C. Vogler, The Writer’s Journey: Mythic Structure for Writers,
We came, we saw, we kicked its ass. – from Ghostbusters, screenplay by Dan Aykroyd and Harold Ramis
With the crisis of the Ordeal passed, heroes now experience the consequences of surviving death. with the dragon that dwelt in the Inmost Cave slain or vanquished, they seize the sword of victory and lay claim to their Reward. Triumph may be fleeting but for now they savour its pleasures.
We Seekers look at one another with growing smiles. We’ve won the right to be called heroes. For the sake of the Home Tribe we faced death, tasted it, and yet lived. From the depths of terror we suddenly shoot up to victory. It’s time to fill our empty bellies and raise our voices around the campfire to sing of our deeds. Old wounds and grievances are forgotten. The story of our journey is already being woven. You pull apart from the rest, strangely quiet. In the leaping shadows you remember those who didn’t make it, and you notice something. You’re different. You’ve changed. Part of you has died and something new has been born. You and the world will never seem the same. This too is part of the Reward for facing death.
Encountering death is a big event and it will surely have consequences. There will almost always be some period of time in which the hero is recognized or reward for facing death or a great ordeal. A great many possibilities are generated by living through a crisis, and reward, the aftermath of the ordeal has many shapes and purposes.
When hunters have survived death and brought down their game, it’s natural to want to celebrate. Energy has been exhausted in the struggle, and needs to be replenished. Heroes may have the equivalent of a party or barbecue at this stage in which they cook and consume some of the fruits of victory. The heroes of the Odyssey always offered a sacrifice some ordeal at sea. Strength is needed for the return to the upper world, so time is given for rest, recuperation, and refueling. After the buffalo hunt (a supreme ordeal and brush with death) in Dances with Wolves, Dunbar and the tribe celebrate with a buffalo barbecue in which his reward for saving a young man from death is greater acceptance by the Lakota.
Many Stories seem to have campfire-type scenes in this region, where the hero and companions gather around a fire or its equivalent to review recent events. It’s also an opportunity for jokes and boasting. There is understandable relief at having survived death. Hunters and fishermen, pilots and navigators, soldiers and explorers all like to exaggerate their accomplishments. There may be conflict over the campfire, fighting over spoils. Campfire scenes may also be a chance for reminiscence or nostalgia. Having crossed the Abyss of life and death, nothing will ever be the same. Heroes sometimes turn back and remember aloud what got them into this point. A loner Hero might recall the events or people who influenced him, or speak about the unwritten code by which he runs his life. These scenes serve important functions for the audience. They allow us to catch our breath after an exciting battle or ordeal. The characters might recap the story so far, giving us a chance to review the story and get a glimpse of how they perceive it.
In Walt Disney’s classic animated feature films such as Pinocchio or Peter Pan, the pace is usually frantic, but Disney was careful to slow down from time to time and get in close on the characters in an emotional moment. These quieter or more lyric passages are important for making a connection with the audience.
The aftermath of supreme ordeal may be an opportunity for a love scene. Heroes don’t really deserve to be loved until they have shown their willingness to sacrifice. At his point a true hero has earned a love scene, or a ” sacred marriage” of some kind. The Red River campfire scene is also a highly effective love scene.
The romantic waltz in Beauty and the Beast is Beast’s Reward for having survived an ordeal with the townspeople and Belle’s Reward for having seen past the Beast’s monstrous appearance.
One of the essential aspects of this step is the hero taking possession of whatever she came seeking. Treasure hunters take gold, spies snatch the secret, pirates plunder the captured ship, an uncertain hero seizes her self-respect, a slave seizes control of his own destiny. A transaction has been made – the hero has risked death or sacrificed life, and now gets something in exchange. The Norse god Odin, in his Supreme Ordeal, gives up an eye and hangs on the World-Tree for nine days and nights. His Reward is the knowledge of all things and the ability to read the sacred runes.
Seizing the Sword
Vogler also calls this unit of the journey Seizing the Sword because often it’s an active of the hero who aggressively takes possession of whatever was being sought in the special world. Sometimes a reward like love is given. But more frequently the hero takes possession of treasure or even steals it, like James Bond taking the Lektor, a soviet translating device, in From Russia with Love.
A moment of taking possession follows the death – and – rebirth crisis in the King Kong. A transformation had occured in the monster ape during the Approach Phase. King Kong shifted from being Fay Wray’s abductor to being her protector, fighting off a tyrannosaur on the way to his Inmost Cave. By the time he reaches the Supreme Ordeal, defending her in battle to the death with a giant serpent, he has become a full-fledged hero. Now he takes possession of his Reward: like any good hero, he gets the girl.
