Now that the hero has made friends, ruffled a few feathers of the enemy, and has learned what exactly he needs to do, he has to go do it. Stage Seven of the Hero’s Journey is the Approach to the Inmost Cave.
Structurally, it comes right after Tests, Allies, Enemies. However, that does not mean that as soon as the hero passes through the inn, that he should dive straight into the heart of enemy territory. As the writer, you have the right to allow yourself space and “creative license” to make these stages what you want them to be. As always, this structure is not rigid. You can follow it step by step, word for word, but you don’t have to. Also, the Approach doesn’t have to take only a page or so. The Approach is a journey. The hero is on his way, and a lot can happen between here and there.
At this point, the heroes have adjusted to the Special World. They are now in between the border of the Special World and its heart. On their way to defeat the Shadow, they enter another zone, filled with its own Threshold Guardians, tests, and agendas. This is where the hero makes final preparations for the central ordeal of the adventure.
As far as storytelling goes, certain special functions naturally fall into this zone of Approach. As the hero nears the realm of the Shadow, they may take time to make planes, spy on the enemy, reorganize his group of allies, train for battle, arm themselves, and have a last moment of good cheer before facing the no-man’s-land.
There are different kinds of the Approach. There is the bold Approach, where the hero has what he needs and he dives headfirst into the enemy’s stronghold. Usually, this is the method of committed heroes, heroes who did not hesitate at the Call to Adventure. Then there is the preparative Approach. It is a time of further reconnaissance and information-gathering, a time for arming the hero and his allies.
Oftentimes, the Approach to the Inmost Cave is not an easy journey. The Shadow has placed obstacles in the hero’s way, whether they be booby traps, minions, or illusions. There will be Threshold Guardians that the heroes must face.
The idea of the Approach is that all experiences on the journey attribute to the advancement of the adventure. No conflict is wasted, and every challenge of the past strengthens and informs the hero for the present, and for what is to come. The hero has to gain the reader’s respect, and by proving himself against these obstacles, he earns it.
Once the hero travels ever closer to the center of conflict, he enters another Special World. It’s the dream within a dream. There are new rules, different values. The stakes have risen. It’s do-or-die. This is the last moment of preparation.
It’s tempting for the hero to think that they can just march into foreign territory, take the prize, and leave. It is never that easy. The hero is challenge the very fabric of the Special World, which does not want to be changed.
As the hero makes the Approach, he is on the edge between life and death. Things are not as simple nor as easy as he first thought. Complications arise. Disheartening setbacks threaten the hero at this stage. They tear at the hero, battling his willingness to proceed. The stakes are even higher. This stage tests the hero ruthlessly, determining if he is actually worthy of the adventure.
The Approach encompasses all the final preparations for the Supreme Ordeal. It often brings heroes to a stronghold of the opposition, a defended center where every lesson and Ally of the journey so far comes into play. New perceptions are put to the test, and the final obstacles to reaching the heart are overcome. It’s not over yet.