The Temptress Archetype

I wrote about “The Lover” archetype in June/July, but there is another type of lover who often pops up along the hero’s journey . . . one who is not nearly as wholesome or helpful.

The Temptress character does exactly what you’d expect: she tempts the hero to do something he should not (sorry for my sexist pronouns—you can reverse them if you wish). She is an obstacle he must avoid—he must “just say NO” and continue on his quest.

This does not have to be about lust or a temptation simply to abandon the quest for something (or someone) else. The Temptress could be a person presenting a differing opinion and offering advice. If this advice is bad, then the character is a distraction/obstacle; if the hero shouldn’t listen, then the person giving the bad advice serves as a kind of Temptress. This character may actually be on the hero’s side—also hoping for the best and honestly believing that what he/she proposes is the right answer.

Perhaps the most interesting temptations are more philosophical. That is to say “the Temptress” is not a person at all, but rather, a “dark call.” Consider those heroes who walk a fine line between good and bad: they want to remain true and good and yet it would be so easy to cross the line and seek revenge. The dark side is tempting because it is easy and it feeds on selfishness. The reason this type of temptress is so common, of course, is that we can all relate to selfish desires and we know that they can be destructive in the long run.

Lets look at some Temptresses in my usual stories:

  • In Major League, Dorn’s wife becomes a temptress when she sleeps with Vaughn (who didn’t know she was Dorn’s wife). Vaughn got played, but he also gave in to his temptation and it cost him. Dorn’s wife uses Vaughn’s weakness (women) against him and thereby gets revenge on her cheating husband, but in doing so, she serves as a distraction for two of the team’s best players right before a critical game.
  • Harry Potter has a few girlfriends in the series before realizing who is “one true love is” and I’m not sure any of the other girlfriends could be considered temptresses as they are all “good” and fight on his side. Now, Ron Weasley, on the other hand, is often distracted by other girls and therefore doesn’t recognize Hermione until late in the series (after Emma Watson grows up and then . . . Wow). So we could argue that Ron is tempted by all kinds of things. Of course, the real temptation in the series is for Harry to either give up or give in to his darker side and seek vengeance. In order to stay true to himself, Harry must resist these temptations.
  • Although the boys in Stand By Me second guess themselves and consider turning back, no one intrudes on their quest until the bullies toward the end—so any Temptress they faced would be some sort of internal one. Could “doubt” counts as a Temptress?
  • I suppose you could look at Michael’s Italian wife (Apollonia) in The Godfather as his Temptress since she “distracts him” from his true love (Kay), though I don’t. First of all, I’d like to think that Michael was truly in love with Apollonia. Even if he wasn’t, the problems he has with Kay upon his return to the states have nothing to do with Apollonia (who dies before Michael’s return). The problems come from Michael’s negative transformation. Michael’s brother Sonny has an affair, and while it hurts his wife, this is not a major point in the story (much more on this in the novel, by the way!).
  • In the film version of Lord of the Rings, Eowyn is (sort of) a temptress for Aragorn, but obviously, in this story the real Temptress is the ring itself! Frodo must resist the ring’s call or else all is doomed!
  • While Batman/Bruce Wayne has had many lovers and temptresses over the years, the one that stands out in both the comics and in The Dark Knight Trilogy is Talia al Ghul, the daughter of Ra’s al Ghul (one of Batman’s greatest foes and the master villain in Batman Begins). Talia shows up in the 3rd film, tricks Bruce into trusting her and even loving her, only to literally stab him in the back.
  • There aren’t enough women in Star Wars. Abrams? Help us out. Okay, so it is interesting to look at Anakin and Padme’s relationship as “Anakin’s evil temptation that leads to his downfall and so much misery” …but the heroes Luke and Leia are born from that temptation and it isn’t Padme’s fault Anakin is terrible. Anakin is the bad guy. Not her. The real temptress in Star Wars (and Harry Potter + Lord of the Rings) isn’t a person, but rather a thing or idea . . . the dark side of the self. In all three of these series, the main characters must resist “the dark side” which will lead to their ultimate doom.
  • James Bond movies are filled with Temptresses. Bond is, let’s face it, a ladies man who is easily distracted by beautiful women. Some of these women are “lovers” in that they help and aid him in his quest, but just as often, they stab him in the back and try to get in his way.

