewards.
Given them worthy allies.
Defeated villains and elements of the antagonistic force.
Overcome fears and evils, exterior and interior.
My goodness, what else must we do? The hardest thing. We must truly defeat the antagonist.
And then find our way back home—whatever “home” now represents.
And not because the antagonist is still out there, a maelstrom of chaotic evil.
Here’s our big question: How do we find the right Road Back?
Driving with the Old Dear
SPOILERS ALERT: If you have never seen Castaway, go watch it now. It will be a pivotal and enriching experience in your life. I am also warning you that I give away many, many crucial details about the end of the film in the remainder of this blog. Tom Hanks should have won the Academy Award for Best Actor for this film. This is his landmark role, not Forrest Gump and not Philadephiaand certainly not The Green Mile, all great films but not of the caliber of Castaway.
The official Movie Trailer:
The Dear destroyed at the Call to Adventure is not the Dear of the Reward. This Dear is transformed, just as the protagonist is transformed.
The transformation is clearly evident in Castaway, the film with Tom Hanks and Helen Hunt. Hanks’ character Chuck survives deprivation and extreme loneliness only because returning to his lost love (Hunt enacting Kelly) became his goal.
Yet he transformed: he learned to be in the moment—instead of always working toward a future deadline. He learned to appreciate the smallest of miracles and to heed obscure signs.The protagonist Chuck needs someone as his Dear who is also open to these hidden yet highly significant realities.
Kelly is not that person, and we discover that in the scene where he is reunited with her.
Two Story Stages: Road Back and Resurrection
In Castawaythe Road Back begins with the celebration at the airport then continues through his visit to her house. That visit to her house also launches into the Resurrection, the stage of story where evil recurs that endangers the protagonist.
Since the two stages are so closely intertwined in this film, I’ll discuss both. Just know that the Road Back is their attempts at re-connection while the Resurrection is the acceptance of the need to part.
Chuck Doesn’t Match to Kelly
At Kelly’s house, Chuck is in the moment of their reunion.
>> Kelly can’t face their reunion. First, she is not able to meet him at the airport. Then, when he comes to her house, she is continually “doing” as a distraction—showing him a car and a map, fiddling with housework. She is focused on him but also on all the things between
Twice she looks hard at him, as if not able to believe that this man before her is her old love returned to her. He is physically changed. He is also mentally and spiritually changed, although these changes are not as easily observed.
Chuck comments on the miracle of her child.
>> Her response is a criticism. Children are miracles, not things to be managed. They are the blessing of the future with the wonder of the now. Instead, Kelly dismisses any conversation about her child by saying something like “She’s a mess.”
Chuck heeds the signs.
>> Kelly is blind to them. She must blind herself to them or abandon the life she had built without him. She makes her decision. Yet when he drives away, she still clings to her past and calls him back. She kept “their car”, another sign of her clinging to the past.
The Problem with Kelly
Kelly is static, stagnant, bitter with the losses, not transformed by them. She abandoned her greatest goal without saying goodbye to it.
We admire Kelly. We want her to reunite with Chuck. They are each other’s “love of my life”. But they’re not right for each other. Maybe they never were, even before Chuck transformed.
We grieve with them as they part.
Driving the Right Road Back
We don’t grieve at the end of Castaway when Chuck meets the Angel-wings lady. We want him to connect with her.
See, we know he doesn’t belong with Kelly. Look at his brief yet revelatory encounter with the Angel-wings lady.
Chuck is “in the moment”.
She is “in the moment”.
When giving directions, she focuses on him, she makes eye contact, and then she flows forward like water and time.
Chuck is connected to the miraculous.
She appreciates blissful moments.
Art is itself a blissful miracle, and she chose as her mark the double-haloed angel wings. Her FedEx package marked with the double-haloed angel-wings is the only package that Chuck does not open.
Even with the break-up of her marriage (exhibited by the sign at the ranch’s entrance, with the ex-husband’s name obliterated from it), the Angel-wings lady maintains her connection to the miraculous.
Just as Chuck’s survival was a series of miracles, their meeting here at the film’s end is another example of a hidden significance that could be easily overlooked.
Chuck sees and heeds signs.
