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.
Epilogue, pages 231-295
Contributor: CiCi Ramirez
For any story to have an emotional impact and lasting power, elements from the Hero’s Journey need to be present and its structure needs to be defined based on the needs of the audience. Christopher Vogler analyzes the hero’s journey from four different movies to illustrate how form follows function, how metaphors can add more meaning to a story, and how using the Hero’s Journey as an outline can help you arrange the different elements of the journey to fit the universe you are trying to create.
Titanic—We all know the ending. It was one of the main reasons everyone thought this movie was going to fail. As a matter of fact, it had everything going against it from a commercial standpoint. It was a period piece (set before both World Wars), it was three hours too long, and uhm, the boat sinks! So how did elements of the Hero’s Journey help this sinking ship? (No pun intended.) Aside from the fact that the movie had broad appeal for the old, young, and the historians, it had the necessary elements from the Hero’s Journey to satisfy the universal wish for meaning. We were given a glimpse into the ORDINARY WORLD of the major characters. Then as they had to work through their own separate journeys that showed their responses to their CALL TO ADVENTURE, their INNER AND OUTER PROBLEMS, we watched their TESTS, ALLIES AND ENEMIES create more conflict, and their ORDEALS seemingly get the best of them, do we get to experience the REWARD, which can result in their SACRIFICE or in their RESURRECTION.
If you combine any of these elements with how the movie wove all these elements together (synergy), the symbolism behind the ship (as applied from Greek mythology) and diamond, and the triangulated relationships created by the storyline, it was no wonder this movie became a love story of epic proportions. For the movie audience, it became an emotional experience felt from the point of view of the characters. Joseph Campbell wrote, “The purpose of ritual is to wear you out, to grind down your defenses so that you fall open to the transcendent experience.” And then only when true emotions have been exposed to their most vulnerable state, like anything in life, YOUR HEART WILL GO ON, and you will have a story one will never forget.
The Lion King—This Disney cash cow, ahem, cash cub, used father/son relationships, Hamlet, and “stirrings of adulthood” as central themes in this animated story that appealed to people of all ages. Combined with comedy, animal animation, and the African motif, the elements of the Hero’s Journey follow the classic hero story. We are shown Simba’s ORDINARY WORLD, young, carefree and devoid of all responsibility (Hakuna Matata). His REFUSAL OF THE CALL to action from his father who demands that he grows up. After he blames himself for his father’s death, he then retreats into the INMOST CAVE, which was essential for his death and rebirth. It was through the advice and help of his MENTORS and SHAPESHIFTERS that he was able to pass his TESTS and ORDEALS, which gave him the confidence he needed to eventually overcome his fear and fight the evil SHADOW. In this way he wins the REWARD. When Simba accepted responsibility for his father’s death, it was the RESURRECTION moment of the story and proof that he had attained maturity through his ORDEAL. Growing up and taking your place in the world speaks of the universal truth behind the Hero’s Journey and that is what made this story so appealing to the audience, because in reality, everyone loves to see someone kicked around until they grow strong enough to stand on their own and fight back.
Pulp Fiction—This iconic bloodbath of a movie had nothing of the typical structure so often found in blockbuster hits. Post-modern themes also played a central role in this movie because there was no linear order to the scenes (arranged purely for emotional effect), the characters had skewed value systems that reflected a lack of a code of ethics and the relationships of the main characters used the ETERNAL TRIANGLE archetype like Titanic. The Hero’s Journey in this movie follows three different men. Each of their journeys show a glimpse into their ORDINARY WORLD, A SPECIAL WORLD, CALL TO ADVENTURE, how they CROSS A THRESHOLD and different conflicts arising from TESTS, ALLIES AND ENEMIES. From their RESURRECTION, do they receive the ELXICIR, which only the ones who made the “good” choices receive. The others are punished for their flaws in what could be considered divine punishment. The Hero’s Journey in this movie suggests that mastery in one area does not mean that it carries forth through everything else. So in effect, when someone fails, they are punished immediately and in the most violent ways possible.
The Full Monty—Just when you think you’ve seen it all, you haven’t . . . until you’ve seen The Full Monty. In this revealing (pun intended) portrayal of unemployed men in a once thriving industrial town, we see a glimpse of their ORDINARY WORLD. Gaz’s, the protagonist, OUTER PROBLEM and INNER challenge reflect his desire to provide for his family and earn his son’s respect. From his CALL TO ADVENTURE, to REFUSALS, to taking the advice of his MENTORS, he CROSSES THE FIRST THRESHOLD, creates a SPECIAL WORLD with his fellow strippers and with them enters the APPROACH phase of the story. Even though they are faced with conflicts, their hard work and exposure leads to a REWARD and eventually the RESURRECTION in which they are REBORN, and after they do their “show”, they RETURN WITH EXLICIR that touches upon all levels of their confidence and respect among their family and peers. By using elements of the Hero’s Journey in this story structure, it transformed this simple plot line into something an audience could relate to in a fun and memorable way.
Vogler also cites Star Wars as an epic story that follows elements of the Hero’s Journey and plays upon the innocence of George Lucas as a reflection of his youth when he wrote the initial episodes in the 70s, as well as to the darker episodes he wrote much later when he was more “world weary.” As with our own writing, our stories reflect the part of the journey we are on at the moment in subtle treatments of the character, setting, and structure. The Hero’s Journey and the Writer’s Journey is often the same, but lucky for us, the magic is there for us to use like the shamans before us. “Our stories have the power to heal, to make the world new again, and to give people metaphors by which they can better understand their own lives.”
Good luck on your writing journey. There is no right or wrong path, only magic.
Meet Today’s Contributor—CiCi Ramirez
CiCi Ramirez divides her time between Texas and Apollo Beach, Florida. She is an active, involved mom, a real estate agent, and a writer of edgy middle grade and young adult novels. Her quirky sense of humor permeates her writing, her life, her interactions with others, and even this blog post!