Into the Cave

Spelunking:  the exploration of caves

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.


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.

The Inmost Cave of story is not a cage.  It’s not a prison.
A well-tended green maze is certainly not a labyrinthine cave.

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.


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.


What fears plague the protagonists?

Unforeshadowed fears cannot undermine our protagonists in the Ordeal.  Plan for 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.

Evil is.


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.

Medea About to Murder Her Children by Eugène Delacroix (1862)

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.

Last but not Least

the 4 Archetypes who Complete Jung’s 12

The Everyman.  The Lover.  The Innocent.  The Trickster.  Last but not least, these four characters provide rich ground for story beyond the same-old same-old.

Of these four, only the last seems to have any potential as a story’s protagonist.  They would seem to be the last choices.  Yet when we examine them more closely, we discover that they may be last but not the least in that selection.

In these unexpected protagonists lie the truth of life.  Never forget Jane Austen :: 

Jane Austen can get more drama out of morality than most other writers can get from shipwreck, battle, murder, or mayhem.  ~ Robert Blythe

The Everyman

Jung calls this archetype the Orphan.  Everyman is the modern take on the term.

The Everyman fits in with everyone.  S/He (Always remember that the archetypes can be viewed from either gender.) is a good friend to all.  With “street smarts” gained over time, s/he is very aware of how people and society work, even if s/he never lived “on the streets”.

Like George Bailey in It’s a Wonderful Life, the Everyman comes wired to understand the hidden networking.  S/He thrives through understanding the interconnections within any social system.

The Everyman’s Downfall

The Everyman can stumble into irresponsibility.  Understanding the interconnections,

It's a Wonderful Life
George Bailey on the Bridge

s/he can find ways to slip away from obligations.  Everybody’s friend can actually be no one’s friend as s/he plays upon friendship to “pass the buck”.

Look at George Bailey’s uncle:  the perfect example of the irresponsible Everyman.

And George himself provides us with the Everyman as victim, especially when he stands on the bridge and contemplates abandoning his obligations through suicide. 

The Everyman can also turn into the victim: “oh poor me.  What a poor life I’ve had.”  In controlling the networks, s/he can manipulate others into co-dependency.

Yet when the Everyman takes control of his story, when he rejects the victim and becomes the leader, everyone benefits, everyone is enriched, from story characters to the readers.

The Lover

The Lover archetype is driven to bond.  Familial, relational, social, physical, spiritual:  no matter the type of bond, the Lover will seek intimacy.  In doing so, s/he may leap over the walls that some people have, enforcing friendship too soon.

The Lover wants that zing of love.  Like Gary Oldman’s Dracula who is driven to bond with Mina, the blood connections drive him.  He is the top predator building his pack, ruling them with a velvet-gloved hand.

S/he needs the constant sustenance of the relationship.  Without it, the Lover will feel abandoned.

However, the Lover is capable of great sacrifice to keep the loved ones safe.

One Side of the Lover’s Downfall

Heathcliff has an instant and soul-deep connection with Cathy of the first generation.  Denied the closer bond of sex, he turns on those he believes interfered, and the Cathy of the second generation suffers from his revenge.

Heathcliff provides the example of the self-impetus that destroys this character.  In this

Heathcliff, obsessed and manipulative, trying to control Cathy

respect, he is last but not least, for he drives his belief that he was “last selected” to punish everyone he believes de-valued him.

  • First, he jumped to the conclusion that he would be denied the bond he sought.
  • Second, his love turned to obsession. In this respect, he takes on the Stalker Mentality:
    • Controlling and manipulative
    • Focused on self needs rather than love for the other.
  • Once the obsession is in place, he cannot release it. To abandon the obsession is to destroy the connective bond.
The Other Side of the Lover’s Downfall

The Lover can mistake that connective bond as copulation.  Rushing too quickly into relationships, the Lover risks getting burned.  Or the sustaining family bond could have failed, leaving the Lover crippled in how to build and maintain a relationship.