She heeds the signs. She recognizes Chuck as being direction-less. Without giving him a direction, she ensures he “knows” the way.
The broken ranch sign bears witness that she saw the signs of her husband’s infidelity and took action.
In a neat circular construction, our evidence of the husband’s infidelity occurs at the film’s beginning.
A Russian FedEx worker delivers an Angel-wing package to a man in a cowboy hat and bathrobe. He, however, has a scantily-clad woman with him. He even comments that the package is from his wife :: bad cad!
Chuck survived deprivation.
The Angel-wings lady has faced a similar devastation—although not as extreme or traumatic as Chuck’s.
The ranch sign reveals the anger of her husband’s betrayal and their divorce. Living on the desolate prairie, she understands deprivation and priorities. Yet she chooses beauty over bitterness. Chuck will choose it as well.
Castawaydeprives the audience of an extended Elixir ~ but do we really need it? Our imaginations work just fine.
How to Find that Right Road Back
The task is not as difficult as it seems.
In The Deathly Hallows part II, Harry just has to return his soul from the white station to his body in the forest: easy peasy.
For 13th Warrior, the Wendol come to the Northmen who have prepared with the same courage as before.
We do have that lovely Invocation of Blood as they call on preceding generations of warriors, male and female, to strengthen them and to inspire them. For a clip with the Invocation—“Lo, there do I see my people, back to the beginning”—you can flip back to the previous blog on Rewards: Click here to open that blog in a new tab.
With Return of the King, Aragorn releases the Dead Men of Dunharrow, rejecting arrogance and corruptible power—which Gimli doesn’t understand but Legolas views with awed approval.
Pride and Prejudice has Darcy force Wyckham to marry Lydia. Elizabeth has the culminating battle with Lady Catherine de Burgh.
The Road Back starts the protagonists’ journey to the Elixir, the ultimate Reward. What is necessary to gain that Elixir?
1st Step: Start tying up the loose ends now. Determine the best sequence:
What needs to remain until the ultimate battle?
What would provide humor after that battle?
For the secondary characters, what angst can they encounter before the last battle begins? Or going into the last battle?
2nd Step: Never forget that the antagonist believes his way is the right way. Audiences who become transfixed by antagonists might need a reminder of their particular evil—as well as that evil’s effect on the protagonists, the team of allies, and the Dear goal.
3rd Step: Has a secondary character taken precedence and deserves the sequel? Set up the sequel now with little hints of a driving goal.
4th Step: The arc of the protagonists should be complete. Has that transformation been completely shown? Where is the protagonists’ Dear? Safe? Or still in jeopardy?
CastawayBreaks the Mold but still Teaches the Pattern
Castawaypacks a lot into the extended scene that becomes both Road Back and Resurrection which then shifts to the culminating scene that concludes the film. The Elixir also breaks into two parts.
The Road Back is Chuck’s workplace reunion at the airport followed by his reunion with Kelly at her home.
The first part of the Resurrection is his rejection by Kelly.
In the second part of the Resurrection, Chuck talks with the friend that he didn’t realize was so loyal. To him, he grieves for his loss of Kelly, and his friend listens and sympathizes and empathizes.
Chuck shares that Kelly was his goal. He lost her, his Dear, when he washed up on that island. He lost her all over again when she chose her fallback life rather than the difficulties required to restore a life with him.
This presents both 1st and 2nd Steps, the sequence needed to cut the ties to his old life (his Road Back) and the antagonist that deprives him of the Dear he wanted (Resurrection).
Then we see Chuck’s transformation: he apologizes to his friend for not being there when his friend’s wife died of cancer.
This 4th Step (there is no 3rd) shows that he is no longer driven for work. He had barely acknowledged this information at the beginning of the film. His transformed self, however, reaches out to the miracle of friendship.
And then Chuck’s on the road, drinking water, heading to his own unexpected and miraculous end where he will have the chance to drink the Elixir of the gods.
The scene with Kelly is Chuck’s Road Back. Yet it is also the Resurrection of Evil that deprives him of his cherished goal.
For a brief moment, we the audience want Kelly to be with Chuck. We grieve with Chuck.
