There are places in our world where fiction and dreams can come true.

6th October 2012
Article: Alan Wake and Campbell's "Hero's Journey" Monomyth (3/3)


Refusal of the Refusal

The hero finds bliss and enlightenment in the newly acquired freedom and is reluctant to return home, viewing normal life as impossible.

This section has been touched on in The Writer DLC. After saving Alice from the Dark Place and temporarily numbing the Dark Presence’s control over Bright Falls; Wake finds himself trapped in the cabin under Cauldron Lake. He still needs to write a sequel to Departure, to create a way of escaping the Dark Place. The beginning of The Writer features a monologue by Wake in which he describes himself as feeling “finished” as though he could “just give in and die.” His initial quest had been achieved at a high cost and there’s no clear path to freedom so he can escape the Darkness’ hold.

Wake might also have the slightly selfish desire to stay in the Dark Place because he can write here; his words have literal meaning. As writing was his goal for the preceding two years (since his last novel, The Sudden Stop) it’s possible that he is reluctant to regress into the state where writing was a strain. Over the course of the series, Wake has grown and developed a lot as a character; he’s less egocentric, more determined, an “action hero”.  His views about Alice have changed dramatically from the fight in Episode One to the how Alan refers to her in American Nightmare.  

Wake’s self doubt was something which has been brought up in previous titles, especially in The Writer DLC which may be a contributing factor to him wanting to stay in the Dark Place. If the time difference between the original game and the second pillar release is the same time reflected in American Nightmare (two years) then the amount might leave Wake feeling anxious about going back. The DLC showed that he’s always had strong doubts about how much Alice loved him, and if, after the events in Bright Fall, she would love him again; the Darkness used that fear to try to persuade Wake to give in. The Darkness also used elements of Wake’s personality against him to create the perfect weapon.

The revealed representation of Wake's mind in The Writer DLC. The logical side of his mind, and the other side dedicated on self destruction.

If the events of American Nightmare continued from Departure, and Wake is reunited with Alice...It would actually fit into this section quite well. In Campbell’s Monomyth, it mentions how the protagonist wants to stay in the place they’re happiest. That place was reached at the end of American Nightmare...But what if that’s not reality, just another trap set by the Dark Presence? Or if Wake created a world similar to the reality he remembers as he believes he can never make it back.

Magic Flight
The Magic Flight states that the protagonist returns home with the prize acquired (in this case; freedom) but is often challenged.

Incorporating the idea of Refusal of the Call, if Alan’s return was an illusion, the “challenge” mentioned earlier could be mental rather than physical. In American Nightmare, Mr Scratch described one of his plans “And then, one day somehow, it’ll happen. Maybe I’ll slip up and she spots something. Or maybe she just starts running her mouth...And then I’ll do it.” But instead of Alan being imitated, perhaps it’s Alice. The darkness knows that he would lower his defences around her, as Zane stated; “there’s comfort in the oblivion of dreams.” If Alan is trapped inside an illusion and something is slightly out of place, then it could be a mental task to get to the core truth of whether the “reality” he lives in is reality or just an augmentation.

If the sequel picks up the story from the end of the original title with Alan trapped in the Dark Place, then again it’s possible for the “challenge” to be mental rather than physical chase or literal combat.  The prize won in this context is Alice’s freedom, but with her still in Bright Falls, there’s an obvious risk to her especially as she’s unfamiliar with the surrounding threat lurking in the woods.

Rescue from Without
“Rescue from Without” focuses on the introduction of a rescuer, someone who may have previously appeared in a role of a “god-like” character.

This is the section I’m pretty certain will appear (in one format or another) in future instalments of the game as it did with the DLCs: Thomas Zane’s return. Voiced by James McCaffrey, I really like Thomas Zane’s character. There’s still a lot of mystery surrounding him with many interpretations of his past including a theory that he could be Alan’s father. He switches between omniscient and oblivious to the events happening around himself and Wake, which gives the impression of bluffing; trying to make Wake believe he’s more knowledgeable than he perhaps is.

