This post is part of a series of posts sponsored by SCBWI Florida Tampa Bay area writers. We invite you to join us in this online book study of THE WRITER’S JOURNEY: MYTHIC STRUCTURE FOR WRITERS, Third Edition by Christopher Vogler.
Appendices, pages 341-365
Contributor: JC Kato
Though referenced throughout The Writer’s Journey, Christopher Vogler dedicates this chapter to the critical concept of catharsis, which for effective storytelling should pop, snag, and twist readers into the journey of the hero.
Medically, catharsis could be as simple as a sneeze—expunging impurities from the body. In drama, Vogler uses the contemporary meaning of the word as “a sudden release of emotion.”
Born of ritual, drama leaps out at us off the walls of ancient caves, flickering rituals of unknown Heroes who stepped out of endless darkness with the help of one single flame.
Vogler links the swoon and song of ritual—the world of people connecting with the world of Gods—to early texts of plays that were intended to evoke emotion through religious experiences. From the cave, the author evolves the ritual to “intimate groves of trees”, Mt. Olympus’s sacred wells, temple pyramids, and on up to the drama born of Mesopotamia’s emphasis of time and stars, and seasons.
Drama and Seasons
Vogler borrows from the scholar Theodor Gaster who described four types of ritual in the ancient world—Mortification, Purgation, Invigoration, and Jubilation. The coinciding of these rituals with winter, spring, summer, and fall prove practical ways to engage society in catharsis.
· Mortification: Tragedy. Point of death. Like entering the cave, there’s a need for society to shut down after a strenuous season of work at the end of the year.
· Purgation: Cleansing the body. The shedding of skin and ridding oneself of sour feelings. This season honors the death and rebirth of the god-king.
· Invigoration: Comedy. Fizz and giggle and erotic merriment vividly contrasts the tragic catharsis of the previous season. Vogler quotes vaudeville, “Always leave ’em laughing.”
· Jubilation: Return of the light. Our hero emerges from the cave with final reward, fortified for the return of yet another season.
The Wisdom of the Body
Joseph Campbell brought to our attention that the archetypes in our stories “speak to us directly through the organs.” Vogler qualifies this with a contemporary translation: “Emotions are complex processes, but on one level they are simple chemical reactions to stimuli . . .” Certain images illicit primal, intuitive, and maybe even animalistic levels of emotion.
· From tableau: These are emotionally charged depictions of images brought on by long ritualistic tradition. Vogler mentions the image of Egyptian goddess Hathor nursing her child, the dismembered body of Osiris being gathered by Isis, and The Last Supper.
· From the stage: Greek dramas startled their audience with visceral stage effects and bold language.
· From the arena: Romans escalated the body’s responses with the bloodied mangling of gladiators.
· From puppet play: Vogler interestingly credits the brash and violent puppet character of Guignol from the 1700’s for triggering a new wave of thriller plays.
· From movies: Throughout The Writer’s Journey, Vogler references the hero’s journey as depicted in films. And here, close to the end of the book, he takes us from the French puppet plays to the riveting impact of moving pictures. In the 50’s and 60’s, Alfred Hitchcock “employ(ed) everything in the toolbox—story, character, editing, lighting, costumes, music, set design, action, special effects and psychology—to bring about physical responses . . .” To represent the 70’s, Vogler chose Irwin Allen films like Poseidon Adventure and The Towering Inferno to show how films played to the body. Later, movies by Spielberg and Lucas seduced the eye with the arrival of special effects and today we have 3D, IMAX and buzzers in our theater seats.
The Body as a Guide to Critiquing
In his many years as an evaluator of stories, Vogler depends on his body to guide him. The more emotional and physical responses he has, the better the story. Traveling the body with the seven chakras system, and their corresponding organs, he explains how their healthy opening can be brought about in a story with vibrations of sound, emotional breakthroughs, and enhanced climaxes of action.
In closing, he reiterates the value of catharsis being the “biggest emotional and physical trigger of them all.” If we read the stories we’re working on and they make us choke and sweat and laugh, we’ve perhaps popped open a chakra or two. If we haven’t, we may need to re-read The Writer’s Journey.
Meeting Today’s Contributor—JC Kato
JC Kato segued from singing to writing and produced three audio storybook CDs.. Like many first attempts at writing, the three audio storybooks that she wrote and produced (complete with ear-perking sound effects) now sit in a cherished place on a shelf. But it was a start. Poetry helped her with economy of words and she served five years as Anthology Editor for the Florida State Poets Association. Now she finds her voice in middle grade historical fiction. JC acknowledges the support of SCBWI, her critique groups, the awesome generosity of Rob Sanders to the SCBWI Florida Tampa Bay Area Writers, and the illuminating, magical workshops of Joyce Sweeney. You can contact JC at firstname.lastname@example.org