March 28, 2012

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

Continuing with the series on the Hero’s Journey, today we’re going to talk about stage ten of the mythic structure: the Road Back. 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 seized the sword, saved the princess, and defeated the evil warlord. He now faces a choice: to remain in the Special World, or begin the journey home to the Ordinary World.

The Special World has its charms, but few heroes choose to stay there. Should the hero choose to stay, the story ends in the previous stage, once the hero has claimed his reward. Most heroes take the Road Back and leave the world of adventure. This stage marks a time when heroes rededicate themselves to the adventure. It is another turning point in the story, where the goal of the adventure changes from seizing the sword to returning home safely. 

The Road Back isn’t always paved with gold. Sometimes, there are consequences that the hero must face as a result of the previous stage. Perhaps they didn’t defeat the baddie. They still have him to confront before the story can really be over. If you look at Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s Stone, Harry faces Voldemort in the Forbidden Forest, but Harry survives with the help of a friendly centaur. Harry faced death, but he did not defeat the baddie (not that he really had much of a chance). The rest of the book leads up to a second confrontation with Voldemort-possessed Quirrell.
Maybe the hero is on the run from the forces he failed to destroy in the Ordeal. The villain that the hero confronted in the Ordeal may pull himself together and rise stronger than before. The villain now seeks his revenge with the hero, and the hero can choose to stand and fight, or get the heck out of there. In Star Wars Episode IV: A New Hope, Luke Skywalker fails to kill Darth Vader when he destroys the Death Star. In Episode V: The Empire Strikes Back, Darth Vader is on a manhunt to find Luke and destroy him, or assimilate him in the family trade.

Maybe the new goal isn’t only to get home, but to find a new, greater treasure, or defeat a stronger, more evil villain. Much like playing a game of Dungeons & Dragons. Adventurers are always looking for the next enemy to conquer, the next great treasure to find. The journey continues. Consider book series, like Percy Jackson and the Olympians. After Percy successfully returns the Master Bolt to Zeus, he returns to Camp Half-Blood and then home to his mother. But that is only the first journey Percy must face. He must go on another journey in The Sea of Monsters, the second book, and so on so forth.

Sometimes, the Road Back is just that. In The Hobbit, after Bilbo and company survive the goblin invasion of Smaug’s lair, they go home. The chapter is literally called “The Return Journey.” In The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe, the Road Back takes place years after the Pevensies reap the reward of their efforts against the White Witch, and even though they never mean to leave Narnia, curious Lucy sets them on a path that will return them to the Ordinary World.

The Road Back may be full of setbacks and obstacles. It may last a few minutes or may follow an elaborate string of other ordeals. The main purpose is to acknowledge the hero’s resolve to finish his journey. The hero takes what they have learned and gained in the Special World and set themselves a new goal—to escape, find further adventure, or return home.

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 examples of the Road Back can you think of from books or films you’ve experienced lately?

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