The Lover “when not a real Lover” Archetype

My brother Andy has correctly pointed out that the Lover doesn’t actually have to be a romantic love. There is evidence of this in the movies I generally use. The boys in Stand By Me form a strong bond with one another that makes them see each other and themselves in a new light. In Skyfall, we see Bond’s humanity after M’s death, so his compassion is revealed there—again, not a romantic love. And what about Han Solo in Star Wars: A New Hope? Sure, Han has the hots for Leia, but that’s not what gets him to turn around and fight the Death Star in the film’s final act. Han’s transformation was because he found a cause he believed in and a group of people he cared about. It was all of that, not just his interest in the Princess, that made him abandon his mercenary way of thinking.

Andy also brought up the War movie genre in which the soldiers, having gone through hell together, become so close that they will die for one another, thereby demonstrating incredible acts of courage and love. And now that I’m thinking about it, what about guys like Jesus or Gandhi? The love they demonstrated wasn’t romantic—it was universal, and their love was certainly transformative. Heck. Their love was revolutionary!

So Andy’s point is very true.

What matters isn’t whether or not the Lover is romantic. What matters is that the heroes experience some kind of love that is transformative. Love, in any form, causes change, new perspectives, new values, new understanding, new compassion—all of which is essential for any hero.


The Lover Archetype

Believe it or not, the Love Interest is vital to any Hero’s Journey and is an essential Archetypal character. While we’re all used to lovers appearing in stories for the sole sake of having a romance element, the Lover does help the hero grow as part of his/her transformation (the most important part of any journey).

So here’s the deal: the Lover helps the hero better understand other people/humanity. By falling in love, the hero is made whole and his/her experience and knowledge base is made more complete. Of course, having a Lover will also give the hero something or someone to fight for (which is why the Lover is often taken hostage or at least the stakes of the quest are connected to the Lover’s future).

In a good story, the Lover does not exist simply to satisfy those members of the audience/readers who like romance. The Lover exists to show the hero new perspectives, open his/her eyes, add to his/her understanding of the world, give him/her someone worth fighting for, and give him/her the promise of a life worth living AFTER the journey is over.

The Lover may only appear in a few scenes. He/she doesn’t have to be a main character.

Before examining the Lovers in my normal movie list, lets consider a hero who does NOT get a lover and what happens as a result: Rambo. In the 1980s, David Morrell created John Rambo in a novel called First Blood  (the character was famously portrayed by Sly Stallone in several films). Rambo is a Vietnam War Veteran who is trained to kill and then released back into the population where he is shunned and lost. Nobody loves him. As a result, he remains a broken killing machine. He never achieves peace or happiness—even when he defeats the bad guys. Now, if Rambo fell in love and someone truly accepted him, helping him get back in touch with his own humanity . . . he might have turned out very differently and would not be nearly as tragic a figure.

  • Major League: Lynn Wells becomes Taylor’s love interest and helps him mature (which is important for him to do). While she gives him motivation to succeed, she also helps him transform into a more mature guy who will be able to find happiness after his baseball career ends.
  • Stand By Me: None of the young boys has a lover. Maybe next year, kids.
  • Harry Potter: Harry’s growing affection for Ginny Weasley serves a few functions. She helps Harry stay focused on what is important (saving the world). She is put in danger giving added motive for Harry to defeat the bad guys. In the end (spoiler alert!), we see that she and Harry marry, have children, and lead happy lives together. While Harry and Ginny spend significant time apart, their relationship is vital to Harry’s growth and eventual happiness.
  • The Godfather: Kay tries to keep Michael on the side of light. Though Michael marries her, he also rejects her values and consequently falls into darkness. If he just listened to his wife. . . .
  • Batman: In Batman Begins, Rachel Dawes is the one who shows Bruce the depth of Gotham’s problems. In a way, she is the Herald for his journey to becoming the city’s savior. It is important to note that Bruce looks forward to the time when Gotham doesn’t need Batman anymore and when he and Rachel can be together. Bruce knows that his life is incomplete without her. This is why her death hits so hard and why he spends eight years in mourning.
  • Lord of the Rings: Aragorn is pretty centered due to his love for Arwen, but he retains a lot of doubt (until the final book/film). She has confidence in him and helps him see and accept his path. Without her strength, he never would have been able to become the King the world needed. In the end, they marry and live happily ever after.
  • Star Wars: Poor Luke. He thought he had a love interest . . . but it was really his sister, so . . . yeah. The love plot goes to Han Solo. Leia certainly helps Han analyze his own character and encourages him to be a true hero rather than a mercenary. Han has to accept his true self (hero) and this never would have happened if not for Leia.
  • Skyfall (James Bond): Bond is the closest hero in my list to Rambo because although he has plenty of lady friends, few are meaningful. Bond uses women and doesn’t let the too close (he got pretty burned in Casino Royale). Generally speaking, the Bond Girls are there for fun and games. In Skyfall, he really has no true love interest though he manages to find a few girls here and there. Instead, we see his love for M (who has become a surrogate mother to him). When M dies, Bond cries, and we see a rare glimpse of his humanity.

