Stage Twelve: Return with the Elixir (Pg. 215 – 228)

C. Vogler, The Writer’s Journey: Mythic Structure for Writers,

No, Aunt Em, this was a real truly live place. And I remember some of it wasn’t very nice. But most of it was beautiful. But just the same all i kept saying to everybody was ‘I want to got home.’ – from Wizard of Oz

Having Survived all the ordeals, having lived through death, heroes return to their starting place, and go home, or continue the journey. But they always proceed with a sense that they are commencing a new life, one that will be forever different because of the road just travelled. If they are true heroes, they Return with the Elixir from the Special World; bringing something to share with others, or something with the power to heal a wounded land.

We Seekers came home last, prayed, purified, and bearing the fruits of our journey. We share out the nourishment and treasure among the Home Tribe, with many a good story about how they were won. a circle has been closed, you can feel it. you can see that our struggles on the Road of Heroes have brought new life to our land. There will be other adventure, but this one is complete, and as it ends it brings deep healing, wellness, and wholeness to our world. The seekers have come Home.


Quest for fire has a wonderful Return sequence that shows how storytelling probably began, with hunter/gatherer struggling to relate their adventure in the Outer World.

Returning with the Elixir means implementing change  in your daily life and using the lessons of adventure to heal your wounds.

A declaration of healing powers of stories.


Another name for the Return is denouement, a french word meaning “untying” or “unknowing”, (noue means knot). A story is like a weaving in which lives of the characters are interwoven into a incoherent design. We also talk about “tying up the loose ends”, of a story in a denouement. These phrases point to the idea that a story is a weaving and that it must be finished properly or it will seem tangled or ragged.

Two Story Forms

The more conventional way of ending a story, greatly preferred in Western Culture and American movies in particular, is the circular from in which there is a sense of closure and completion.

The other way, more popular in Asia and in Australian and European movies, is the open-ended approach in which there is a sense of unanswered questions, ambiguities, and unresolved conflicts.

Heroes may have grown in awareness in both forms, but in the open-ended form their problems may not be tied up so neatly.

The Circular Story Form

The most popular story design seems to be the circular or closed form, in which the narrative returns to its starting point. Having your Hero Return to her starting point or remember how she started allows you to draw a comparison for the audience.

  • How far your Heroes has come
  • How she’s changed
  • how her old world looks different now

Achievement of Perfection

The “Happy Ending” of Hollywood films link them with the world of fairy tales, which are often about the achievement of perfection.

  • “And they lived happily ever after”
  • “louie, I think this is the start of a beautiful friendship

The Open-Ended Story Form

storytellers have thought of many was to create a circular feeling of completion or closure, basically by addressing the dramatic question raised in Act One. Some storytellers prefer and open-ended Return. In the open-ended point of view, the storytelling goes on after the story is over; it continues in the mind and hear of the audience, in the conversations and even arguments people have in coffee shops after seeing a movie or reading a book.

Functioning of the Return

Return with the Elixir can perform many functions, but there is something Special about being the last element of the journey. It must finish your story so that it satisfies or provokes your audience as you intended. It must bear a special weight because of its unique position at the end of the work, and it’s also a place of pitfalls for writers and their heroes.


A Return can fall flat if everything is resolved too nearly or just as expected. Return should untie the plots thread but with a certain amount of surprise. The Greeks often built a “recognition” scene into the ending of their plays and novels.

The Return may have a twist to it. This another case of misdirection: you lead the audience to believe one thing, and then reveal at the last moment a quite different reality.

There is usually an ironic or cynical tone to such Returns, as if they mean to say ” Ha, fooled ya!”

Reward and Punishment

A specialized job of Return is to hand out final rewards and punishments. It’s part of restoring balance to the world of the story, giving sense of completion.

  • The villain dies or gets his just comeuppence should directly relate to his sins.
  • Heroes should get what coming to them as well, ( too many movie heroes get rewards they haven’t really earned).

The Elixir

What does the hero bring with her from the Special World to share upon her Return? Whatever it’s shared within the community or with the audience, bringing back the Elixir is the hero’s final test.

  • It serves as an example for the others
  • shows above all that death can be overcome.
  • the Elixir may even have the power to restore life in the ordinary world.

Returning with the Elixir can be literal or metaphoric. More figuratively, it may be any of the things that drive people to undertake adventure: money, fame, power, love, peace, happiness, success,  or having a good story to tell.