Zane knew the role of Mr Scratch, yet refused to divulge any information regarding him
In the DLC especially, there were moments where Zane appeared to be hiding or avoiding the truth, for instance in The Writer, Zane interrupts their conversation regarding Mr Scratch, the Clicker and the role of Cynthia Weaver. I’ll probably expand on this topic in another article at a later date. There’s certainly something suspicious about Zane’s character, whether that would be trapping Wake and making him write Zane’s return or possibly revenge for killing Barbara Jagger. Despite her being a mere marionette for the Dark Presence, Zane probably still loved her; why else would he call the Darkness “Barbara” if he was able to distinguish between them.

Crossing of the Return Threshold

In either hypothesis, whether the game continues from American Nightmare or the original title, the Return Threshold is going to be the same; the ability to cross over from the Dark Place to the real world. In Campbell’s Monomyth there are two thresholds to be crossed; in Alan Wake this threshold is the gap between our world and the Dark Place.

The Return Threshold can be viewed as a state of mental clarity. There’s a limited amount of freedom the protagonist has over his fate. Sure he has the means to change his destiny, but he must be able to write a suitable ending to the story, in a mental state where the words are able to flow. Therefore the Return Threshold can be interpreted as Wake’s ability to create the ending that will save him.

Returning to a previous theory, that Wake’s story will continue from American Nightmare and that Alan has entered an “idea” of reality with Alice, it’s possible that Alan still has control of the environment by using his writing to dictate actions. The perception of Alice, however, would make him weaker and more susceptible to the Darkness’ power, making it easier for him to make mistakes. The act of crossing over that mental barrier would mean refusing the temptation to give in and rejecting the illusion for reality.

However, things never go that smoothly. According to the structure, the Hero must face a battle with a foe he thought he had defeated. While the ultimate foe would be the Dark Presence, there are a number of different interpretations of how the story can evolve.

While the Darkness’ previous marionette, Barbara Jagger, has been defeated, it is possible that she could return. The Dark Presence knows things; it got inside the head of everything it touched. It knows about Wake, what makes him tick, what makes him vulnerable. The same can easily be said about Thomas Zane...There is a connection between him and the former antagonist...He called her “Barbara”. Surely the Darkness would know how much influence Zane has over Wake, how much the Novelist relies on the Poet. Perhaps Jagger still has some influence over Zane, no matter how slight.

I can’t help but distrust Thomas Zane, his back story, his omniscient perspective and his influence over Wake. He gives the impression in the original game that he’s aware of Wake’s story and the Darkness’ power. He knows of Mr Scratch despite the Writer being oblivious to the character’s creation, yet refuses to talk about him in The Writer DLC.

What role will Agent Nightingale play?
At the end of the original title, the DeerFest celebrations are in full swing, with moonshine, dancing, floats and confetti. The camera zooms in on a variety of supporting characters that Wake has encountered in his travels; Doc Nelson, the Anderson Brothers, and Rose. Leaving the camera on Rose slightly longer than the rest, the focus changes to the background; to the shadow of Agent Nightingale. With the Darkness still holding a physical form in Bright Falls, the town is still under threat.  While Nightingale’s goal isn’t made clear, there’s a reason why the Darkness has another marionette. Perhaps they know that Alan will try to resist the Darkness’ control again, and needs something to restrain him. Or maybe the Agent is a character in Wake’s upcoming story.

Master of the Two Worlds

After completely his quest, the hero becomes a master of both domestic and alien world.

It can be said that Alan Wake is already the Master of the Two Worlds; by controlling his writing Wake dominates both fiction and reality. Though this taming has not been without fight; already we’ve seen the protagonist battle with issues such as writer’s block, doubt, insanity, and mental defeat. In this penultimate section, Wake has mastered the art of writing fiction into reality and by doing so created a bridge to get home. 

