In last month’s blog, I discussed the first part of Joseph Campbell’s Monomyth Model. I discussed the first of the three parts, (Act 1 which should be about 25% of the story) which Campbell labeled Departure. The second part he called Initiation (Act 2 which should be about 50% of the story) and the third, Return (the remaining 25%). I’ve seen this three-act model labeled as Act 1–Ordinary World, Act 2–Special World, and Act 3–Ordinary World. In short, the model can be described as:
Act I (Ordinary World or Departure) 25%: The hero exists before his/her present story begins, oblivious of the adventures to come. It’s his/her safe place. His/her everyday life is where we learn crucial details about our hero, his/her true nature, capabilities, and outlook on life. This anchors the hero as a human, just like you and me, making it easier for us to identify with him/her and, later, empathize with his/her plight.
The hero’s adventure begins when he/she receives a call to action, such as a direct threat to his/her safety, family, way of life, or the peace of the community in which his/her lives. It may not be as dramatic as a gunshot, but simply a phone call or conversation. Whatever the call is, and however it manifests itself, it ultimately disrupts the comfort of the Hero’s Ordinary World and presents a challenge or quest that must be undertaken.
Although the hero may be eager to accept the quest, his/her will have fears that need overcoming at this stage. Second thoughts or even deep personal doubts about whether or not he/she is up to the challenge. When this happens, the hero will refuse the call and, as a result, may suffer somehow. The problem he/she faces may seem too much to handle and the comfort of a home far more attractive than the perilous road ahead. This would also be our own response and once again helps us bond further with the reluctant hero.
At this crucial turning point where the hero desperately needs guidance, he/she meets a mentor figure who gives him/her something he/she needs. He/She could be given an object of great importance, insight into the dilemma he/she faces, wise advice, practical training, or even self-confidence. Whatever the mentor provides the hero with, it dispels his/her doubts and fears and gives him/her the strength and courage to begin his/her quest.
ACT II (Special World or Initiation) 50%: We have now arrived at Campbell’s fourth element: Initiation. The adventure finally begins. The hero now crosses the threshold and acts upon his/her adventure or quest. He/She may go willingly or be pushed. Once committed the hero enters the fifth element The Belly of The Whale. This element describes the rebirth the protagonist will experience once they cross the threshold. Instead of conquering or conciliating the power of the threshold, the protagonist is drawn into the unknown and in a sense died. However, rather than pull back the hero pushes forward…they are re-born.
The hero then enters the sixth element, the Road of Trials. The hero is faced with any number of challenges and as he/she overcomes them they learn and their skills develop. Their consciousness expands and they will gain helpers as needed (think of Frodo’s trek in The Fellowship of The Ring). They will experience a number of synchronistic events. which lead to the Supreme Ordeal.
The Supreme Ordeal may be a dangerous physical test or a deep inner crisis that the hero must face in order to survive or for the world in which the hero lives to continue to exist. Whether it be facing his/her greatest fear (Indiana Jones descending into the pit of snakes to obtain the Ark of The Covenant) or most deadly foe (The Gray Man in Robert B. Parker’s Spenser novels), the hero must draw upon all of his/her skills and experiences gathered upon the Road of Trials in order to overcome his/her most difficult challenge.
Only through some form of “death” can the Hero be reborn, experiencing a metaphorical resurrection that somehow grants him greater power or insight necessary in order to fulfill his destiny or reach his journey’s end. This is the high point of the hero’s story and where everything he holds dear is put on the line. If he fails, he will either die, or life as he knows it will never be the same again.
In my next post, I will discuss the final elements of Act II. I have found that reviewing Campbell’s model has helped me immensely when I am stuck in the saggy middle of a story. Until then, chin up! You may not believe it today, but spring is coming!