Thresholds & Guardians

It is probably impossible for any hero’s journey to avoid thresholds and people/monsters/obstacles that serve as guardians of these milestones.

A threshold can be any dividing line between one point and another. Anything: a doorway, a fence, a river, a way off planet—any barrier is a threshold. The hero will go through several throughout his journey and each one is important because each means he has “made it” to the next phase of his journey.

Often the hero will have to bypass or defeat a person or thing that makes getting through the threshold rather difficult. These beings or obstacles are called “Threshold Guardians”—their purpose: to stop the hero in his tracks.

The most important threshold in any story is most likely the first one: the one that divides the hero’s ordinary world from the sacred world (see my post on “The Call”), but there will be many, and probably an obvious one before the climactic end scene.

While I will have several examples of thresholds and their guardians in my normal film list below, it would be silly not to mention the most plainly magnificent threshold guardian of all time: The Black Knight in Monty Python and the Holy Grail. The Black Knight guards a bridge over a creek no wider than a few feet, but simply stands there and repeats, “None shall pass,” so that King Arthur has to defeat him in combat (except, does he really? Why not just walk a few feet away and hop over the gully?). The Black Knight’s sole purpose is to be a threshold guardian. It is ridiculous and awesome. Please watch the scene even if you don’t have time for the entire film. I’m sure you can find it on Youtube.

Major League: During spring training, the coaches are threshold guardians who will decide whether or not the individual players make it into the major leagues. After that, the coaches become true mentors while each team they face can be seen as a threshold guardian trying to prevent the Indians from winning and making it to the playoffs.
Stand By Me: When the boys first step onto the tracks, they pause at the bridge—an obvious threshold separating their hometown from the unknown. Minutes later, they encounter the threshold guardian: Chopper—the dog in the junkyard. Of course, when they try crossing the big river, the approaching train becomes a threshold guardian that very nearly kills them.
• Harry Potter: Wow. Where to begin? Harry’s stepparents are threshold guardians, trying to prevent Harry from entering the sacred world of wizardry. Then there’s getting into Diagon Alley, the train station and platform 9 ¾, and a billion special thresholds within Hogwarts. Many of these have obstacles making it difficult for normal people to get through. Toward the end, Fluffy (a giant three headed puppy) guards an entrance just as Cerberus guards the land of the dead in Greek mythology. Really, there are probably a hundred thresholds in each book in the series.
The Godfather: While there are many thresholds and guardians in this story, including Michaels’ own family members who do not want him to get involved in the family business because they want something better for him, some of the most obvious thresholds are the doorways in the restaurant scene with Michael kills Sollozzo (an act that irrevocably makes him part of the sacred world and leads to his crossing the ocean and hiding for several years). My favorite threshold, however, is in the final scene—the final shot, when Michael tells his wife, Kay, never to ask about his business and then, as she stands in the hallway, looking into Michael’s office, the door (threshold) slowly closes and she is left on the outside.
• Batman: In Batman Begins, Bruce Wayne has to get out of prison (an obvious threshold) only to climb a mountain (another) and then survive his training before returning to Gotham City (yet another). His journey began when he left Gotham (threshold) and went to China. You’ll be able to find many more throughout The Dark Knight Trilogy—though the 3rd film certainly has more than its share once Bruce is left in a seemingly inescapable pit (which he does escape) and returns from around the world to Gotham (never mind that he is actually penniless at that time and the entire city is sealed off—he’s Batman, so he can make it).
Lord of the Rings: The thresholds and their guardians are obvious and ubiquitous in this story, so I’ll just mention one of the more subtle examples: when Frodo and Sam are leaving the Shire. The two Hobbits have been walking for a long while, when Sam suddenly stops where a line of wheat turns a different color. He tells Frodo that if he takes another step that “[He’ll] be farther from home than [he’s] ever been.” He pauses because, though it is just a line of wheat, it a huge step for him. Sam is crossing into the world of the unknown. I also really like that there is a scarecrow there—a silent guardian who gives Sam additional reason to pause and that serves as a warning of what is to come.
Star Wars: As with Lord of the Rings and Harry Potter, I could make a long list of thresholds and guardians, but if we look at Episode IV (the original, original film), Luke’s Uncle Owen is a threshold guardian who doesn’t want Luke getting involved with the adventure plot. After Owen has been barbequed, Luke is free to do as he pleases, but still has to find a way off his home planet of Tatooine. Some Imperial Stormtroopers (who are repeatedly used as threshold guardians) question Luke and co., but Jedi Master Ben Kenobi is able to use a Jedi Mind Trick on the weak minded soldiers and get past them. Even when the heroes board the ship that will take them to the stars, they are attacked by Stormtroopers who wish to stop them.
Skyfall (James Bond): Bond always faces a number of henchmen, each of whom can be seen as a threshold guardian who seeks to stop Bond from continuing on his quest/mission. In Skyfall, we also see Bond having to pass a number of tests to get back on the active duty list. In this case, his superiors are the threshold guardians who will decide whether or not he can continue.