The ideal ending for Wake involves him escaping from his prison in the Dark Place, with the ability to control reality through fiction. American Nightmare can be considered as a blueprint, a way that Wake can escape through the gap created in his previous work. Considering the time lapse, the moment he left is far from the moment he returns; Alice might have returned, Barry has new clients, Wake officially announced as dead. It’s very unlikely that life would have remained motionless during his disappearance.

With these changes he may decide that he finds comfort in being able to write his own destiny and control reality, opting for a life where he can essentially, play God. There’s no guarantee that life hasn’t changed dramatically; Wake’s relying on Alice to not give up hope that he’s not dead, for her to be alive and safe. In this scenario, the protagonist cements himself in a higher position of ultimate power; this can be easily said if he returned to fight the Dark Presence, without a burden or “nothing to lose”.

The worst ending mirrors the demise of Thomas Zane. Bringing back Alice from the Dark Place has changed her; even though she’s alive she may still have been touched by the Dark Presence; representing what Barbara Jagger was to Zane. Wake could be Zane’s replacement, another warrior in the fight against the dark, transformed into a symbol rather than having a human presence; as Zane appeared in the games. He can weave literature, making fiction become reality, yet the ancient fight is stronger than words or fire power.

Another interpretation is that Wake is Thomas Zane’s creation, as Wake’s journey mirrors Zane, then it can be seen as the Poet dwelling in the past, reminiscing about how he could have saved Jagger. Spending a lot of time in the Dark Place, he’s become obsessed with what he’s done wrong, a negative introspection that many people sometimes experience when they focus on singular events or moments in their life they’d do differently. Zane has remained in Limbo, trapped here due to a mistake he has made and forced to continue living with its consequences. The writing here can be seen as less autobiographical and more therapeutic literature. As fiction becomes reality, the same has happened with Wake: As the personification of Zane’s mistake, he has the power to fix it; to bring Zane back.

Freedom to Live

The destination of the hero’s life becomes his own. After the perils he faced, he is awarded with his freedom.

The final section of Campbell’s Monomyth, Freedom to Live, is the first time when Wake becomes in control of his life again. While the manuscript pages gave the impression that he has dictated the events, the obstacles were that of the Darkness’ power. It’s hard to guess what may happen at the end of this specific story arc. Whether the ancient power of light verses darkness will continue or whether Alan is granted full freedom.  The most obvious interpretation is that he escapes from the Dark Place and, in doing so, grants himself freedom, although from this idea there are several branches leading off, regarding the future of the protagonist...

While Remedy focuses more on Norse Mythology in their games, it is a trait of Greek Mythology especially, that a hero returns from adventure with a burden, finding it difficult to coping with the change of his absence. After years of rewriting reality, to fall back into an old situation with new experiences would be a difficult process. While Wake may be content to be with Alice again, to be in New York and away from danger, he has faced significant mental changes and become detached from society. Wake feels more at home with fiction than he does with reality. It’s not so much a chance at freedom, but the offer of a tainted life. His return would not occupied by a welcoming party, rather a group of overeager news reporters armed with rumours about his disappearance and apparent demise, and the instant dismissal of Wake’s story. 

If Alan remains in the Dark Place (either from choice or from an inability to return home) than the Freedom of Life may be a mental achievement rather than a literal one. While he may be the Dark Presence’s or fiction’s prisoner, his overexposure to the horrors has led him to become desensitized to the surroundings. The understanding of his fate has given him peace, and rather than fight it, he accepts it. Maybe he is Thomas Zane. Maybe his purpose is to be the personification of the Light, to continue fighting it rather than to try to evade it.

It will be interesting to see if Remedy will continue with this structure, and how the story will unfold.  Whether Alan is actually “real” or not, if he will actually get home and, if he does get home, what it may be like. The story unfinished opens the doors to interpretation and speculation at present. I guess we all have to wait until the next instalment to see where it leads

If you’ve got any additional ideas, feel free to write in the comment box below.
Thank­­­­­ you for reading this (rather lengthy) article!

Photo credit for the Alan Wake screenshots in part one and three: darkspectre


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