And then Angel-wings lady helps us realize that Chuck and Kelly no longer “fit”.
When we consider the protagonists’ transforming journey and the new Dear they now treasure, the Road to bring everything Back home should pave itself.
Like the fabled yellow brick road, the Road Back becomes a curving journey to the Elixir.
Yet a horrible obstacle remains: the Resurrection of Evil.
Join us on December 10 for an examination of the duality of the archetypal Resurrection.
When Voldemort kills Harry Potter in The Deathly Hallows part II, Harry enters a Threshold existence, a “waiting station”. Dearly beloved Dumbledore is there, and we and Harry discover three things.
Voldemort, the Half-Blood Prince, is half-dead. His horcrux soul attached to Harry is dead; only the horcrux in the python remains. Once that is destroyed, Voldemort’s physical being can be killed.
Death is a transition. Harry can choose to move on or return and fulfill all of his destiny.
Everything that has happened—the tortuous years at Hogwarts and with his aunt and uncle, Hermione’s wiping her existence from her parents’ memories, Dobby’s sacrificial death and the multi-layered loss of Sirius Black—all have purpose. The multiple sacrifices of the Dear will lead to a greater, freer existence.
Friendship, loyalty, and love brought Harry through the battles. These three are the ultimate reward: a reward that Voldemort mocks.
Someone said, in reaction to the white station scene with Dumbledore, “It’s all been worth it; now we know.”
“For I know the plans I have for you,” declares the Lord, “plans to prosper you and not to harm you, plans to give you hope and a future.” Jeremiah 29:11
The Treasure that Helps us Endure
For Anne Eliot in Jane Austen’s Persuasion, Frederick Wentworth’s renewed love will help her endure the last few days with her atrocious family. Through the Ordeal, she intellectually and emotionally divorced herself from her old life. In the Reward, she looks to the potential of the future.
In The 13th Warrior, the Wendol Mother is dead. The warriors escaped from the inescapable lair. They lost comrades; their leader is dying; they must still battle the Wendol leader. But they can taste success, and they begin to reap the rewards. This is especially true for Ibn, who did not understand the Warrior Code. He understands it now. When the culminating battle approaches, he now fully understands the purification prayer he was taught and the Northmen’s Invocation of Blood.
As audience, as writers, we relish the moment of the Reward even as we anticipate the last three stages: the Road Back, the Resurrection (of the Evil and of the Protagonist), and the Return with the Elixir. It’s time, we may think, for this to be over. We want that first sip of the Elixir.
Hold on. Stay in the Reward moment. Our audience, our protagonists, and we as writers: we all need that Reward.
In Approach, our protagonists acknowledge their increasing transformation as they reject any return to the Ordinary World and their former Dears.
The Last Reward
Here, in Stage 9, our protagonists achieve the last necessary change to themselves, to their goals, and to their desires.
“Achieve” does not mean a change occurs. Instead, protagonists can grasp their transformed goal, their new Dear.
In Approach, that goal and Dear were merely contemplated as the once-enticing old ones were rejected.
Now, the lover embraces his beloved, the king steps foot in his restored realm, the fighter sees justice again in play instead of trampled under vengeful foot.
The Reward is tangible, a living and pulsing reality that proves “It’s all been worth it; now we know.”
Ordeal vs. Reward
As the Ordeal was all-out hatred, the Reward is all-out love. The protagonist basks in celebration at achieving the new Dear.
And the new Dear is welcoming, joyful in contemplation of union with the protagonist.
To continue any conflict between the protagonist and the new Dear is to frustrate the audience.
This is the power of Dumbledore in the Reward of The Deathly Hallows part II. He proves all points of the juxtaposition of Harry with Voldemort in the Ordeal.
This is Anne Eliot’s return home in Persuasion, in the old world as she anticipates the new and quite happy as she reject completely the old.
13th Warrior gives with one hand as it takes with the other. One great defeat waits upon the next; one heroic victory waits on an heroic death. Buliwye is rewarded—oh, not with King Vortigern’s promised treasures and great funeral bonfire that a hero deserves. “There is more, Little Brother,” as Herger says. With the queen’s quick look around at the king’s promise, we know more than gold and weapons will pass with Buliwye through that bonfire into Valhalla.