Orphans in the Hero’s Journey

It’s amazing how many heroes in archetypal stories are, for one reason or another, raised by people other than their birth parents.

I’ll have more detailed examples at the bottom of this post, but this is a classic trait going back to the Greeks (Theseus, Phaeton, Achilles, Telemachus, to name a few). In the Christian faith, we see that both Moses and Jesus were raised by people other than their parents (well, Jesus was raised by his mother and step-father—and yes, I get that God was “there” in a spiritual sense, but he didn’t change Jesus’s diapers). The orphan hero persisted with the invention of the novel (Huckleberry Finn, Tarzan, Hawkeye from Last of the Mohicans, Heathcliff from Wuthering Heights, etc.) and has continued to our modern heroes (James Bond, Charles Foster Kane, Harry Potter, Clarice Starling, Hugo Cabret, Luke Skywalker). In fact, if we take a quick look at the many super-heroes that Hollywood has made so popular in the last decade, we see that Batman, Superman, Spider-Man, Hulk, Iron Man, Captain America, Green Lantern, Wolverine and most of the other X-Men all lost their parents when they were fairly young. Actually, it’s harder to find super-heroes who were raised by their birth parents. Let’s see . . . there’s Thor and . . . yeah. That might be it. Congratulations, Thor! Too bad you start off as such a spoiled brat of a hero.

Why is becoming an orphan so common in archetypal stories? Basically it is because over the course of the journey/story, the hero must learn about himself and become a new man (Transformation). If the hero doesn’t really know “who he is or where he comes from” at the beginning, then he has even more to learn, has farther to go in that journey, and the change is therefore more dramatic. I’m not suggesting that real-life orphans need to go off in search of their true parents—I certainly hope they grow up and love the people who cared for them and raised them—but in terms of fiction, the orphan has a longer and perhaps more interesting road of self-discovery.

