C. Vogler, The Writer’s Journey: Mythic Structure for Writer’s,
What can I do, old man? I’m dead, aren’t I? -from The Third Man by Graham Greene
Now comes one of the trickiest and most challenging passages for the hero and the writer, a story to feel complete, the audience needs to experience an additional moment of death and rebirth, similar to the Supreme Ordeal but subtly different. This is the climax (not the crisis), the last and most dangerous meeting with death. Heroes have to undergo a find purging and purification before reentering the Ordinary World. Once more they must changed. the trick for writer’s is to show the change in their characters, by behaviour or appearance rather than by just talking about it. writers must find ways to demonstrate that their heroes have been through a Resurrection.
We wary Seekers shuffle back towards the village. Look! The smoke of the Home Tribe fires! Pick up the place! but wait – the shaman appears to stop us from charging back in. you have been to the land of death, he says, and you look like death itself, covered in blood, carrying the torn flesh and hide of your game. If you march back into the village without purifying and cleansing yourself, you may bring death back with you. You must undergo one final sacrifice before rejoining the tribe. Your warrior self must die so that you can be reborn as an innocent into the group. The trick is to keep the wisdom of the Ordeal, while getting rid of its bad effects. after all we’ve been through, fellow Seekers, we must face one more trial, maybe the hardest one yet.
A New Personality
A new self must be created for a new world. just as heroes had to shed their old selves to enter the Special World, they must shed the personality of the journey and build a new one that is suitable for return to Ordinary World. It should reflect the best of the old selves and the lessons learned along the way.
One function of Resurrection is to cleanse Heroes of the smell of death, yet help them retain the lessons of the Ordeal. The lack of public ceremonies and counselling for returning Vietnam War veterans may have had in reintegrating with society. So-called primitive societies seem better prepared to handle the return of Heroes.
Sacred architecture aims to create this feeling of Resurrection, by confining worshippers in a narrow dark hall or tunnel, like a birth canal, before bringing them out into an open well-lit area, with a corresponding lift of relief.
Two great Ordeals
Why so many stories have two climaxes or death-and-rebirth Ordeals, one near the middle and another just before the end of the story?
The Central Crisis or Supreme Ordeal is like a midterm exam; the Resurrection is the final exam. Heroes must be tested one last time to see if they retained the learning from the Supreme Ordeal Act Two.
At the simplest level, the Resurrection may just be a Hero facing death on last time in an ordeal, battle, or showdown. It’s often the final, decisive confrontation with the villain or Shadow. But the difference between this and previous meetings with death is that the danger is usually on the broadest scale of the entire story.
The James Bond movies often climax with 007 battling the villains and then racing against time and impossible odds to disarm some Doomsday device, such as the atomic bomb at the climax of Goldfinger. Millions of lives are at stake. Hero, audience, and world are taken to the brink of death one more time before Band manages to yank the right wire and save us all from destruction.
The Active Hero
Heroes can get surprise assistance, but it’s best the Hero to be the one to perform the decisive action; to deliver blow to fear or the Shadow; to be active rather than passive, at this of all times.
The Showdown is a distinct dramatic form with its own rules and conversations. The operatic climax of the Sergio Leone “spaghetti westerns” exaggerate the elements of conventional Showdowns: the dramatic music; the opposing forces marching towards each other in some kind of arena (the town street, a corral, a cemetery, the villain’s hideout); the closeups of guns, hands and eyes poised for the decisive moment; the sense that time stands still.
Duels to the death form the climaxes of swashbucklers such as Robin Hood: Prince of Thieves, the Seahawk, Scaramouche and the Flame and the Arrow; knights battle to the death in Ivanhoe, Excalibur, and Knights of the Round Table. Duels or shootouts are not fully satisfying unless the Hero is taken right to the edge of death.
A difficult choice tests the Hero’s value: will he choose in accordance with his old, flawed ways or will the choice reflect the new person he’s become?
Climax is a Greek word meaning “a ladder”. For us storytellers it has come to mean an explosive moment, the highest peak in energy, or the last big event in a work.
There is such a thing as a quiet climax; a gentle cresting of a wave of emotion. A quiet climax can give a sense that the conflicts have been harmoniously resolved, and all the tensions converted into feelings of pleasure and peace.
