Tuesday, August 24, 2010

CSFF Blog Tour: Blogger's Choice Day Two

Original cover with illustration
by Richard Cuffari.
So what makes great fiction work? Characters, setting, dialogue, and language all play a role and may distinguish great works from the mediocre, but all these elements must fit into a structure, usually a profluent plot. Strangely enough, there are not that many plot structures that work. If you want to be super reductive, you can reduce the list of alternatives to two: hero takes a journey and a stranger comes to town. Let's see how well The Perilous Gard fits "The Hero's Journey."

"The Hero's Journey" or monomyth denotes a narratvie pattern common to many stories from around the world as first described by Joseph Campbell in The Hero with a Thousand Faces. (Vladimir Propp's  Morphology of the Folk Tale makes a similar argument for fairy tales, revealing shared patterns.) Campbell argues that numerous myths from disparate eras and regions use similar structures. In his introduction to The Hero with a Thousand Faces, Campbell summarizes the monomyth:
A hero ventures forth from the world of common day into a region of supernatural wonder: fabulous forces are there encountered and a decisive victory is won: the hero comes back from this mysterious adventure with the power to bestow boons on his fellow man.

Campbell identifies seventeen stages for the journey. Many alternatives, both additions and subtractions,  have been proposed. For a concise summary of Campbell's stages, see "the hero's journey: summary of the steps." Campbell divides the steps into three sections: Departure, Initiation, and Return. All quotes below, unless otherwise noted, are from "the hero's journey: summary of the steps."


1. The Call to Adventure and 2. Refusal of the Call:
The Perilous Gard begins with a destabilizing event. Queen Mary exiles Kate to Elvenwood Hall, a remote castle peopled with strangers and far from Kate's known world. Kate does not want to go but ultimately has no choice in the matter. This fits the first two stages.

3. Supernatural Aid:
"Once the hero has committed to the quest, consciously or unconsciously, his or her guide and magical helper appears, or becomes known.". Kate doesn't have a guide. However, she receives a cross which later proves invaluable. She also meets Randal, a wandering minstrel who has had contact with the pagans and became a bit crazy from the encounter. He later provides Kate with the words of the ballad Tam Lin which contains information essential to Kate's rescue of Christopher.

4. The Crossing of the First Threshold:
"This is the point where the person actually crosses into the field of adventure." Kate and Christopher discover that Cecily is not really dead but a captive. Christopher hatches a plan and Kate becomes embroiled in it.

5. The Belly of the Whale:
"The belly of the whale represents the final separation from the hero's known world and self. It is sometimes described as the person's lowest point, but it is actually the point when the person is between or transitioning between worlds and selves." The corrupt steward of Elvenwood hands Kate over to the pagans and she is taken underground (into the belly of the earth) where she is told she will live out her days in slavery. If Kate is to escape, she can no longer be a meek maid of honor.


1. The Road of Trials:
"The road of trials is a series of tests, tasks, or ordeals that the person must undergo to begin the transformation." Kate suffers the toils of slavery. She resists and keeps her wits by refusing to drink from a cup containing some sort of potion that the other slaves joyfully imbibe each morning. She hides the cross. She suffers the claustrophobia of living underground. She also figures out how to navigate the tunnels enough to find where Christopher is being held.

2. The Meeting with the Goddess:
"The meeting with the goddess represents the point in the adventure when the person experiences a love that has the power and significance of the all-powerful, all encompassing, unconditional love that a fortunate infant may experience with his or her mother.... This is a very important step in the process and is often represented by the person finding the other person that he or she loves most completely." This one doesn't fit very well. Kate visits Christopher's cell numerous times and over the course of their conversations, she falls in love with him.

3. Woman as the Temptress:
"At one level, this step is about those temptations that may lead the hero to abandon or stray from his or her quest." Kate's stubborn refusal to drink from the cup over time impresses the Lady who offers to let Kate join the pagans and become one of them though she will have much to learn. At first Kate sees this as an opportunity to discover more about the cave system and find an escape route for her and Christopher. However, she learns that the teind is to be paid that evening. Convinced that Kate will interfere with the teind, the Lady attempts to hypnotize Kate into sleep but Kate uses the cross to resist.

4. Atonement with the Father:
"In this step the person must confront and be initiated by whatever holds the ultimate power in his or her life. In many myths and stories this is the father, or a father figure who has life and death power.... Although this step is most frequently symbolized by an encounter with a male entity, it does not have to be a male; just someone or thing with incredible power." Nothing in The Perilous Gard closely matches this one, although Kate's encounter with the Lady described previously comes close.