This archetype may mistake physical intimacy for relationship intimacy.  The Lover then becomes the bed-hopping siren or seducer.  Obsessed with the high of attraction and sex, s/he will be unable or unwilling to analyze the reason no deep connection ever occurs.

Worse, the crippled Lover may only objectify the other person.

The Innocent

The idealistic Innocent is often a trusting optimist.

We need Innocents in our lives.  They look forward with hope.  They see the potential for sunny skies when all around them are storms.  While some of us slog through the rain, they’re singing and dancing in it.

That can be very frustrating.

However, their bright shiny helps us see the end.  They spot the rainbow first because they are always looking for it.

Sam Gamgee in the Lord of the Rings trilogy keeps Frodo on the trail, even to the point of carrying Frodo when he can go no farther.  He has bought into the mission, and he sees the possibility of success.

Rue in The Hunger Games and Forrest Gump are two more examples of the Innocent.  They may be considered last, but their influence is certainly not the least, giving hope when all hope is dissipated.

The Innocent’s Downfall

The blind cannot lead the blind.  When the Innocent loses touch with the stone-hard reality of a truly impossible situation, s/he will refuse to acknowledge the truth.  S/he will have great capacity for self-denial.

Those who trust too much are easily burned.  Those who are burned too much become ashy cynics, burning everyone else.

The Innocent who comes through the fire, properly valuing the miracle of love and community, that is a true hero, definitely last but not least.

The Trickster / Fool

Many teen-agers think they are Tricksters because they like to play tricks.  All they want is to have fun, which is the Fool’s defining trait.

Many writers mistake the Trickster as a prankster of evil intent.  This is not truly the definition of a Trickster.

Coyote of Native American myth never cared about the consequences of his actions because he never considered them.  He thought it was enough that he was “acting” and having a good time.

Getting joy out of life should be the goal of all of us, but we need to temper it with good sense, something the Trickster may claim to have done as everything crashes down.  However, the Trickster merely considered the best outcome of the prank, not all the outcomes of the prank.

Alex Foley in Beverly Hills Cop is the perfect example of a Trickster. He appears to have no better sense, but he has a wily innate cleverness, much as Odysseus eventually gains.  Alex Foley is the best example of the Trickster.

Click here to see a trailer of this classic 1980s flick.

Capt. Jack Sparrow in Pirates of the Caribbean, however, is the classic Fool.  Sparrow spots something to do, sees how it will work out if everything works out, and heads straight into the event.  He is gifted with the god’s own luck;  nothing will always work out for the best.  Disney has weakened this character by always providing a deus ex machina.  

The Trickster’s Downfall is to Become a Fool
Illustration by Henry Justice Ford
Odysseus Kills the Suitors

Too obsessed with cleverness, the Trickster will constantly upend things just to have done so.  When the consequences to others are not be considered, s/he becomes the self-absorbed Fool.

The Drunken Fool is another downfall of this archetype.  Seeking a good time, s/he can become addicted to alcohol or caffeine, sugar or drugs, video gaming or adrenal rushes, anything to give a sustained high.  The dark side devolves to gluttony, ruled by temporary satisfiers like food or liquor or cocaine, high speed or pranks or petty vandalism.

If the Fool never suffers consequences (just like teenagers), s/he will spiral down to greater problems.

Odysseus—after foolishly announcing himself to the blinded cyclops—eventually learns to control his Trickster side.  He begins to use it cleverly, such as his trickery against the suitors who had overrun his home.

However, not telling his long-suffering wife of his return—that is classic Fool behavior.

Next Up

These Last but not Least four archetypes complete our survey of Jung’s 12 characters.

In the next blog, we start a closer examination of the 12 Stages of the Archetypal Story Pattern, launching with the importance of the Ordinary World.

Join us on the 10th and 20th of every month as we examine the classic Story Arc that should guide all plotting.

~~ M. A. Lee