• Sadly, we don’t find out anything about the childhoods of our favorite underdogs in Major League.
• Everyone knows Harry Potter’s parents died saving his life when Harry was just a baby. He spends much of his seven novel series learning about them.
• Most of the boys in Stand By Me have parents. Gordy lost his older brother. Teddy’s father is crazy and, if my memory serves, is an absent father. Chris’s father is terrible and a criminal. However, the boys are all still raised by their biological parents.
• While many children are made orphans in The Godfather, the only main character who is an actual orphan is Tom Hagan who has been raised as one of Michael’s brothers. Later in the film, Michael has to leave his family for an extended period of time, but he’s already an adult at that point.
• In Lord of the Rings, Frodo is an orphan, spending most of his time with his uncle Bilbo. Aragorn rejects his heritage for most of the story, avoiding the people he should claim as his own.
• Batman/Bruce Wayne’s main motive to find justice results from the brutal murder of his parents. Young Bruce is then raised by the family butler (not sure how that works, exactly, but let’s just go with it).
• In the original Star Wars film, Luke Skywalker is raised by his Uncle Owen and Aunt Beru because his true parents . . . well, I don’t want to spoil anything for anyone.
• I already mentioned that James Bond is an orphan, but in Skyfall, we find out just how devastated he was by his parents’ deaths. Actually, he’s a bit like Bruce Wayne/Batman in that it seems like his parents’ deaths eventually lead him to his life of fighting crime/terrorism. If Bond’s parents had lived, he never would have joined MI-6. As M states in the film, “Orphans always make the best recruits.”

SKYFALL (James Bond) and the Hero’s Journey

SKYFALL, the latest installment in the James Bond series, is so ridiculously amazing I must henceforth add it to those movies I generally use in analyzing particular stages of the Hero’s Journey and Archetypes. If you haven’t seen the film, do so now! If you read any further, I will spoil the movie—and then I will have violated one of my biggest pet peeves! So go rent it before reading on!

Feel free to check my old posts on “Ordinary VS Sacred Worlds,” “The Call & Refusal,” and both my posts on “Transformation” to get caught up. Just click the CATAGORIES link for “Archetypes & the Hero’s Journey.”

I will cover the previously mentioned aspects of the hero’s journey as we see it in SKYFALL right here. The rest of my SKYFALL archetype analysis will unfold in the coming months, so stay tuned!

Side Note: I think it is saying something about our collective affection for the hero’s journey that Bond # 23 has more archetypal elements than any of the previous 22 films and it is widely regarded as the best in the entire series. If you still doubt the power of archetypes, this film’s success should give you something on which to chew.

ORDINARY VS SACRED WORLDS: The opening fight sequence establishes that Bond is already immersed in the sacred world of espionage (as all Bond openings do). He is a relentless secret agent whose courage and skill is obvious. However, the scene ends with Bond failing, which leads to the overall question about whether or not he’s lost his edge or if he still has a place in this sacred world. Indeed, the sacred world itself has changed. Bond is a physical kind of spy and according to the plot and villain, the espionage game has moved to a more technological kind of board. Therefore, Bond must prove that he is, in fact, still relevant in this new sacred world where technology is the weapon of choice and the villains remain in the shadows. By defeating the bad guy, Bond established his credentials in this new world (but does he really defeat the bad guy? Hmm.).
Interestingly, Skyfall also gives us more information about Bond’s early life than any of the other films. He returns to his family home (presumably) for the first time since his parents’ deaths. We therefore see what his ordinary world was before he ever became a member of MI 6. We also see how painful that place and those memories are for him and though few details are given, we can feel the weight of that place and that event on our hero’s psyche.

THE CALL & REFUSAL: Bond isn’t one to refuse a call, but after the opening fight sequence he is presumed dead and allows MI 6 to believe this for a spell. Of course, when he sees that England and his boss, M, are under attack, he returns home and accepts a new mission.

THE TRANSFORMATION: Where to begin? In these films, Bond rarely has a significant transformation—such is the nature of a serial: the hero has to be basically the same at the end as he was in the beginning so that the stories can be seen in just about any order and a viewer can even get by with missing several. SKYFALL does this, yet we learn far more about our hero than ever before. Not only do we get details about Bond’s childhood trauma, but we also gain a better understanding of who he is and why he is the distant womanizer we’ve all come to know. Most Bond films show us that he doesn’t generally love the women he seduces. CASINO ROYALE (Daniel Craig’s 1st outing as Bond) goes further by actually having Bond fall in love with a woman who later betrays him before she dies, hurting Bond and giving him major trust issues, therefore providing more reason for Bond to remain unattached. Although never stated, SKYFALL hints that he probably learned that detachment “defense” after his parents’ deaths. It was that harrowing ordeal that forged him into the man he is. We are told that after hearing the awful news, young James Bond hid for two days and when he emerged he wasn’t a boy any longer. This of course is why M means so much to him: she has become his surrogate parent. When she dies in the chapel beside his parents’ own graves, Bond shows true emotion, crying for another lost parent. This scene shows us that he does care, quite deeply, and that he tries to deny this part of himself for his own emotional protection. In this sense his transformation is really a revelation, but the end result is the same for the audience because we see him differently by the film’s conclusion.

