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Jaime Wurth ([personal profile] jaime) wrote2010-01-02 06:26 pm

fun with the hero's journey

I made a resolution to post over here on a regular basis, with the purpose I initially intended it for - a writing and reading and general public life blog. But mostly writing and reading. I have another resolution to finish the first draft of my novel by the 4th of July (okay, by CONvergence, but same difference), so I'm also going to use this journal to keep myself accountable. So, expect weekly word count updates once I return from vacation in a couple of weeks!

Tonight, though, I'm going to have a little fun. I just finished re-reading my copy of Christopher Vogler's The Writer's Journey, and I find myself in the mood to analyze one of my recent TV obsessions in the same way he's used the Hero's Journey to break down successful Hollywood films. Why? As an exercise to see how well I recognize the various points of a story, and just because I love the Hero's Journey a whole lot. I love the way it maps onto nearly every story, even ones you wouldn't expect. My favorite stories are ones that take these mythic archetypes and twist them to fit modern sensibilities, putting characters you wouldn't expect into roles they don't seem to fit on the surface, creating plot twists that seem random on first reading/viewing, but are perfectly logical in the context of the journey when you look at the story as a whole.

Anyway. I recently watched and loved SyFy's miniseries Alice, a modern take on Alice in Wonderland. (If you haven't seen it, get the DVD when it comes out in March! It was silly fun, with a whole cast full of character actors having the times of their lives.) And since Alice's journey to Wonderland makes an easy parallel to the Hero's Journey, it's a pretty easy story to map.

Alice's ordinary world is one she's completely in control of, on the surface. She's a black belt who can easily overpower her boyfriend. She's got a loving mother and a boyfriend that she thinks might be "the one." But, underneath, she's still consumed by the disappearance of her father when she was ten years old. She doesn't trust men easily - or at all, for the most part - and she spends a lot of time and energy searching for her father. So, she's balancing in the middle of being content in her world and longing for something more.

Her first call to adventure comes when her boyfriend Jack offers her an old, expensive-looking ring. Alice's tentative trust in Jack is shattered, and she rejects him - and thus the call - out of hand. He slips the ring into her pocket anyway, and she chases him out onto the street, angry, ready to give the ring back. She's not ready to commit, not ready to trust him or any man just yet. In the street, she stumbles upon a group of men beating Jack up. Her second call to adventure comes when a mysterious old man (the White Rabbit, a threshold guardian) taunts her and tries to steal the ring from her. This call, she accepts - because it's a direct challenge to her, and because it doesn't require trusting anyone - and she chases the man through the looking glass,

Alice ends up with several mentors in Wonderland - Charlie, Jack, even the Queen teaches her things she needs to know - but her main mentor is Hatter, who embodies both the Trickster and Shapeshifter archetypes when we first meet him. But, he's the one who guides Alice the most on her journey through Wonderland, and transforms into the romantic hero by the end of the story. (I could probably map out a parallel Hero's Journey for Hatter as well, but this one will stick to Alice.)

The first threshold comes in Dodo's library, when Alice finds out exactly what her ring signifies, and that Hatter would probably sell her and the ring out for money and his own security. Her lack of faith in men strengthened, Alice fights her way out and runs for the bus-elevator and freedom. She's just about to escape when she sees Dodo and Hatter fighting - Hatter tells her how to operate the elevator, and to run, but after a moment of indecision, she decides to join the fight, kicking Dodo's ass and hauling Hatter off to freedom with her. She's committed herself to partnership with Hatter in this crazy quest, and there's no going back.

Alice and Hatter undergo a series of tests - Hatter's tea shop is ransacked, and they have to escape from Mad March and his minions. They're chased by the Jabberwock, eventually stumbling into a trap set by Charlie - Alice's other main ally in her quest. Eventually, though, Alice decides that she needs to pursue her goal - rescuing Jack - on her own, and so she quietly leaves Hatter and Charlie and purposely walks into Mad March's clutches, signalling her approach to the inmost cave, the Heart Casino.

Here, we're introduced to Alice's main ordeal; she discovers that Jack - far from being an innocent in this story - is actually the Queen's son, and to add insult to injury, he has a fiancee here in Wonderland. But at this point, Jack also transforms into the Herald archetype - he slips Alice a watch that she recognizes as her father's, whispering "he's here." She doesn't have time to act on this bombshell, though, because the Queen orders her tortured in order to find the location of the ring, which Alice refuses to give her.

Hatter and Charlie rescue Alice, signalling the end of this part of the ordeal, but her elixir is the knowledge that her father is alive - so, her goal has shifted from rescuing Jack to rescuing her father. She faces more tests at this point - the decision to trust Jack when he comes for her, a rejection from her father, a second capture by the Queen's forces. This is her road back; she makes the decision to pursue her father rather than run away with Hatter and Charlie, which is her attempt to return to the ordinary world of her childhood, to put that shining memory back together and regain her trust in men. That she rejects Hatter, the one man in the story who has proven in action to be trustworthy, in the course of this return is just a signal that Alice's vision of her ideal life may not be the best one for her.

Chaos breaks loose at this point, and Alice begins her own resurrection by telling the mind-controlled humans in the casino to "wake up!" She's telling herself, too; the combination of her father's rejection and the appearance of Hatter, yet again at the crucial moment, has woken her up to the idea that maybe the childish fantasies and emotional barriers she's been hanging on to have long passed their time. Her reward for taking charge of her own mind is the long-awaited reconciliation with her father ... moments before he gives his life to save Alice's. Thus, her decade-long quest to find her father is ended, and his memory is put to rest forever. Outside of the now-destroyed Casino, Alice completes her resurrection by telling the Queen - who has been a fantastic metaphor for Alice's own tendency to reject her own emotions in favor of dreams and ghosts - that she has no power any more.

Alice returns to her ordinary world with an elixir of knowledge that the past should stay in the past, that she's better off living in the present. She's also gifted with the elixir of love and trust when Hatter follows her through the looking glass to live with her in her world.

Like I said, I'm fascinated by the archetypes in the Hero's Journey. Analyzing someone else's story gives me a better idea of how to apply some of those archetypes in my own work. Which I should probably get back to, eh? July 4th isn't that far off, in the grand scheme of things!