The Elixir of Love

Love is, of course, one of the most  powerful and popular Elixirs. It can be a reward the hero does not win until the final sacrifice.

The World is Changed.

Another aspect of the Elixir is that wisdom which heroes bring with them may be so powerful that it forces change not only in them, but also those around them.

The Elixir of Responsibility

A common and powerful Elixir is for heroes to take wider responsibilities at the Return, giving up their Loner  status for place of leadership or service within a group.

The Elixir of Tragedy

In tragedy mode heroes die or are defeated, brought by their own flaws.

Sadder But Wiser

A feeling of closure by a hero acknowledges that he is Sadder But Wiser for having gone through the experience.

Sadder But No Wiser

A “Sadder But Wiser” hero is acknowledging that  he’s been a fool, in which is the  first step to recovery. The worse kind of fool is the one who deoesn’t get it. Either he never sees the error or he goes through the motions but has not really learned his lesson. He is Sadder But No Wiser. This is another kind of Circular Closure.

For this penalty of failing to return with the Elixir: The Hero, or someone else, is doomed to repeat the Ordeals until the lesson is learned or the Elixir is brought home to share.


An Epilogue or postscript on a rare occasion can serve to complete the story, by protecting a head to some future time to show how the character turned out.

Pitfalls of the Return

Many stories fall apart in the final moments. The Return is too abrupt, prolonged, unfocused, unsurprising, or unsatisfying. The Return may also be to ambiguous.

Subplots should have at least three “beats” or scenes distributed throughout the story, one in each act.

Too Many Endings

The Return should not seem laboured or repetitive.  Another good rule of thumb for the Return phase is to operate on the KISS system, that is: Keep It Simple, Stupid. Many stories fail because they have too many endings. People want to know the story’s definitively over so they can quickly get up and leave the theatre or finish the book with a powerful change of emotions. An overly ambitious film like Lord Jim, trying to take on a dense novel, can exhaust an audience with climaxes and endings that seem to go on forever.

Abrupt Ending

A Return can seem too abrupt, giving the sense the writer has quit it too soon after the climax. A story tends to feel in complete unless a certain emotional space tends is devoted to bidding farewell to the characters and drawing some conclusions. an abrupt Return is like hanging up the phone without saying goodbye.


Writers may have failed to pose the right questions in the first place. Without realizing it, a writer might shift the theme. The writer has lost the thread.


The story should end with the emotional equivalent of a punctuation mark. A story, like a sentence, can end in four ways: with a period, and exclamation point, a question mark, or an ellipsis, (example: Do you want to go now, or)

Dialogue flatly makes a declarative statement: “Life goes on.” “Good triumphs over evil.” “That’s the way life is.” “There’s no place like home.”

Science fiction and horror films may end on a note of “We are not alone!” or “Repent or perish!”

Stories of social awareness may end with a passionate tone of ” Never again!” or “Rise up and throw off the chains of oppression!” or “Something must be done!”

In more open-ended approaches structures, you may want to end with the effect of and ellipsis.

One way or another, the very end of the story should announce that it’s all over – like Warner Bros.’ cartoon signature “That’s all folks!”

And so the Hero’s Journey ends, or at least for a while, for the journey of life and the adventure of story never really end. The Hero and the audience bring back the Elixir from the current adventure, but the quest to integrate the lessons goes on. It is for each of us to say what the Elixir is – wisdom, experience, money, love, fame or the thrill of a lifetime. But good story, like a good journey, leaves us with an Elixir that changes more a part of everything that is : The Circle of the Hero’s Journey.

1. What is the Elixir of Basic Instinct) Big) City Slickers) Fatal Attraction) Dances with Wolves)
2. What is the Elixir your hero brings back from the experience? Is it kept to herself or is it shared?
3. Does your story go on too long after the main event or climax is over? What would be the effect of simply cutting it off after the climax? How much denouement do you need to satisfy the audience?
4. In what ways has the hero gradually taken more responsibility in the course of the story? Is the Return a point of taking greatest responsibility?
5. Who is the hero of the story now? Has your story changed heroes,or have char­acters risen to be heroes? Who turned out to be a disappointment? Are there any surprises in the final outcome?
6. Is your story worth telling? Has enough been learned to make the effort worth­ while?
7. Where are you in your own Hero’s Journey? What is the Elixir you hope to bring back?


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