5. Apotheosis:
"To apotheosize is to deify. When someone dies a physical death, or dies to the self to live in spirit, he or she moves beyond the pairs of opposites to a state of divine knowledge, love, compassion and bliss." Not a good match for this one either.

6. The Ultimate Boon:
"The ultimate boon is the achievement of the goal of the quest. It is what the person went on the journey to get." Kate speaks on Christopher's behalf and stops the teind from being paid. She has escaped from the pagan underworld and saved Christopher from death.


1. Refusal of the Return:
"So why, when all has been achieved, the ambrosia has been drunk, and we have conversed with the gods, why come back to normal life with all its cares and woes?" Kate has no regrets about leaving the pagan world under the hill. The housekeeper at  Elvenwood Hall and everyone who has known Kate before her ordeal remarks on how much she has "changed." Kate feels remorse about returning to her life as a maid of honor in the shadow of her more socially adept and beautiful younger sister.

2. The Magic Flight:
"Sometimes the hero must escape with the boon, if it is something that the gods have been jealously guarding. It can be just as adventurous and dangerous returning from the journey as it was to go on it." Nothing fits this case.

3. Rescue from Without:
"Just as the hero may need guides and assistants to set out on the quest, often times he or she must have powerful guides and rescuers to bring them back to everyday life, especially if the person has been wounded or weakened by the experience." After recovering from her ordeal, Kate's father and sister Alicia arrive to take her back to London. They bring news that Queen Mary, who sent Kate into exile, has died and that Queen Elizabeth wants her to return to court.

4. The Crossing of the Return Threshold:
"The trick in returning is to retain the wisdom gained on the quest, to integrate that wisdom into a human life, and then maybe figure out how to share the wisdom with the rest of the world. This is usually extremely difficult." Kate believes that Christopher will marry her sister Alicia, since her sister has always won the prizes in the past. The Lady of the pagans shows up again in the final chapter and offers to give Kate a love charm to bind Christopher to her. The Lady is making this offer as payment for Kate's efforts to convince Sir Geoffrey not to cut down a sacred oak in the forest. Kate, however, refuses the charm, preferring to win or lose Christopher on her own.

5. Master of the Two Worlds:
"In myth, this step is usually represented by a transcendental hero like Jesus or Buddha. For a human hero, it may mean achieving a balance between the material and spiritual. The person has become comfortable and competent in both the inner and outer worlds."

6. Freedom to Live:
"Mastery leads to freedom from the fear of death, which in turn is the freedom to live. This is sometimes referred to as living in the moment, neither anticipating the future nor regretting the past."

Regarding steps five, and six, The Perilous Gard is a romance and the ultimate boon is marriage, in this case to Christopher. While not an exact fit, The Perilous Gard draws on the narrative structure of "The Hero's Journey." Tomorrow I'll discuss how The Perilous Gard fits the narrative patterns of the romance genre.

Reminder: Voting for the Clive Staples Readers' Choice Award is ongoing through the end of August. Book introductions, voting instructions, and Readers’ Choice survey are available at You must have read at least two of the nominations to vote. You're on the honor system here so please be honorable.

I recently posted a review for one of the nominees, Curse of the Spider King. See Cursing the Spider King.

For commentary from other tour members on their favorites, visit their blogs listed below.

Brandon Barr
Thomas Clayton Booher
Keanan Brand
Grace Bridges
Beckie Burnham
Morgan L. Busse
CSFF Blog Tour
Stacey Dale
D. G. D. Davidson
Jeff Draper
George Duncan
April Erwin
Andrea Graham
Tori Greene
Ryan Heart
Timothy Hicks
Becky Jesse
Jason Joyner

Carol Keen
Krystine Kercher
Mike Lynch
Rebecca LuElla Miller
New Authors Fellowship
John W. Otte
Donita K. Paul
Sarah Sawyer
Chawna Schroeder
James Somers
Speculative Faith
Rachel Starr Thomson
Steve Trower
Jason Waguespac
Fred Warren
Dona Watson
Phyllis Wheeler
KM Wilsher


  1. Great stuff, Jeff. The Hero's Journey is something people tend to toss out without any explanation. I enjoyed your illustration here.

  2. Great explanation of the Hero's Journey. I'm in the middle of reading "Manuscript Makeover" by Elizabeth Lyon and there she discusses the Hero's Journey, the Heroine's Journey, and the five stage structure as well as some other novel structures. While I find these concepts helpful for analysis, usually when I'm brainstorming/plotting a book, I don't focus on the is more of an intuitive thing at that point. But being familiar with them helps. Thanks for sharing!