The idea of the hero seizing the sword comes from memories of stories in which heroes battle dragons and take their treasure. Among the treasure there may be a magic sword, perhaps the sword of the hero’s father, broken or stolen by the dragon in previous battles. The image of the sword, as portrayed in the Tarot deck’s suit of swords, is a symbol of the hero’s will, forged in the fire and quenched in blood, broken and remade, hammered and folded, hardened, sharpened, and focused to a point like the light-saber of Star Wars.
But a sword is only one of many images for what is being seized by the hero at this step. Campbell’s term for it is “The Ultimate Boon”. Another concept is the Holy Grail, and ancient and mysterious symbol for all the unattainable things of the soul that knights and heroes quest after.
A rose or a jewel may be the treasure in another story. The Wily Monkey King of Chinese legends is seeking the sacred Buddhist Sutras that have been taken to Tibet.
Elixir means a medium or vehicle for medicine. It could be a harmless sweet liquid or powder to which other medicine is added. Administrated alone or mixed with other useless chemicals, it might still work by what’s known as “Placebo, a substance with no medicinal value, even when they know it’s just a sugar pill – testimony to the power of suggestion.
The Hero is often required to steal the Elixir. It is the secret life and death, and much too valuable to be given up lightly.
Battlefield promotions and knighthood are ways of recognizing that the heroes have passed an ordeal and entered a small group of special survivors. Joseph Campbell’s overall name for what we call Act Two is “Initiation”, a new beginning in a new rank. The hero after facing death is really a new creature. A woman who has gone through the life-threatening territory of childbirth belongs to a different order of being. She has been initiated into the company of motherhood, select sorority.
Initiation into secret societies, sororities, or fraternities means that you are privy to certain secrets and sworn to never reveal them. You pass tests to prove your worthiness. You may be put through a ritual death-and -rebirth Ordeal and may be given a new name and rank to signify you are a newborn being.
Heroes may find that surviving death grants new powers or better perceptions.
Seeing Through Deception
A hero may be granted a new insight or understanding of a mystery a her Reward. She may see through a deception. If she has been dealing with a Shape-shifting partner, she may see through his disguises and perceive the reality for the first time. Seizing the Sword can be a moment of clarity.
After transcending death, a hero may even become clairvoyant or telepathic, sharing in the power of the immortal gods. Clairvoyant mean simply “seeing clearly”.
Heroes can sometimes experience a profound self-realization after tricking death. They see who they are and how they fit into the scheme of things. They see the ways they’ve been foolish or stubborn.
Scales fall from their eyes and the illusion of their lives is replaced with clarity and truth.
Others may see in their changed behaviour signs that they have been reborn and share in the immortality of gods. This is sometimes called the moment of epiphany: an abrupt realization divinity.
James Joyce expanded the meaning of the word epiphany using it to mean a sudden perception of the essence of something, seeing to the core of a person, idea or thing. Heroes sometimes experience a sudden understanding of the nature of things after passing through an Ordeal. Surviving death gives them meaning to life and sharpens perceptions.
Heroes may suffer from an inflation of the ego. In other words, they get a swelled head. They might turn cocky or arrogant. Perhaps they abuse the power and privilege of being a reborn hero.
- Their self-esteem sometimes grows too large and distorts their perception of their real value
- heroes may be trained by the very death or evil they came to fight
- soldier fighting to preserve civilization may fall into barbarism of war
- cops or detectives battling criminals often cross the line and use illegal or immortal means, becoming as bad as the criminal themselves.
Blood shed and murder are the powerful forces and may intoxicate or poison a hero. Peter O’toole as Lawrence of Arabia shows us a man who, after the ordeal of the battle of Aqaba, is horrified to discover that he loves killing.
Heroes may also overestimate their own importance or prowess after a duel with death. But they may soon find out that they were just lucky the first time, and will have other encounters with danger that will teach them their lines.
Facing death has a life changing consequence which heroes experience by seizing the sword, but after experiencing their Reward fully, heroes must turn back and to the quest.
There are more ordeals ahead, and it’s time to pack up and face them, on the next stage of the Hero’s Journey.
Questioning the Journey
- What is the modern equivalent of a campfire scene in Thelma and Louise? Sister Act? Ghost?
- What do the heroes of your story take possession of after facing death or their greatest fear? What is the aftermath, the consequence, of the major event of Act Two? Have your heroes absorbed any negative qualities from the shadows or villains?
- What does the heroes of your story learn by observing death? By experiencing death?
- Does the story change direction? Is a new goal or agenda revealed in the Reward Phase?
- Is the aftermath of the Ordeal in your story an opportunity for a love scene?
- Does your hero realize they have changed? Is there self-examination or realization of the wilder consciousness? Have they learned to deal with their inner flaws?