Monday, October 15, 2007

Disney Princesses and the Hero(ine)’s Journey

I just survived 7 days in Disney World with one husband and two very energetic children, so please bear with me as I stray from this week’s topic and go off on my own tangent today. Can’t be helped--I’m running on Disney Princess overload right now--but I will try to tie it all into writing paranormal romance.

So how am I going to do that, you ask? It’s pretty simple, actually. For the paranormal part, most Disney stories involve magic and otherworldly creatures--be they witches, elves, or fairy godmothers. For romance, the stories almost always follow the theme of love conquers all and have a They-Lived-Happily-Ever-After ending. And when we come to the writing part, you can see each and every story follows the Hero’s Journey, which comes from Christopher Vogler’s THE WRITER’S JOURNEY. In his book, Vogler explains how every story, movie, or--for today’s topic, animated Disney fairy tale--typically follows a 12-step hero’s journey. For those of you unfamiliar with the hero’s journey, here’s a down and dirty version of it and--since I’ll be talking about Disney Princesses later on--I’ve converted it to the heroine’s journey:

1) The Ordinary World
The heroine is minding her business in her normal, ordinary world. It’s what she knows, what she’s comfortable with--in other words *yawn* boring.

2) The Call to Adventure
Uh, oh. A major problem or an unexpected adventure comes along to shake up the heroine’s ordinary world. This is often complicated by meeting Mr. Tall, Dark and Handsome. Sometimes he IS the problem, sometimes he just complicates the other problem more.

3) The Refusal of the Call
The heroine says, “Huh uh. No way. Not gonna do it.” And promptly runs the other way.

4) Meet the Mentor
The heroine meets someone wiser than herself to help guide her on her journey. Sorta like Map Quest in human form.

5) Crossing the First Threshold
The heroine says, “Okay, if I really have no choice and have to go face the unknown, I guess I’ll do it.” And her adventure begins.

6) Tests, Allies, and Enemies
Along the way, the heroine makes some nice friends, a nasty enemy or two, and faces many challenging tests to make her a stronger person than she was when she started out.

7) The Approach to the Innermost Cave
Up until now, the tests our heroine has faced and overcome have been somewhat small and not overly challenging. Now she’s got a real doozie in front of her. Think of it as if she’s passed a bunch of pop quizzes and now she’s faced with the final exam--an exam that probably involves facing her worst fear but she has to pass in order to graduate (reach her ultimate goal).

8) The Supreme Ordeal
This is the Black Moment. This is when the worse that can happen does and it looks like our plucky heroine is going to fail.

9) Seizing the Sword
The heroine overcomes the ordeal and achieves her goal--or so it seems.

10) The Road Back
Just when she thinks she has it all, something bad happens and the heroine discovers she may end up losing all she’s worked so hard for. It’s a second, and often more climatic, Black Moment. It’s a moment of symbolic death.

11) Resurrection
The moment of symbolic rebirth. The heroine survives the worst and comes out the other side discovering she has grown and changed through her experiences, good and bad, and it’s made her a better person for it.

12) Return with the Elixir
The heroine returns home with the treasure--be it newfound knowledge, a goal achieved, or the love of a handsome prince.

If you’re like me, I learn better by example. So after meeting several Disney Princesses this week (much to my 8 year old daughter’s delight and my 5 year old son’s dismay--you’ll learn why later), I thought I’d examine each princess’ story and tie it to the heroine’s journey.

Cinderella
1) The Ordinary World
Cinderella is busy cleaning up after her wicked stepmother and spoiled stepsisters. It’s what she does day after day and she’s learned not to hope for much more in life.

2) The Call to Adventure
A decree comes from the palace that all eligible maidens are to come to a ball for the prince so he can find a wife. Woo hoo!

3) The Refusal of the Call
Cindy is eligible but she hasn’t got a thing to wear and stepmom and the sisters aren’t about to help her out. Bummer. She resigns herself to sorting peas. I mean, it’s not like she had a chance with the prince anyway, right?

4) Meet the Mentor
Enter the fairy godmother.

5) Crossing the First Threshold
The fairy godmother urges Cindy to go to the ball. But there are a few details holding her back. She says, “I don’t have an invitation.” *poof* She’s got one. Then she says, “How will I get there?” *poof* Mice and rats become horse and livery and a pumpkin becomes a carriage. Finally, she says, “But I haven’t got a thing to wear.” *poof* She’s wearing a gorgeous designer gown straight off the Paris runway.

6) Tests, Allies, and Enemies
Cindy’s enemies are her evil stepmother and stepsisters. Her only friends are the barnyard rodents and house pets. Her tests are how to get to the ball and avoid discovery by her stepfamily once she’s there.

7) The Approach to the Innermost Cave
The prince notices our little Cindy. She’s unsure of what to do. All she wanted was to go to the ball, see the castle, maybe drink some punch. Now she has to dance in public with a handsome prince without tripping over herself and causing a major scene.

8) The Supreme Ordeal
The clock strikes midnight. Cindy has to get the heck out of Dodge before the spell washes off and she turns back into a ragamuffin. Unfortunately, this means leaving the hunky prince and a certain glass slipper behind.

9) Seizing the Sword
The prince comes looking for the girl who fits the slipper, intent on marrying her. Oh, happy, joy!

10) The Road Back
Realizing Cindy was the mysterious girl at the ball, the stepmother locks her away so the prince can’t find her to see if the shoe fits.