A similar both-handed Ordeal and Reward occurs in The Return of the King with Eowyn. As she killed the Nazguhl and its rider, she lost her beloved uncle. In her Reward, she has wounds to recover from and a worthy man to recover with.
The Difficult Reward
For protagonists (like Harry Potter) who did not defeat the antagonist during the Ordeal, the culminating conflict occurs in Stage 11, the Resurrection.
If the protagonists failed spectacularly in the Ordeal, they are now prisoners of the antagonistic force.
Continuing to live is not the Reward. Sorry, writers; it’s not that easy.
The Reward provides opportunities for the miraculous, the foreshadowy magical (hinted at but never seen until this moment).
A beloved ally sacrifices himself to save the protagonists (Dobby).
The stone heart finally cracks; the ice finally melts.
Or information so desperately needed earlier becomes available now.
Or the untrusted Shapeshifter becomes trustworthy; the trickster’s earlier trick percolates for hours, days, weeks and finally works out, exploding the imprisoning cage.
The impossible escape becomes possible through the others that the protagonist gathered earlier: the thunder cliffs of 13th Warrior.
To Queen Elizabeth in The Crown, episode 7, the professor reminds her that she studied with the finest Constitutional scholar of England. “You know all the fine points of our Constitution,” he tells her. “You know more than anyone else.” And this young woman, whom the world perceived as weak and lesser and not intellectual, realizes that she is more than anyone imagined, anyone including herself. Elizabeth reaches an understanding that she had but didn’t comprehend: “It is not my job to govern, but it is my job to ensure proper governance.”
The Reward is for our protagonists, our audiences, and ourselves as writers.
Be in the moment and don’t race through it.
The last three stages belong to the last segment of the Archetypal Story Pattern: Return and Re-Integration.
The key to the antagonist’s ultimate defeat is found.
The protagonists have their Dear and a new resolve and determination to achieve their goal.
The protagonists think as individuals, not as the group taught them to think.
Join us on November 20 for the Road Back, Stage 10 of the 12-Stage Archetypal Story Pattern. We’re almost done.
It has to be hatred. This Ordeal is the supreme battle.
And the outcome of that battle? The encounter with chief antagonist must drive our protagonists to sacrifice everything to defeat her/him.
If unsuccessful, our protagonists will be imprisoned by the antagonist; escape isn’t possible.
If successful, remnants of the antagonistic evil remain to twine python-like until Stages 10 and 11.
To this point, our protagonists have struggled through tests—with mixed successes and failures—designed to change and to prepare for the Ordeal (July 20 Blog).
Now, here at the Ordeal, they do not dare fail. Failure means dire consequences.
The Ordeal is not a proving ground; it is the battlefield.
Strategies, skills, and allies are all essential for this battle.
However, this is not the ultimate battle; that comes at Stage 11: Resurrection.
Anne Elliott has struggled to retain her dream against her obedience to family, her private desire against public criticism. The daughter of nobility, she fell in love with an untitled sea captain unacceptable to her family and her mentor. Anne’s introverted personality prevented her from publicly declaring her dream.
In the Ordeal, Anne finally and publicly demands her desire. She tells her brother-in-law. She exhorts him to ensure that Capt. Wentworth comes to her family’s party. Her urgency is an open declaration of her love brought into the very circle that rejected him.
In the 1995 film, after her declaration to her brother-in-law, Anne encounters Frederick Wentworth on the street. Her brother-in-law continues on while Anne and Frederick cleave to each other. After the kiss we have been rooting for, they stroll through the streets. They are so engrossed in each other that they don’t even see the arrival of a circus. The celebratory and exotic circus they care about is the connection of their hearts.
The Ordeal in this film occurs deep in the lair of the Wendol, the cannibalistic cave-dwellers. While Ibn and the remaining warriors hold off the Wendol warriors, Buliwye goes to defeat the “Mother of the Wendol”.
Buliwye is conditioned to protect women, from queen to the lowliest servant. Early in the film, at the Call to Adventure, when Ibn first meets the Northmen, we see Buliwye’s conditioning. The dim lighting makes the details difficult to see but invest the effort.
