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20th December 2013
Alan Wake & Campbell's "Hero's Journey" Monomyth #01:
Call to Adventure

Last year we looked at the Campbell's "Hero's Journey" Monomyth as a whole and compared it to "Alan Wake". While I enjoyed writing it, I constantly had to limit the amount of information I could put into each section, to make the read length ideal. In" The Hero With A Thousand Faces", Campbell goes into meticulous detail for each section, and it didn't really feel right just doing an overview when the topic is so in depth and interesting. This article is the first part in a new feature. Hope you enjoy!

[WARNING: Contains major spoilers!]

Just after Alan’s Wake American Nightmare was released, a website was posted on the Remedy Forums entitled This House of Dreams which told of a story set in the town Ordinary. Which is not only a real town, but is also the location mentioned in the reversed section in Balance Slays the Demon. Initially, the blog was assumed to be fansite or a secret page set up by Remedy to hint towards the announcement of Alan Wake 2, or as post-promotional work for American Nightmare. Months later, it was revealed to be one of Sam Lake’s side projects.

video uploaded by zippo685

The story was set in the Alan Wake universe and used photographs to blend fiction into reality; just like in the games. Samantha, our protagonist, moves into her dream house where strange things begin to happen. Within the space of a few weeks she finds a shoebox in her attic filled with papers and she starts having weird dreams based on the words on the sheets. BUT! For this feature, the papers are the most important part, more specifically one manuscript page; the title page for Return.

Return was the name of the piece that Wake was writing at the end of the original game, it was also the script for American Nightmare. (A script as opposed to a novel as it was originally created for the Night Springs television show that Wake had worked on before he started as a novelist). While many pages on the blog were covered in annotations, the title page had some pretty interesting notes relating to Campbell’s “Hero’s Journey” Monomyth. 


In 1949, Joseph Campbell created a systematic story arch which could be applied to numerous legends and myths. He focused more on Greek Mythology and James Joyce’s Finnegans Wake but recognised that all tales can fit into three parts; the Departure, Initiation and Return. Each section has five or six different subsections which we’ll look into deeper in future articles and apply it to sections in the Alan Wake series.

The Departure or Separation is, quite simply, the setting of the story, introducing the audience to the location, dilemma, hero and antagonist. The main body of the adventure is the Initiation; which focuses on the protagonist reaching hero status through embracing challenges. This concludes in Return, where the story reaches a solid ending. These three main sections were placed under the umbrella name of “Campbell’s Hero’s Journey Monomyth”.

The first section of Departure is the “Call to Adventure” which can be achieved through what Campbell described as a “blunder”. This blunder acts as a catalyst which forces the protagonist to enter a situation he doesn’t understand. In Alan Wake, this blunder can be seen to take place at a number of different points in story which directly leads to the kidnapping of Alice Wake. 

Moments before Alice is kidnapped.

The first and most obvious occurs just after the tutorial in Episode One as Alan picks up the keys and directions from Barbara Jagger at Oh Deer Diner, and in turn triggers the series of events. The directions send the couple to Bird Leg Cabin, where Alice admits the truth behind the holiday, which act as the trigger for an argument. Out of anger, Alan leaves the cabin and in his absence, the Dark Presence kidnaps Alice. With the ransom as bait, Wake is forced to write the Departure manuscript. While there are several theories which hold different views, in this interpretation Jagger is the direct cause for Alan’s fate. In his work, Campbell talks about the enemy as being a vital part of establishing the call.

The antagonist or “announcer of the adventure” as Campbell puts it, is also described as being a “veiled mysterious figure – the unknown.” And Barbara’s appearance both literally and metaphorically represents this. Not only is the mourning gown veil covering her face (or skull according to the game’s novelisation by Rick Burroughs) but she also represents the unknown, the darkness, that primal fear that we ourselves had as children when we couldn’t comprehend what we couldn’t see.

The archetype refers frequently to the idea of fate and the pre-existing triggers from the protagonist’s background. With this line of thinking various branches of interpretation appears. And here’s where things gets a little tricky, Campbell also describes the blunder as being “the result of suppressed desires and conflicts” except in Alan Wake it’s not all that clear whose desires and conflicts are focused on.

If we look at Alan’s background his childhood plays an important part in the game. While the backstory for the Clicker is further developed later in episode five, six and the two DLC packs, the importance of the item is continual throughout the entire storyline. To Alan, the Clicker represents a link to his absent father, that psychological connection which allowed his child-self to imbue the item with protective magic. As it’s written into the shoebox in Bright Falls, it too is tainted with the location’s unique power, and as a result becomes the most powerful weapon in the game. Despite knowing a lot about the item’s backstory, the origins of the memory is still a mystery which is only solved through understanding the true author of Departure; Alan Wake or Thomas Zane? Nevertheless the memory, now real, paves the way for the “opening of a destiny” as Campbell puts it, leading him to fight the Dark Presence. 