11) Resurrection
With the help of her animal friends, Cindy escapes in time and stands up to her stepmother. Enraged, the stepmother purposely breaks the glass slipper so Cindy can’t prove she’s the girl the prince loves. Cindy says, “Not so fast,” and pulls the other glass slipper from her pocket, proving she is the one the prince has been searching for.

12) Return With the Elixir
The prince marries Cinderella and they go off to live in the castle while her stepmother and sisters get demoted to lowly castle servants.

Belle
1) The Ordinary World
Belle lives with her father in a quaint little village and spends her time reading books. She’s fine with the status quo--sort of.

2) The Call to Adventure
Belle’s father is taken captive by the Beast and she must go rescue him.

3) The Refusal of the Call
Since Belle's father is old and sickly, the Beast demands she must take his place to spare him. She does, but she’s not happy about it.

4) Meet the Mentor
The other inhabitants of the castle who are also under the spell. They help Beast and Belle come together, overcome their awkward natures, and get to know each other.

5) Crossing the First Threshold
Even though she’s terrified at first, Belle is determined to make the best of the situation, whether the Beast likes it or not. She begins by exploring his castle and quite literally crosses the threshold into the Beast's lair, where she's forbidden to go, and discovers the source of the Beast's spell--the wilting rose.

6) Tests, Allies, and Enemies
The people turned household items are her friends. Gaston, her persistent suitor, is the enemy. And Belle’s tests push her to look past all the fur and fangs to see the man inside the Beast.

7) The Approach to the Innermost Cave
Belle’s greatest fear is realized when she learns her father is ill and may be dying. It’s what she tried to prevent by taking his place with the Beast.

8) The Supreme Ordeal
Even though it breaks the Beast's heart, Belle leaves the him to return to her father.

9) Seizing the Sword
Belle finds her father alive and well but discovers she cares more for the Beast than she realized and rushes back to him.

10) The Road Back
Belle returns to the castle, but she is too late. Gaston stabs the Beast.

11) Resurrection
Just when Belle admits she loves the Beast and he loves her, he ‘dies’ only to be reborn as the handsome prince when the spell is broken because they’ve learned to love each other.

12) Return With the Elixir
Belle gets the prince, the castle folk return to their human forms, and all in the land is right once again.

Sleeping Beauty
(the blond-haired floozy who tried to kiss my 5 year old son, much to his horror and embarrassment)
1) The Ordinary World
Sleeping Beauty is content living in the forest with the good fairies, completely oblivious that she’s a princess.

2) The Call to Adventure
Beauty meets a handsome young man in the woods--a prince, no less (though she doesn’t realize it at the time)--and figures out there’s more in the world than kind little old ladies and cute woodland creatures.

3) The Refusal of The Call
Beauty remembers the good fairies warnings about talking to strangers, so she reluctantly runs away from the prince but promises to meet him later. *wink wink*

4) Meet the Mentor
Beauty has known her mentors all her life. They’re the good fairies who’ve raised her and kept her hidden from the bad fairy.

5) Crossing the First Threshold
Beauty learns she’s really a princess and her parents are still alive and that she must return to the castle to take her rightful place as their daughter.

6) Tests, Allies, and Enemies
Beauty’s friends are the animals of the forest. Her enemy is the wicked fairy. Her tests are going against what her heart desires (meeting the hunk in the woods again) and doing what she’s supposed to do (assume the responsibilities of a royal princess).

7) The Approach to the Innermost Cave
Beauty has stayed hidden in the forest all her life. Now she now must expose herself and return to the royal kingdom even though it could be dangerous, even deadly.

8) The Supreme Ordeal
Beauty returns to the castle and leaves behind all she’s ever known--including the handsome young stud from the forest she believes she’ll never see again.

9) Seizing the Sword
Beauty has reached her birthday milestone unharmed. The evil fairy is no where to be seen. All the spinning wheels in the kingdom have been destroyed. She’s reunited with her parents and learns she’s a princess and engaged to marry a prince. Could it get any better?

10) The Road Back
But there’s one spinning wheel left and--wouldn’t you know it--Beauty pricks her finger on it and falls under a sleeping spell.

11) Resurrection
After slaying the dragon/evil fairy, the prince kisses Beauty and wakes her up from the spell. Okay, so she doesn’t do much to achieve her own goal at this point. The prince does all the hard work. Consider this a joint-effort story. *G*

12) Return with the Elixir
Beauty gets her prince/hunk from the woods after all. Which is fine with me as long as she stays away from my son--at least until he’s 18.

So there you have the Hero’s Journey applied to three Disney fairy tales. Nifty how that works, don’t ya think? Now that I think about it, this post does involve this week's topic of inspiration, because I'm sure each and every one of us began our writing careers way before we could even read, whether we realized it or not. And it all began with "Once upon a time . . ." and probably involved a Disney Princess or two.

5 comments:

  1. That is awesome and frighteningly detailed! I guess we writers can work "work" into anything!

    Jody W.

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  2. Lori, totally awesome post. Though I admit that Belle is my favorite princess.

    ;)

    talia

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  3. Very clear explanation. You could teach a class on the Heroine's Journey.:)

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  4. Isn't it interesting how the evolution of the Disney princesses mimics that of the romance heroine?

    They're all seeking their prince charming, but the princess/heroine of old gave up everything for the prince/hero (i.e. Ariel giving up her voice/ Cinderella waiting for her prince to save her).

    Now we have strong princesses (i.e. Belle and Jasmine) and heroines who can kick some butt.

    ~Maggie

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  5. That was a lot of work and a great blog, you really caught the impact of what Hero's Journey is and does

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