The old king is dead; a new king must be found. The challenger sits beside Buliwye at the funeral feast. He wants to attack, hoping to catch his rival by surprise. He plans to strike as the servant girl offers a tray of food. Yet Buliwye anticipates his rival’s plan. When the girl offers the tray, he backs her up with a gesture—getting her out of the way before the battle begins.
At the Ordeal, Buliwye faces the Wendol Mother: a queen with a harem of warriors, someone who considers human sacrifice as holy worship and who is a cannibalistic predator: “They eat the dead.”
She is his ultimate enemy.
He anticipates an old woman; she is young.
He wields a sword; she has only a claw.
He knows women are weaker than he is; she levels their battle with poison.
He expects a woman untrained in battle; she fights with speed and skill.
She is everything he doesn’t expect—and she cuts him with the envenomed claw because he never expected “her”.
Wars are not won if the protagonist doesn’t have all-out hatred for the antagonistic force.
Anne Eliot has to hate her family’s hidebound snobbery and illogical relationships to cast off her belief in their “rightness”. We have seen her change coming.
her older sister’s entitled privilege,
her younger sister’s absolute selfishness,
and both evils in equal parts in her father.
Lady Russell her mentor is now also proven in error, by Mrs. Smith’s gossip based on fact, not speculation. Anne’s inner guide led her to Frederick; now she understands that her love for Frederick was a leading “away” and not “astray”.
Because he didn’t expect the Wendol Mother, Buliwye didn’t “hate” her enough. His mortality comes rushing toward him. He separates her head from her body, defeating her. But she has already killed him, slow poison with no antidote.
And the Wendol leader still remains.
The Antagonists and their Ordeal
In the Ordeal, good writers consider their protagonists’ hatred of the antagonists.
Great writers consider their antagonists’ hatred of the protagonists.
The antagonist has three shining moments in the story:
When the dear is destroyed, propelling the protagonist into the journey (Stage 2).
The Resurrection (Stage 11)
The Resurrection is the culminating battle: Harry and Voldemort, finally mano y mano. Yet we are in the Ordeal. The protagonist wants success—he might even achieve it, temporarily. However, the antagonistic force remains strong until Stage 11; the Ordeal is Stage 8.
Antagonists despise everything the protagonists stand for. Their hatred, however, becomes a weakness.
Voldemort in the Deathly Hallows Ordeal gloats over his success in enticing Harry into the Forbidden Forest.
He has won! Harry cannot escape him.
And the poor deluded fool willingly sacrificed himself for weak wizards and half-bloods.
This deluded fool will die.
But . . .
Harry could never escape Voldemort; they were connected from the beginning although Voldemort didn’t know it.
Harry has realized the connection between them.
That connection has to cease, or Voldemort will continue to live.
2. Sacrifice for others is not a weakness, but a strength.
Friendship is common caring and loyalty.
Voldemort does not inspire friendship. His followers stay because they hate the opposing side or they delight in evil. Neither reason inspires loyalty that endures hardship.
3. Harry will not die; he has the philosopher’s stone.
Voldemort’s unknown horcrux will die, weakening him in unexpected ways.
is a series of juxtapositions
between Harry and Voldemort.
The Inmost Cave of the Ordeal is more than the location, the Forbidden Forest. The darkest fear of all is Death, for the audience as well as for this antagonist. Voldemort, who fears death more than anything else, believes he has conquered it. The darkest evil is revenge. Harry counters Voldemort’s revenge against all perceived slights with compassion and loyalty and sacrifice, the ultimate loving gift.
The Ordeal leaves Voldemort thinking he has won and Harry knowing that he has. The encounter with Dumbledore merely confirms what Harry has discovered and what Voldemort will never understand.
All-out hatred never withstands love.
We strengthen our story’s Ordeals by considering both protagonist and antagonist.
We can choose to have our protagonist succeed or fail.
With Persuasion, success leads to greater success.
In 13th Warrior, we anticipate a heroic death even as we screw up tension for the final battle.
Deathly Hallows shows us failure that is success and success that is failure.
Coming up is Stage 9, a Reward.
Without a Reward, few audience members are willing to continue with our stories. And face it, we writers need a reward as well.
