March 14, 2012

back to basics: the hero's journey, stage six

Continuing with the series on the Hero’s Journey, today we’re going to talk about stage six of the mythic structure: Tests, Allies, Enemies. To see all the posts I’ve done so far, check out the “writing help” navigation tab at the top of the page.

The hero has crossed the first threshold and is finally in the mysterious and exciting Special World. He has committed to adventure. He has (most of) the necessary tools and knowledge to survive. He is ready to face the unknown.

If you remember the first stage of the Hero’s Journey (the Ordinary World), you’ll remember that I explained that there needs to be a high contrast between the Ordinary and Special Worlds. The reader, who has seen the Ordinary World in all its un-glory, now experiences the Special World. Their impression of this new place should differ greatly from the Ordinary World. Where the Ordinary was mundane, everyday, and quite boring, the Special must be exhilarating, exciting, and unusual. Even if the hero remains in the same locale, there should be some sort of movement, a change in tension and energy. Usually a new emotional or psychological world is unveiled. The Special World has a different feel to it.

The hero enters a period of adjustment. He must face a series of trials and challenges manufactured to test him and prepare him for the greater ordeals ahead. These Tests are often very difficult, but they are not life-or-death situations. The Tests may come from the landscape or nature of the Special World. Usually, this new world is dominated by villains, who are careful to lay traps and barricades that will make it difficult for the hero to reach them. Sometimes, these Tests are given by the Mentor, who followed the hero into the Special World. For example, in A New Hope, Luke’s Mentor Obi-Wan Kenobi joins him on the Millenium Falcon, teaching him the ways of the force.

As the stage suggests, the heroes will also obtain Allies and face new Enemies. In this period of adjustment, the hero must figure out who can be trusted and relied upon, and who cannot. This is a test in itself, examining if the hero is a good judge of character. Think of the scene in Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s Stone when Draco approaches Harry in his compartment on the Hogwarts express (outside the Great Hall in the film) and offers his friendship and guidance. Harry coolly replies, “I think I can tell who the wrong sort are for myself, thanks.” And while we all know Draco is not purely evil, he isn’t an honorable or good sort of character. Harry makes friends with Ron Weasley instead of Draco, and as he’s sorted into Gryffindor, he procures a truckload of Allies, while making Enemies with Slytherin. In A New Hope, Luke makes friends with Han Solo and Chewbacca, inadvertently making enemies with Jabba the Hut. In Tangled, Rapunzel enters a shaky alliance with Flynn Rider, and later, at the Snuggly Duckling, she makes friends with the surprisingly pleasant ruffians.

Allies are the good sort of people that will help the hero when he needs them. The hero may have one Ally, usually known as the sidekick, or he will have a whole team of Allies. Enemies usually have control of the Special World, and the hero’s Allies are there to back him up when the Enemies strike back. The Enemies are better known as the Shadow as far as archetypes go, and the Shadow may consist of just one Enemy, or it could be a band of Enemies. Harry has several enemies: his rival, Draco; the Slytherins; the Death Eaters; and Voldemort.

As the hero establishes his Allies and Enemies, he must learn and adjust to the new rules of the Special World.

In the world of Muggles, magic is not common practice, and schools are devoted to math, science, literature, and the like. In the Wizarding World, and at Hogwarts, magic is all there is, but there are rules that must be followed. Harry has to learn how to cast spells properly, he is tested on these spells, he faces a Troll… all common day wizarding things.

For Luke Skywalker, Tatooine is a sandy, boring place, except for the occasional scrape with the sandpeople. His Special World is the unbounded galaxy, hyper-speed spaceflight, and lightsaber/blaster battles. Luke must quickly learn the way of the Force and fight off the dark forces of Darth Vader.

One of the most common (and nearly clichéd) stopping places for the hero in the Special World is the ever-visited inn/tavern/saloon/bar/cantina. The inn is a natural congregating place, a good place to get information and observe the rules of the Special World in action. The Crossing of the First Threshold took a lot of effort, leaving the hero tired, thirsty, and in need of company. The inn is a natural place to recuperate, make friends, and learn new information. It is everything of the Special World replicated and confined to a small scale.

The cantina scene in A New Hope is an example of this traditional concept. There, Luke meets Han Solo and Chewbacca, indirectly makes enemies with Jabba the Hutt, and experiences the blusterous life beyond his tiny little life with his aunt and uncle. On route to Diagon Alley, Harry enters the Leaky Cauldron, which acts as a buffer between the Muggle world and the Special World he is about to enter (acting more as a Threshold in that situation). Diagon Alley fits the idea of the “watering hole” by taking everything in the Wizarding World and putting in such a small place; it is a microcosm of the Wizarding World.

But the inn is not necessary to convey this stage of the Hero’s Journey. For instance, I used several examples of films and books in earlier posts where this stage of the Hero’s Journey does not take place in a inn sort of setting. In Stardust, Tristan Thorne binds Yvaine to him immediately upon entering the Special World. Little does he know, by possessing Yvaine, he has made enemies of the witches who wish to eat her heart and of the princes who want the stone she wears around her neck. Eventually, Tristan faces these enemies (coincidentally, in an inn), survives, and goes on to meet his Mentor, who he first believes to be an enemy, but turns out to be his best ally, at which point, he is trained in sword fighting, lightning catching, and sword fighting. In Howl’s Moving Castle, Sophie Hatter makes an enemy of the Witch of the Waste almost immediately, and after she is turned into a 90-year-old girl, she makes friends with the turnip scarecrow, Calcifer, Michael (Markl in the film), and Howl. In The Clockwork Giant, Petra makes friends with Emmerich, and because of that friendship, she slowly turns Tolly into her enemy. Also, by working with Emmerich on the automaton, she makes enemies of Emmerich’s father and the Guild council, which comes into play much later in the book.

This stage of the Hero’s Journey is useful for getting characters to know each other, helping the audience to understand the rules of the Special World, and allows the hero to gain knowledge and friends that will help him later on. It is also a good stage to introduce conflicts that will later come into play. This “stage” of the Hero’s Journey usually spans several scenes, oftentimes melding with the others.

Just as every stage in the Hero’s Journey, the Tests, Allies, Enemies stage is not a necessity, and it can be altered or removed as the writer sees fit. Though, you will find it difficult to remove it altogether. Its placement usually follows directly after the Crossing of the First Threshold, but not always. There’s leeway in the organization of these stages, and in the case of Tests, Allies, Enemies, the certain aspects that make up the stage might not be entirely obvious.

If you have any questions about the Hero’s Journey, don’t hesitate to ask. I know a lot more about it than I’ve said here, and I would be happy to clear anything up, if you need me to. This is a rather general overview, since I don’t want you guys to have to read insanely long posts, but if you would like a more in depth analysis as it pertains to writing, check out The Writer’s Journey: Mythic Structure for Writers by Christopher Vogler. If you are just interested in the Hero’s Journey in itself, check out A Hero With A Thousand Faces by Joseph Campbell.

What other examples of Tests, Allies, Enemies can you think of from books or films you’ve experienced lately?

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