DEATH & REBIRTH: The obvious death & rebirth is that Bond is declared dead and then returns having “enjoyed death.” After that, he has to be reborn as an agent, going through several trials until he is declared fit for duty (which is questionable). Bond even tells the villain that his (Bond’s) hobby is “resurrection.” Indeed, this is a wink at the audience who knows that the Bond series has been resurrected many times and that six different actors have played the role. SKYFALL is simultaneously an ending and, in its final scenes, a resurrection of the entire James Bond mythos as it sets up many adventures to come with a new supporting cast.

Heroic Traits – Archetypes

No matter the hero’s gender, age, culture, education, or anything else, he or she will often share many of the following characteristics. If you’re writing your own story, you can pick and choose which of these work within your framework OR make sure your hero has none of these—thereby making sure your story doesn’t fall into cliché territory.
In the Hero’s Journey, the common heroic traits or experiences are:
• There may be unusual circumstances of his birth.
• He may leave his true family and live with others.
• He may experience a traumatic event that in some way leads to his quest.
• He may receive a special weapon.
• He will (hopefully) prove himself during his quest.
• He may receive an “unhealable wound.” This may be physical or psychological (something that will haunt him for the rest of his days).
• He may achieve “atonement with the father” or some kind of reconciliation with his parents, heritage, family history, etc.
• If he succeeds in his quest, he may receive “spiritual apotheosis”—in which case he is raised, at least in the eyes of many, to divine status. Maybe he becomes a God or maybe people are in awe of him.
Since I will have separate posts about each of these traits, I will not provide examples from my normal set of stories and films. Instead, I suggest you pick a character or story you know particularly well and see how many of the above traits you can find. If writing your own story, see if you “unconsciously” put any of these traits in your novel.
More to come.
*P.S. – I hope nobody was offended that I simply used the masculine pronoun throughout the above bullet points. I like women. I really do. I was not trying to alienate anyone.

Creating Your Own Hero’s Journey

Even if you seek to create the most original story of the year, the hero’s journey and archetypes can help.

Yes, I realize that sounds like a contradiction: “if you follow a pattern, the story cannot be that original,” you say.

Here’s the thing: there is plenty of room within the hero’s journey for originality (just look at the stories I’ve been using as examples in my previous posts—they cross genres and show incredible diversity). Additionally, the journey is universal and you probably want your story to touch upon universal themes of the human condition.

In fact, I’d suggest that being familiar with archetypes will help you break the mold. Why? Because the more you know the “normal story,” the easier it will be for you to avoid it, take a new turn, and enter truly original territory. You can play against our expectations!

No matter your genre, the first steps of the hero’s journey will help your story get started. After all, readers will always need to know basic information about the setting (ordinary world) and the character’s life. Your protagonist will need a goal and will strive to achieve it (the call). You will also need to establish the stakes of that goal. As your story progresses, your protagonist will face obstacles and challenges that will change or influence him/her (transformation and journey).

Just using that basic template will catapult your story forward. You want to get to the call as quickly as you can, establish the goal/motive, and make the stakes of success or failure clear.

When you have writer’s block, look to the hero’s journey for inspiration! What is the next step in the journey? How can you get there? Or what can you do that will take the story in an unexpected direction?

Figure out which types of archetypal characters you can fit into your story (hero, lover, mentor, traitor, etc.). You can then have fun playing against type.

As a creative exercise, I suggest trying to put in as many elements of the hero’s journey and archetypal characters as possible, and then have fun twisting things around. You might surprise yourself as well as your future readers!

Transformation in the Hero’s Journey – Part Two

In many stories, the hero’s transformation is represented by a death and rebirth sequence that signifies the new person who emerges. The death and rebirth can happen anywhere in the story (beginning, middle, or end). While this death and rebirth can be literal, it is more often symbolic.

Think of the stories you love. How many “death and rebirth” examples can you think of?

Please leave comments to add to my list of examples!

