With Tests behind and the Ordeal ahead, what is the purpose of this stage called Approach to the Inmost Cave?

Wow, that’s a long question.

And what will this Alice quotation have to do with this stage?

“It’s very good jam,” said the Queen.

“Well, I don’t want any to-day, at any rate.”

“You couldn’t have it if you did want it,” the Queen said.  “The rule is jam tomorrow and jam yesterday but never jam to-day.”

“It must come sometimes to ‘jam to-day’,” Alice objected.

“No it can’t,” said the Queen.  “It’s jam every other day;  to-day isn’t any other day, you know.”

“I don’t understand you,” said Alice.  “It’s dreadfully confusing.”

~~Through the Looking Glass

public domain
Alice with the Queens, from Through the Looking Glass, illustration by A. Rackham


The Approach to the Inmost Cave is Stage 7 of the broad archetypal story pattern.

The 1st ASP section, only three stages, is Separation and Departure.  Protagonists abandon their former existences then embark on journeys that will change them from members into individuals.

The Approach centers the 2nd ASP section, Initiation and Transformation.

Through the Mentor and the 1st Threshold, confronting Tests and distinguishing Allies from Enemies, the protagonists have survived the Initiation and begun the difficult yet necessary Transformation.

The Approach confirms that the protagonists are changed enough to confront the greatest Ordeal the writer can throw at them.


What does it take to confirm a Transformation?

An encounter with the past.

The “past” is the protagonist’s existence pre-Initiation.

  1. The Ordinary World (http://writersinkbooks.com/writing-story-7-questions-start/) can tempt. After all, it formerly had the protagonist caught in its snare of the safe and ordinary.

We all have moments of nostalgia for our past.  Our protagonists can look back at their secure OWs and remember them with fondness-yet also be willing to continue on.

The hobbits do this in Tolkien’s Ring trilogy.  The memories of their lives increase their determination not only to continue their quests but also to keep that blissfully ignorant world safe.  

In this clip, they have returned to their cherished shire.  It is everything that they remembered . . . and Sam has transformed from the bumbling shy rube he was.

  1. The erstwhile Dear One (http://writersinkbooks.com/writing-story-destroy-dear/) can return—both literally and figuratively.

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.

Jam Today

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 Approach serves 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.

Wrapping Up

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.