This Greek word actually means “vomiting up” or “purging”, but in English has come to mean a purifying emotional release, or an emotional break through. Greek drama was constructed with the intent of relieving anxiety or depression by bringing unconscious materials to the surface. The climax you are trying to trigger in your Hero and audience is the moment when they are most conscious, when they have reached the highest point of a ladder of awareness. You are trying to raise the consciousness of both the Hero and the participating audience. Catharsis works best through physical expression of emotions such as laughter and crying.
Laughter is one of the strongest channels of Catharsis. A comedy should crest with a gag or a series of gags that create a virtual explosion of laughter, Jokes that relieve tension, purge sour emotions, and allow us a shared experience. The classic Warner Bros. and Disney short cartoons are constructed to reach a climax of laughter, crescendo of absurdity, in six minutes.
A catharsis is the logical climax of a Hero’s Character Arc. This is a term used to describe the gradual stages of change in a character: the phases and turning point of growth. A common flaw in stories is that writers make Heroes grow or change, but do so abruptly, in a single leap because of a single incident. Someone criticizes them or they realize a flaw, and they immediately correct it; or they have an overnight conversation because of some shock and are totally changed one stroke.
Here is a typical character arc compared with the Hero’s Journey model.
Character Arc Hero’s Journey
- limited awareness of a problem Ordinary World
- increased awareness Call of Adventure
- reluctance to change Refusal
- overcoming reluctance Meeting with Mentor
- committing to change Crossing the Threshold
- experimenting with first change Tests, Allies, Enemies
- preparing for big chance Approach to Inmost Cave
- attempting big chance Ordeal
- consequences of the attempt Reward (improvements and setbacks)
- rededication to change Road Back
- final attempt at big chance Resurrection
- final mastery of the problem Returning with Elixir
The Stages of the Hero’s Journey are a good guide to the steps needed to create a realistic character arc.
The Resurrection is the Hero’s final attempt to make major change in attitude or behaviour.
Watch Your Step
Sometimes great drama comes from Heroes dropping the ball at the last moment, just before reaching their goal. The Heroes of Quest of Fire came back to their people with elixir flame, but at the threshold of their world, the fire goes out, dropped into the water by accident. This apparent death of all hope is the final test for the Hero, the leader of the quest. He reassures the people, for he knows the secret of fire; he has seen the more advanced tribe using it a special stick to make fire at his Ordeal. However, when he tries to copy their techniques he finds he has forgotten the trick. Again hope seems dead. But just then his “wife”, a woman he met on the adventure and a member of the more advanced tribe, steps in and gives it a try. She succeeds, fire blossoms, and the possibility of life returns to the tribe.
A common fairy tale motif is that proof brought back from Magic World tends to evaporate.
Kids like to bring back souvenirs from summer vacations, partly to remind them of the trips, visited these exotic locales. Not being believed is a perennial problem of travellers to other worlds.
Sacrifice comes from the Latin word meaning “making holy”. Heroes are often required to sanctify a story by making a sacrifice, perhaps by giving up or giving back to something of themselves.
The classic sacrifice in literature is found in Charles Dickens’ A Tale of Two Cities, where a man gives his life on the guillotine to save another man’s life.
The Trick for the writer is to make change visible in appearance or action. It’s not enough to have people around a Hero notice that she’s changed; it’s not enough to have her talk about change.
The audience must be able to see it in her dress, behaviour, attitude and actions.
Resurrection is the Hero’s final exam, her change to show what she has learned. Heroes are totally purged by final sacrifice or deeper experience of the mysteries of life and death.
QUESTIONING THE JOURNEY
1. What is the Resurrection in King Kong) Gone with the Wind) The Silence of the Lambs) Death Becomes Her)
2. What negative characteristics has your hero picked up along the way? What flaws were there from the beginning that still need to be corrected? What flaws do you want to preserve, uncorrected? Which are necessary parts of your hero’s nature?
3. What final ordeal of death and rebirth does your hero go through? What aspect of your hero is Resurrected?
4. Is there a need for a physical showdown in your story? Is your hero active at the critical moment?
5. Examine the character arc of your hero. Is it a realistic growth of gradual changes? Is the final change in your character visible in her actions or appearance?
6. Who learns anything in a tragedy where the hero dies, where the hero didn’t learn his lessons?