  • Major League: Honestly, I don’t see this in the film. Sorry. I’ll add a “bonus film” at the bottom of this post.
  • The Godfather: Michael has a kind of death and rebirth when he disappears from New York after killing Sollozzo. He is missing for several years and his girlfriend Kay has no idea where he is. When he finally returns and sees her, it is like he has come back from the dead. Of course, he has returned as a new man— no longer the Michael she fell in love with, but a hardened and heartless mafia leader.
  • Harry Potter: We could probably find dozens of examples in the Harry Potter series, but the most obvious are the evil Voldemort’s return from death (which happens in book 4 after several failed attempts) and Harry’s sacrifice + rebirth in the final story.
  • Lord of the Rings: How many deaths and rebirths can one story have?
    • In book/film one, Frodo is stabbed, falls unconscious, and nearly dies (a kind of death and rebirth). Much later, Frodo is cocooned by a giant spider (the cocoon is a symbol of change—like a caterpillar turning into a butterfly). Frodo is hardened by his journey and like Harry Potter, gets quite a bit darker. In the end, Frodo fails because he is taken over by his darker nature and the evil ring that has been influencing him. When he returns to the Shire, he cannot find happiness any longer.
    • Gandalf the Gray falls into a dark chasm and returns as Gandalf the White.
    • Aragorn is thought dead in the film version of The Two Towers, floats in water (a symbol of life and rebirth—as in baptism) and returns. In the final book/movie, he enters the Paths of the Dead (entering into the realm of death) and emerges (having beaten death). This scene is also when he finally accepts who he is and becomes the leader the world needs.
    • The entire group of the Fellowship enters the Dwarf mines of Moria—a vast cave that has become a den of goblins, ogres, and demons. Surviving this “hell” is a kind of death and rebirth (though this is actually where Gandalf falls into the pit and “dies”).
  • Batman: Bruce Wayne/Batman’s death and rebirth in Batman Begins occurs as he returns to Gotham City after a seven year absence. On the flight home, he finds out that he has been legally declared dead and must therefore “come back from the dead” once he arrives home. His death and rebirth in The Dark Knight Rises is far more obvious as he is defeated and broken, left in a dark pit to suffer (a kind of hell), climbs out of the dark pit, and returns in time to save the city. During that entire time, the people in Gotham assume that he is dead, so to them his return is a resurrection. At the end of that film/trilogy, we also have the idea that anyone can become Batman and that he will live on despite the fact that Bruce Wayne is gone – Batman will be reborn with a new person taking up that mantle.
  • Star Wars: “Rebirth” is a major theme in the Star Wars saga. After all, the main character is Anakin Skywalker/Darth Vader who “dies” in Episode III when the Jedi known as Anakin falls and becomes the evil Darth Vader, but he gets a rebirth in Episode VI when he returns to “good” (which is why his spirit is allowed to stand and smile with the spirits of the other nice Jedi). Additionally, the end of the 6 episode saga is about the rebirth of the Jedi Knights and of democracy. Another character who has a nice “death and rebirth” sequence is Han Solo. In The Empire Strikes Back, he is frozen in carbonite and is in a kind of suspended animation. In the next film, he is thawed out/rescued from this half-life and is therefore reborn or given a second chance at life.
  • Captain America: (Bonus Film). Although Cap/Steve Rogers doesn’t change that much in the film (he starts off as a brave and moral guy and ends up the same way), he actually has THREE deaths/rebirths in this one movie
      • When skinny Steve becomes the super-soldier, he literally transforms in a metallic cocoon-like pod. The old Steve is gone, and the new super-hero Steve emerges.
      • When he is declared dead on the battlefield and then moments later reappears with nearly 200 soldiers he rescued from the enemy camp.
      • At the end of the film, Cap “dies” in the arctic when his plane crashes, but really he is just frozen for 70 years. When he is revived in modern day, he has come back to life . . . again.

Transformation in the Hero’s Journey – Part One

Since the New Year is nearly upon us, it seems appropriate that I write about “Transformation” in the Hero’s Journey. After all, many of us are looking to change ourselves in the New Year.

