“The Writer’s Journey”, Christopher Vogler – Week 1

This is the start of our New Narratives module which will span 16 weeks. Our first project is to present on our given chapters of Vogler’s, “The Writer’s Journey”. This week I am working with Niamh Lynn, Hollie Mackay and Lina Janaviciute!

The three chapters we looked at were; Crossing the First Threshold; Tests, Allies, Enemies and Approaching the Inmost Cave.

We thought it best for all four of us to read each chapter instead of awkwardly splitting it amongst ourselves.

I made the presentation and we contributed our notes to it. I mainly focused on the Crossing the First Threshold and the Test, Allies, Enemies chapter and then edited the presentation at the end (there was just too much information for a 6 minute presentation, so we had to drastically cut it down) and put in the bibliography.

My notes:

Crossing the first threshold is when the hero/protagonist commits wholeheartedly to the adventure.

Approaching the Threshold
  • The heroes don’t typically charge into the adventure, so the final commitment can be brought about by an external force; the “turning point” of the movie. For example: the bad guy might threaten or kill someone close to the protagonist, there might be a deadline for the hero to achieve an outcome or environmental conditions might leave the hero in an undesirable situation.
  • An example is the movie “Castaway” when protagonist, Chuck Noland, ends up stranded on an island after his plane crashes during a storm.

    Castaway (The turning point)
  • It can also be brought about by an internal force. The hero can reach a point where a decision needs to be made, for example a hero will a deteriorating illness. “Do I go on living my life as I always have or will I risk everything in the effort to grow and change?”
  • It can also be due to a combination of external events and inner choices to carry the story forwards, as one may motivate the hero but the other will cause him to fully commit.
Threshold Guardians
  • Threshold guardians Are beings who will try and block the protagonist from crossing the threshold and committing to the adventure. They can appear at any point in the story but mostly around the thresholds.
  • Protagonists must find a way around these guardians: you can ignore them, convert them into allies or simply just acknowledge them.
  • The old man guarding The Wall in “Stardust” is a great example of a threshold guardian. He initially prevents the hero, Tristan,  from travelling beyond the wall which leads to the magical fairy realm.
Stardust (Threshold guardian)
The Crossing
  • Is about taking a leap of faith into the unknown. It requires a certain kind of courage from the hero and the act is irreversible, they can’t turn back from it. It can represented physically with the use of doors, gates, bridges etc.
  • In older films, the crossing was shown with the screen fading into darkness for a brief moment. For films now, the crossing can be a sharp transition between scenes but there will still be a noticeable change such as a musical cue or a visual contrast. The crossing can be a single moment or may be an extended passage.
Rough Landing
  • Crossing the first threshold can be an exhausting and disorienting experience so the hero may literally or figuratively crash into the second world. The leap of faith could turn sour and become a crisis of faith as romantic illusions of this new world are shattered by entering it.
  • In the movie “Kickass”, Dave Lizewski (Aaron Johnson my husband), decides to become a superhero and enters the new world by confronting two car thieves, this is his first taste of heroism but it doesn’t go the way he planned as one of the thugs end up stabbing the hero, leaving him severely wounded.

(Warning: Contains offensive language and moderate gore)


Tests, Allies, Enemies occurs in the new Special World. It’s a new and sometimes frightening experience for the hero.


  • First impressions of the Special World should strike a sharp contrast with the Ordinary World.
  • The conditions and rules of survival change, things are often more dangerous and the price of mistakes is higher.



  • This stage tests the hero, putting the protagonist through a series of trials and challenges that are meant to prepare him for greater ordeals ahead.

  • These tests don’t have the maximum life-and-death quality of later events.
  • The Tests may be a continuation of the Mentor’s training. Many Mentors accompany their heroes this far into the adventure, coaching them for the big rounds ahead.
  • The Tests may also be built into the architecture or landscape of the Special World. Heroes must dodge traps, barricades and checkpoints. Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade” features the hero, Indiana, having to pass three trials to reach the chamber of the Holy Grail. 


Allies and Enemies

  • It’s natural for heroes to spend some time figuring out who can be trusted and relied upon and who can not. This is also a kind of test, examining if the hero is a good judge of character.
  • Heroes may walk into the test stage looking for information but they may walk out with new friends or Allies.



  • An Ally who generally rides with the hero and supports his adventure.

  • These pairings of hero and sidekick can be found throughout myth and literature: Sherlock Holmes and Dr. Watson, Batman and Robin or Asterisk and Obelisk.
  • They may provide comic relief as well as assistance. Comical sidekicks provide humour otherwise lacking in their partner. Such figures may freely cross the boundaries between Mentor and Trickster, sometimes aiding the hero and acting as his conscience, some­ times comically goofing up or causing mischief.
Sherlock and Dr. Watson


  • Testing stage may provide the opportunity for the forging of a team. Many stories feature multiple heroes or a hero backed up by a team of characters with special skills or qualities.



  • Heres can still make enemies here.
  • Heroes can also make bitter enmities at this stage. They may encounter the Shadow or his servants.


