© 2010 by Jack Remick and Robert J. Ray
When you write the mythic journey try to visualize your Protagonist moving around the narrative curve heading for the Dragon and Home. The mythic journey is a heroic quest for the true self. On a cosmic scale, as Joseph Campbell writes in The Hero with a Thousand Faces, the journey has implications for the entire universe: “The work of the hero is to slay the tenacious aspect of the father (dragon, tester, ogre king) and release from its ban the vital energies that will feed the universe.” Before the hero reaches the Dragon, she escapes from the Cage (rules, restriction, imprisonment) and enters the Quest, usually with mythical help. The nature of the Quest reveals the kind of story you want to write. If you want an action story where your protagonist overcomes physical obstacles, the quest becomes a trip through a physical landscape. In a physical quest, the characters sweat and bleed. Resolution comes through action. If, however, you want your character to confront inner demons or past inequities or the great devouring metaphorical dragon of self loathing and self hatred, then your protagonist takes an inner journey, into the psychological heart of darkness, into the dark night of the soul.
In our time, so weighted with psychology, the purpose of the quest is to grab some truth about the inner self. Buried in the inner self is a secret that drives the hero to a constricting state of self hate and self loathing. To unlock the door to the buried secret treasure, the hero must confront (overcome, trick, slay) the Dragon. In The Female Hero, Carol Pearson and Katherine Pope give the writer a choice of Dragon personifying symbols: “The inner self hater may be personified as either male (the Ogre Tyrant) or female (the Wicked Witch), depending on the hero’s experience. The slaying of the inner dragon may occur as a result of a journey into the self…or it may involve the injury or killing of the external embodiment of the self hater in the hero’s life…”
The Cage is a house, a room, a cubicle, a tight mind, a bad job, a suffocating marriage. The Cage is an airless family circle packed with role expectations: Dutiful Daughter, Martyred Mom, Warrior Dad, Obedient Son, etc. The Cage is rule, restriction, convention, societal taboo. The Cage restricts movement and inhibits the wild play of the imagination. The Cage provides motivation for Escape. The Cage is the Waste Land, where no birds sing and no corn grows. The Cage is the castle of the wounded Fisher King. The Cage is waiting for Mr. Right. The Cage is the maiden in a coffin sleep of the fairy tale.
In Escape, the hero leaves the Cage (house, garden, enclosure) in search of help. Help for Cinderella comes in the form of a Fairy Godmother, a mythic traveler who has some magic. In The Princess and the Frog, Help for Princess Rana comes from the Frog, who dives to retrieve the jewels from Prince Aliyander’s spellbinding necklace. Fairy tale escapes are quick. In the blink of an eye, Princess Rana leaves the castle and arrives at the frog pond. In a story like “Leaving Las Vegas,” however, the preparations for escape (costume, dialogue, makeup application) can take up a good part of the story.
Physical quests are quick. Inner quests take longer. The Quest, whether long or short, takes the hero on a descent into an underworld (pit, dungeon, labyrinth, unconscious) to confront the Dragon who guards the mythical treasure. The mythical treasure is physical or it is spiritual – the ultimate spiritual treasure is self-awareness.
As Barbara Walker points out in The Woman’s Encyclopedia of Myths and Secrets, this link between dragon and treasure percolates up from an battle between mythic male twins over who would rule the universe: “Christians usually equated the subterranean dragon with the devil. In fact, the devil’s nicknmame “Old Harry” was taken from the Persian dragon god Ahriman, (Arhimanius), the dark twin brother of the supreme god of light. Like angelic Lucifer, Ahriman had fought his brother god and had been sent down to the underworld to rule over the demons. Thus dragons became traditional guardians of buried treasure.”
Carl Jung’s linkage of hero and dragon (“Man and dragon might be a pair of brothers….”) echoes the battle for control of the universe between the Dark and Light Twins. Since the Dragon’s already in the Cage, having your protagonist meet a Dark Twin or Dark Side is one easy answer to Dragon confrontation. In The Hero with a Thousand Faces, Joseph Campbell pictures the Dragon as the status quo: “…the mythological hero is the champion not of things become but of things becoming; the dragon to be slain by him is precisely the monster of the status quo: Holdfast, the keeper of the past….the enemy is great and conspicuous in the seat of power; he is enemy, dragon, tyrant, because he turns to his own advantage the authority of his position. He is Holdfast not because he keeps the past but because he keeps.”
“At the end of her quest,” writes Carol Pearson in The Hero Within, “the female hero returns to enjoy a new community with herself, with the natural and spiritual worlds, and frequently with other people. To some degree, she also embodies the power necessary to revitalize the entire kingdom….” Home is resurrection and return, the triumph of rebirth. Home rejoins the wanderer, now changed by Quest and Confrontation, with the loved ones. If you can’t get your protagonist back home, you can give her the tools to build a new society.
- My protagonist is in a cage made up of…(10 min)
- My protagonist escapes from the cage when… (10 min)
- My protagonist is on a quest for… (10 min)
- My protagonist confronts the dragons when…. (15 min)
- My protagonist gets home when… (5 min)
You can use the Mythic Journey Diagram to help you get control of your story. Plotting your story around the curve prepares you to pull a scene list together. Go to The Mythic Journey Diagram page to see examples of how to use the curve for other genres of writing. You can use these examples as models for your own diagram.