Stage 7 of the Archetypal Story Pattern (ASP) is Approach to the Inmost Cave, the focus of our last blog. (click here to read)
The name itself—“approach” and “inmost cave”—clues us writers to the multitude of caves necessary for our protagonists’ transformative journey.
WHAT IT IS
A cave is under the earth. Yes, I know I am Miss Obvious, but I have a purpose.
Spelunking tools include crash helmet, boots, gloves, drinking water, food, and three independent light sources.
Common inhabitants of caves include bats (who navigate by echolation) and blind fish (who sense the tremors in the water). Most other creatures stay near the natural light sources, using the cave only for a refuge or a lair.
For writers, “caves” lets us know that we are venturing deep into the dark unknown of our protagonists’ psyche—and our own. We writers reveal much about ourselves—unknowingly—in our writing, especially our first ½ million words and often twice beyond those.
Caves—in literal fact and in our subconscious—are labyrinthine. Monsters may lurk: Who is predator? Who is prey? Who is both?
Okay, enough with Miss Obvious. Here’s Miss Purpose ::
Such caves require hard choices—and our protagonists have been deciding and discerning and distinguishing since they abandoned their Ordinary Worlds and embarked on their journeys.
Through the tasks, they have delved deeply into antagonistic levels that revealed their own strengths and weaknesses.
They don’t know who or what the monsters are, and they fear they themselves are one of those monsters.
They don’t understand the means of navigation.
And they don’t have three independent light sources.
WHAT IT ISN’T
The Inmost Cave of story is not a cage. It’s not a prison.
The Ordinary World could have been a cage, but the protagonists have escaped it. Even when the Dear One of the OWie returned to lure the protagonist back, they continued on.
The Inmost Cave is not a maze.
It can be labyrinthine, with blocked or twisted passages.
A maze, though, is a puzzle that can be easily solved. It lacks its minotaur, half-man and half-beast, waiting to devour the unwary.
A maze can be an amazing walk, but it needs no thread to guide our Theseus-like protagonists in and out of the unlighted passages.
THE INMOST CAVE
Joseph Campbell [Remember him? From way back in mid-January > click here for a reminder] places the Ordeal in the Inmost Cave.
The terminology of “Inmost Cave” requires a series of caves: the entrance, the journey into, the first vaulted emptiness, more passages, perhaps more caverns, and finally the deepest, darkest location.
We journeyed through these first locations, didn’t we? The C2A, the Mentor, the 1st Threshold, the Tests. Now, finally, we are heading down to our Ordeal.
Subconscious fears arise in even the most seasoned spelunker when equipment fails while exploring a new cave.
The fear of being lost, of being left alone.
The crushing weight of earth
The claustrophobia of enclosed spaces
The utter darkness that hides dangers: creatures, projections, freezing water, and abysses.
The complete devastation of losing the way and being forever trapped.
Senses heighten in these situations. Adrenaline kicks in. Only the most stoic can hide their emotional reactions; they still have them.
No one escapes emotions.
Not even our protagonists.
THE DARKNESS OF THE INMOST CAVE
What fears plague the protagonists?
Unforeshadowed fears cannot undermine our protagonists in the Ordeal. Planfor them.
Ibn in 13th Warrior suddenly announces his fear of heights as he must slide down a rope from a higher ledge into water. The audience cannot appreciate his fear.
Raiders of the Lost Ark left a snake in Indiana Jones’ seat as he flew away from his first encounter with danger. The audience, therefore, anticipated and understood his fear as the last torch flickered out in the pyramid.
Fear is not the greatest darkness a protagonist confronts.
The darkness in us all is our greatest struggle. We have dropped into the abyssal inmost cave that our humanity most struggles against.
And the greatest evil? It’s the loss of our humanity, the higher and nobler motivations that elevate us above the animal.
How do we lose that humanity and sink into evil? It’s revenge.
Revenge, rather than justice, is the greatest evil when facing our antagonist.
Revenge is not justice. The ancient Greeks understood that, when they named justice Themis while they named revenge Nemeis … and the Erinyes, the undeterred Furies … and the Harpies, Zeus’ hounds of Hades.
What can revenge compel the protagonists to do?