  • The hero’s appearance may tip the Shadow to his arrival and trigger a chain of threatening events. 
  • Enemies include both the villains or antagonists of stories and their under­lings. 
  • Enemies may perform functions of other archetypes such as the Shadow, the Trickster, the Threshold Guardian, and sometimes the Herald.
  • The cantina sequence in Star Wars sets up a conflict with the villain Jabba the Hutt which culminates in “The Empire Strikes Back”.
Star Wars IV: A New Hope

The Rival

  • A special type of Enemy is the rival, the hero’s competition in love, sports, business, or some other enterprise.

  • The rival is usually not out to kill the hero, but is just trying to defeat him in the competition.


New Rules

  • The new rules of the Special World must be learned quickly by the hero and the audience.

  • At this stage, a Western may impose certain conditions on people entering a town or a bar. This can draw the hero into conflicts.


Watering Holes

  • The watering hole is a natural congregating place and a good spot to observe and get information.

  • Bars are natural spots to recuperate, pick up gossip, make friends and confront Enemies.

  • They also allow us to observe people under pressure, when true character is revealed.

  • The bar can be a microcosm of the Special World, a place through which everyone must pass through sooner or later.


The stage of Tests, Allies, and Enemies in stories is useful for “getting to know you” scenes where the characters get acquainted with each other and the audience learns more about them. This stage also allows the hero to accumulate power and information in preparation for the next stage.



Approach to the Inmost Cave is the intermediate area between the border and the centre of the journey. This area has it’s own threshold guardians and tests. It’s here they prepare for the assault on the final leg of their adventure.

Functions of Approach
  • Heroes will prepare for the ordeal; make plans, do reconnaissance on the enemy, reorganize or thin out the group, fortify and arm themselves or have a last laugh and a final cigarette before the big ordeal.



  • The romance you have been waiting for throughout the story may finally develop here, finally bonding the two before the great ordeal.


The Bold Approach

  • Some heroes will stride up to the door and demand to be let in.


Obstacles, Illusions and Threshold Guardians

  • Obstacles act as a series of challenge that will bond the group and prepare them for the life and death struggle to come.
  • Illusions will aim to deter heroes from their journey.
  • Past experiences on the journey may be the hero’s way past new threshold guardians.


Another Special World

  • The hero may’ve entered another Special World with different rules and values. They may encounter a series of Russian dolls, one inside the other; layers protecting a central source. The movie “Inception” can be used as an example as the heroes journey through dreams within dreams.



  • It’s a good idea for the  protagonists to enter the ordeal in a state of balance, with confidence tempered by humility and awareness of the danger.


Another Threshold

  • When delayed by constant obstacles, heroes can get acquainted with their fellow adventurers and learn of their hopes and dreams.


Emotional Appeal to A Guardian

  • An emotional appeal will establish a bond of human feeling and can break down the defenses of Threshold Guardians.


An Impossible Test

  • The hero is challenging a powerful status quo, maybe an ageing generation, a ruler reluctant to give up power, or a parent unwilling to admit the child is grown.

  • That status quo may even live inside them in strong habits or neuroses that must be overcome before facing the main ordeal.


Shamanic Territory

  • As heroes Approach the Inmost Cave, they should know they are in shaman’s territory, on the edge between life and death.
  • In “Lord of The Rings: The Return of the King” as Frodo and Sam near Mt. Doom, they are entering the land that’s watched over by the terrifying Eye of Sauron. This is the shamanic territory as they risk death if seen here.




  • There may be setbacks at this stage of approach, called dramatic complications.

  • They are only a further test of our willingness to proceed, allowing us to put ourselves back together in a stronger way.


Higher Stakes

  • The Approach stage ups the stakes and rededicates the team to the mission.
  • Good time to remind the audience of the urgency of the story and the life-or-death quality.



  • A good time to reorganise a group: to promote some members, sort out the living, dead or wounded, or assign special missions.
  • Archetypal masks may need to be changed as characters perform new functions. (If the hero gets trapped then they will get the archetypal mask of the victim, the  trickster allies may now become full heroes)


Heavy Defenses

  • Heroes can expect the villain’s stronghold to be defended with animal-like ferocity.


Who is the Hero at this Point?

  • Recalibrate your team, express misgivings and give encouragement. Team members make sure all are in agreement about goals and determine that the right people are in the right jobs.
  • There may be bitter battles for dominance among the group at this stage.
  • May be the last chance to relax and crack a joke as things will get serious in the Supreme Ordeal phase.


Get into your Opponent’s Mind

  • “When in Rome, do as the Romans do.” This aspect of the Approach teaches that we must get into the minds of those who seem to stand in our way.

  • If we understand or empathize with them, the job of getting past them is much easier and we can turn their attacks into opportunities.

  • Heroes may also put on disguises to conceal their real intentions as they get close to the Inmost Cave of the opponent.



  • The hero’s own resistance and fear may have to be overcome by a violent act of will to break through the final veil of the inmost cave.


No Exit

  • The exits are closed off and the life-and-death issue must be faced. This completes the approach to the inmost cave.


The approach summarises all the preparations for the Supreme Ordeal.



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