The Feminine Journey
Narrative Analysis: The Basics
Ever since Joseph Campbell theorized the protagonist-driven story structure known as the monomyth,1 the seventeen-step Hero’s Journey has had an outsized influence in discussions of structure. Notable screenwriters and scholars of structure such as Christopher Vogler,2 John Yorke,3 and Blake Snyder have all cited his work in their own studies, with Snyder going to so far as to say: “Hero With A Thousand Faces remains the best book about storytelling ever.”4 Campbell’s monomyth is not without its detractors, however, something Christopher Vogler notes in his seminal work on the subject, “The Writer’s Journey.” In the preface of the third edition, Vogler details several criticisms levied against the monomyth, including the notions that it is dated, imperialist, jingoistic, overly didactic, and anti-feminist.
While each of those criticisms could be analyzed in-depth in their own studies, Campbell himself considered at least one of those bugs a feature. When a young psychologist named Maureen Murdock approached Campbell at a conference and asked him about women’s role in the hero’s journey, he replied that women don’t need to make the journey, then said: “In the whole mythological tradition the woman is there. All she has to do is to realize that she’s the place that people are trying to get to. When a woman realizes what her wonderful character is, she’s not going to get messed up with the notion of being pseudo-male.”5
Murdock found the answer ‘deeply unsatisfying.’ That experience, as well as patterns she’d come to notice while providing therapy for middle-aged women, drove her to write her own version of the monomyth known as the Heroine’s Journey. While the Heroine’s Journey was not explicitly developed as a story structure, and instead for a broad audience of women who felt unmoored by the societal changes of the 1990s, other writers took the ball and ran with it. One such writer was Victoria Lynn Schmidt, author of the 2001 writing guide, “45 Master Characters.” In “Master Characters,” Schmidt included her own nine-stage version of the feminine hero’s journey, based on the Descent of the Goddess Inanna,6 one of the earliest poems ever recorded. Like Inanna’s journey through the underworld, Schmidt’s Feminine Journey is about how descending into unknown territory creates an opportunity for internal growth. This internal growth isn’t just for female protagonists, either; characters of all genders can take the journey within, allowing them to access their emotions in the way Campbell’s masculine journey never did.
It’s been less than thirty years since Maureen Murdock first proposed her Heroine’s Journey, and Schmidt’s adaptation is even younger. Nevertheless, their emotion-driven structure can be used to analyze media from all eras and media forms, including modern video games. One recent release that conforms to the feminine journey is 2018’s Celeste, the award-winning indie platformer from Maddy Thorson’s Extremely OK Games. In Celeste, a young woman named Madeline challenges herself to climb the mysterious Mount Celeste, only to lose a crucial part of herself along the way. Madeline’s quest to confront her anxieties, faults, and fears is as much about her internal descent as it is her external climb, which makes it a perfect candidate for teaching Schmidt’s Feminine Journey.
To continue to Part One of this study, click here or use the navigation buttons below:
1 Campbell, Joseph. The Hero with a Thousand Faces (The Collected Works of Joseph Campbell). Joseph Campbell Foundation. Kindle Edition.
2 Vogler, Christopher. The Writer’s Journey: Mythic Structure for Writers – Third Edition. Michael Wiese Productions.
3 Yorke, John. Into the Woods: A Five-Act Journey Into Story. Harry N. Abrams. Kindle Edition.
4 Snyder, Blake. Save the Cat. Michael Wiese Productions. Kindle Edition.
5 Murdock, Maureen. The Heroine’s Journey. Shambhala Publications, Inc. Kindle Edition.
6 Schmidt, Victoria Lynn. 45 Master Characters, Revised Edition . Penguin Publishing Group. Kindle Edition.
* Reference Footage: Encrypted Duck. Celeste – Full Game (No Commentary). YouTube, 2020.