The villain in The Incredibles wants revenge based on an early rejection. Rejection seems a silly motive–until you examine the last Iron Man movie and Girl on a Train and Wuthering Heights and Dido of Carthage and James Bond’s villains and more and more.
In the Hobbit, Bilbo confronts Smaug, intense greed representative of the dwarves’ greed—and mirrored in the greed for the Ring itself that Bilbo and then Frodo (and Golum) must confront. Smaug wants revenge. The dwarves want revenge. Bilbo avoids it.
Medea is rejected, abandoned, and cast out. For her revenge on Jason, she kills a princess, a king, and her own children.
Hamlet’s father is murdered. He kills Polonius, Rosencrantz and Guildenstern (deliberately causing their deaths is murder), and Claudius. Ophelia, Laertes, and Gertrude are also killed in the maelstrom of his revenge.
Revenge has unintended consequences. How many superheroes contend with villains motivated solely by revenge?
Every crime, every terroristic act, and every war—revenge starts all of them.
Remember that as you prepare the protagonists’ Ordeal.
The Ordeal is the greatest suspenseful moment and the darkest action of the ASP. It occurs at the 75% mark of the story. Everything has built to this apex. It is the Crisis, not the Climax.
The Road Back and the Resurrection of the Evil (Stages 10 and 11) are still to come.
How can the Ordeal seed the difficulties in these two stages? Here’s a clue:
Kindness is the golden chain by which society is bound together. ~ Goethe
Revenge isn’t kind. Remember that. The Ordeal will be all-out hatred.
Join us on the 20th for a discussion of the essentials of the Ordeal.
The Destruction of the Dear (the formally titled Call to Adventure) propelled the protagonists into this journey.
This Dear, however, no longer exists.
In the Literal
The Dear that returns reminds the protagonists of what they once considered a worthy treasure. To have it return, now, is to have them see and reject their former perspectives. In the Approach, they assess the Dear as they never did before and see the flaws they previously ignored.
The protagonists may still hold the Dear as “dear”, but rejection must occur. Turning away from the former Dear will cause emotional pain on both sides. The protagonists release the Dear as well as their past: they hope for better in their future.
The Dear’s failed attempt to re-ensnare the protagonist could launch another Transformation:: in the Dear. Even harder to write is the Dear’s steadfast rejection of any change for the protagonist and the Dear’s own self. Not changing is stagnation.
In the Figurative
The illusion of the Dear’s return creates false hope for the protagonists.
Just as with the Dear’s literal return, the nostalgia and the dream and the rejection of that old dream must recur.
Yet the Figurative return of the Dear creates an opportunity for antagonistic tricks, another test of the protagonists’ determination to achieve the treasure at the end of this quest. The old Dear is again rejected for a better, brighter hope.
Darcy’s first proposal to Elizabeth is for the wrong reasons. He is drawn to her as an embodiment of his dream; he has not yet realized she IS his dream, even with all the flaws that are attached to a union with her.
In giving Elizabeth all the wrong reasons, Darcy forces her rejection. The rejection may not come from him, but he caused it.
Jam yesterday is now abandoned for the hope of Jam tomorrow.
The queen’s proposition to Alice is that the goodness of the bright hope never comes to fruition: tomorrow never comes. “Jam Today”, however, is coming. Stage 9 gives the protagonists a Reward. Stage 12 is Return with the Elixir, the fruity drink of the gods.
Alice will get her jam. Our protagonists will achieve their goal. Whether in the original or a changed or a heavily mutated form, that goal is achievable. The fruit is falling; the jam will be preserved.
The Approachserves story as it points both to the protagonists and the goals. Both are transforming.
Old ways, old perspectives were abandoned and are now rejected.
New ideas, new motivations will continue transforming the protagonists.
The title of this Stage 7 is Approach to the Inmost Cave, and I haven’t mentioned the Inmost Cave.
That’s because the Inmost Cave is the location of the Ordeal, Stage 8, the deepest darkness of the entire story.
Appropriately enough, in October I’ll discuss the caves and the Ordeal.
Join us at the 0’s = the 10th and the 20th, as we continue our yearlong journey through the Archetypal Story Pattern.