The Clicker in episode five.

In Alan Wake, the character’s conflicts and desires carry equal power, acting both as a catalyst to danger and as a driving force. In episode five, the player is invited back into Alan’s apartment just after the release of his latest book, The Sudden Stop. Despite the relatively short passing of time from the previous flashback in episode two, much has changed. The protagonist is significantly more frustrated and troubled with his success; it’s this moment in the game where the player is given insight into Alan’s personal conflicts. In the story, desires and conflicts are somewhat similar; Alan’s desire to be a great author clashes with his inability to cope with success. Similarly as a solution to his predicament, Alan’s presence in Bright Falls inadvertently feeds Barbara’s desire to give the Darkness strength. From the moment the couple arrives at Diver’s Isle they become Jagger’s marionettes.

That’s not to say that the Dark Presence doesn’t face conflict in the game, in fact the entity is possibly the most restricted character. It relies on creative works to grow and give it form. While it takes over the town’s residents, the Darkness seldom has complete control over the individual with the spoken dialogue being the remnants of the host’s personality. (The only main exception being Jagger who is the embodiment of the Dark Presence.) An example of the entity’s reliance is at the Oh Deer Diner; Jagger is able to appear in the darkened corridor despite the Darkness’ limited power and only through her actions can the Taken appear.

A third interpretation focuses on the idea that Thomas Zane is the author with his suppressed conflicts and desires rooted to the Bright Falls Fable. The legend goes that the famous Poet once resided in Bird Leg Cabin with his girlfriend Barbara Jagger. Despite being an excellent swimmer, Jagger drowned in Cauldron Lake. Her sudden death led to Tom becoming fixated on trying to bring her back using the location’s unique ability to control reality through artistic works. Under the strict control of Hartman, his editor, Tom used his poems to bring Barbara back from the dead. And he does...to a point. Barbara returned but as an empty shell controlled by the Dark Presence. She then lured Tom into writing poems about the Darkness gaining in strength, and Tom realises the truth behind her unnatural obsession and tries to correct his mistake. In desperation, he cuts out her heart and dives into the depths of the lake with Jagger’s body, in turn limiting the power of the Dark Presence. 

Bird Leg Cabin, as it appears in episode four.

Zane’s decision to bring Jagger back is perhaps the most destructive act in the series; it binds the destinies of several major characters. Through the poems, the Dark Presence is able to reanimate Jagger, solely for the purpose of manipulation, the “blunder”. As the voice and body of the Dark Presence, she is able to influence the text, allowing the entity to grow in power. Despite Zane’s original intention (to save a loved one) and his attempts to correct his actions, he inadvertently opened a gateway to allow the Dark Presence to interact with the real world. Possessing such a power gives it the means of enticing Wake. Pretty big blunder!

In the chapter, Campbell writes a section dedicated on the guide; “whether dream or myth in these adventures there is an atmosphere of irresistible fascination about the figure that appears sudden as a guide.” And that’s very much true for Alan Wake

Zane establishes himself as the guardian from the first time the player meets him in the tutorial. He teaches Wake how to defend himself against the Taken and warns him of upcoming dangers. This role is further expanded on in future episodes as well as in The Signal DLC as he tries to save the protagonist from insanity. The character has an overall passive role in the game, presumably due to his imprisonment in the Dark Place. While Zane’s backstory and predicament are explained there’s an undeniable fascination regarding the character. Fuelling this fascination is Zane’s desire to censor information from Wake, such as his refusal to explain Mr Scratch’s sudden appearance. Because of these acts he takes on a role far surpassing expectations, instead he appears more in control over the narrative’s direction than Wake. So what if he’s the writer of Departure?

The Dark place can be described as Limbo, Alan even refers to it as being as though it “...flowed. It was conceptual and subjective.” Someone in this location, such as Zane, would have a lot of time to contemplate and regret the actions which put them there, curious about alternative pathways and cheating fate. There are many connections and similarities between Zane and Wake, that Wake may be the representation of Zane’s past. Perhaps this is why Alan states “I knew how to write the ending to Departure” and establishes the reason for Zane’s failure. It’s possible that to explore the Poet’s scenarios, he invents characters in an attempt to fix the past; to him Wake is nothing more than a vehicle following a predetermined path.

Zane, trapped in the Dark Place

To conclude, I wanted to quote a section of Campbell’s work regarding the protagonist’s passage between the separate worlds. A description easily applicable to Wake’s journey as he transverses from “pale of his society to a zone unknown. This fateful region of both treasure and danger may be variously represented: a distant land, a forest, a kingdom underground, beneath the waves or above the sky, a secret island, but it is always a place of strange fluid and polymorphous being, unimaginable torments, superhuman deeds and impossible delights.” 


(All images are screenshots taken by darkspectre, with the exception of the first which is from This House of Dreams.)

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