The most important aspect of the Hero’s Journey is that the Hero must change during it. The hero’s transformation is the central storyline. Because he experiences new things, meets new people, and is introduced to new ideas, he will come out of the journey a different person than he was at the start. Often the change is gradual and is a natural occurrence given all that he goes through. However, sometimes the change is sudden and dramatic–as when there is a literal physical transformation. However, even when there is a physical transformation, the more significant transformation is still psychological or spiritual. The physical change is merely a way of showing the overall change. EXAMPLE: Peter Parker gets bitten by a spider and physically changes, gaining the powers of a spider and becoming Spider-Man. However, the more important psychological change is that he realizes that “with great power, comes great responsibility” and that he must use his powers to help others, even if that means making some pretty important personal sacrifices.

The change must be significant (deciding to give a one-time donation to the poor does not count). The transformation is a total change of lifestyle and values that may cause change in others or the world/universe as well. Stagnation is a terrible thing in stories and in life. We all feel the call to become something individual, new, and try something dangerous. This is why these stories are so popular, widespread, and appealing.

In any case, the hero learns about himself and the world. This knowledge usually aids him or enables him to succeed in the end. For instance, the hero may use a new trick he’s learned in order to win the battle, may use his new insight about people and the world to beat his enemies, etc.

In many stories, the hero’s change is represented by a death and rebirth sequence that signifies the new person who emerges. The death and rebirth can happen anywhere in the story and is usually symbolic (though it can be literal). How many can you think of?


  • Major League: Taylor (the catcher) makes the conscious decision to mature and change as he tries to win back his ex-girlfriend. He reads (for her approval) and becomes a mentor for the younger players. Vaughn changes by improving his control over his pitches (the glasses helped). Pedro Cerrano realizes that he must stop putting faith in Jo-bu and believe in himself.
  • Stand By Me: The boys grow up, each having faced (or at least voiced) his fears. By the time they find the body at the end of the film, they have matured enough to know that finding the body of a young boy is no way to gain fame. They place an anonymous call to the authorities instead.
  • Harry Potter: Young Harry changes in multiple ways in book one and by the end of the series he is a far more mature person (and quite a bit darker). In the first story, he is introduced to the world of magic and begins his education. He learns a lot about potions, spells, etc. but more importantly for Harry, he gains friends and faith in himself. He has people who genuinely care about him (his step parents do not care about him). He gains mentors in his teachers. He is told that he has value and that he is important . . . even that he is loved (though I don’t know that this is actually stated, he certainly knows it is true). As a result, he gains enough confidence in himself that he is able to win the final battle.
  • The Godfather: Michael starts off as a “good guy” who is honest with Kay (his girlfriend). By the end of the story, he is definitely a “bad guy” who lies to her face (that’s actually how the film ends—with Michael lying to her, then shutting the door, closing her off from the reality of what he is doing). Michael’s change is a fall. He becomes a murderer to avenge his family but later kills his own brother-in-law and in The Godfather Part II, Michael kills his actual brother who has always loved him. Michael’s evil is best shown in the first film’s montage baptism scene in which Michael’s henchmen go all around town murdering people while Michael baptizes his child and “renounces” Satan, Sin, and Evil.
  • Batman: Bruce Wayne learns about fear and conquers his own fear of bats. More importantly, he transforms himself into a weapon against crime. As Batman, he is a new man, having transformed into an incorruptible symbol of justice.
  • Lord of the Rings: All of the major characters go through changes, but the most dramatic is probably Frodo’s transformation. He begins as a happy & simple Hobbit with no real ambition to become anything more than that. However, his journey (and the evil ring of power that seeks to corrupt him) takes its toll. By the time Frodo and Sam make it to the volcano where they can destroy the ring, Frodo reveals that he has changed and no longer wants to destroy it. The evil ring has possessed him and he has become evil. It is only due to the intervention of Sam and Golum that the ring is destroyed. Yet even this isn’t enough to return Frodo to the happy fellow he was in the beginning. He returns to the Shire hopelessly depressed. His experience has corrupted him and he can no longer find meaning or happiness in his simple life there. So he leaves.
  • Star Wars: Luke begins to learn the force and joins the rebellion against the evil Empire. He grows up a bit, though he matures even more in The Empire Strikes Back and Return of the Jedi as he learns a lot more about himself, his heritage, and his destiny. In A New Hope, Han Solo has the more dramatic transformation: he goes from being a money loving mercenary to someone who willingly endangers himself for the sake of his friend.