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6th October 2012
Article: Alan Wake and Campbell's "Hero's Journey" Monomyth (1/3)

(Due to the length of this article, it is also available for download via Google Docs)

“A hero ventures forth from the world of common day into a region of supernatural wonder.”

Created in 1949, Campbell’s “Hero’s Journey” Monomyth was a structure of storytelling mainly used to compare mythology and legends. The outline was created fitting James Joyce’s Finnegans Wake, a writer named by Nightingale in the original title. Yet the comparison between the games and the Monomyth structure is not just a weak connection concerning a name, but rather a much stronger connection as it forms the pillars of Alan Wake’s story. The structure was also mentioned in This House of Dreams, a website with numerous strong connections to the series (despite lacking an official confirmation by the game’s developers). 

Campbell’s Monomyth separates a story into a three part act, like the original two Max Payne games. Each part features a miniature story structure of its own, with five subsections. The first major part is Departure or Separation, 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. This concludes in Return, where the story reaches a solid ending. For Alan Wake this story outline can be compared to the plot.

Yet it is the post made at This House of Dreams which confuses the matter further, or rather the presentation of words on the title page. What could be seen as an outline for the entire series can also be compared to individual titles, and this is where this theory gets slightly more complex. In addition, the outline can fit more than one character depending on perspective whether you believe Thomas Zane is the writer or Alan Wake. It’s a topic which has layers and sub-layers, where the first look isn’t necessarily the correct one, for instance the manuscript The Return fits more into the structure in Initiation despite its name.


Call to Adventure

The Call to Adventure section introduces the protagonist to the initial situation and can easily be compared to the first two episodes of the original game.

Wake's inital meeting with Barbara Jagger

One of the main factors of The Call to Adventure is the “blunder” which acts as a catalyst for the game. In Wake’s journey the “blunder” takes place at the “Oh Deer Diner”, upon receiving the keys and directions from Barbara Jagger. However a different interpretation can be understood following the Monomyth, the protagonist is also introduced to a weapon to defend them during the quest. So while the encounter with Jagger at the Diner could be classed as the “blunder”, it could have also taken place when Alan receives the Clicker and bestows mystical properties to it.

Refusal of the Call
Thrown into the adventure, the protagonist struggles to understand or accept responsibility.

Before the initial episode and throughout the first few parts of the game there’s a continuous problem that Alan faces: his writer’s block. This acts as a mental Refusal of the Call. While problematic it poses a much bigger threat in the game, after all Alan is trying to use his writing to create a happy ending, to fight the Darkness and to save Alice. The Refusal of the Call can be placed during Episode one where Wake discovers a typewriter in the cabin. His refusal to write and the argument that follows leads to Alice being kidnapped by the Dark Presence. 

Supernatural Aid
After struggling against the Call, a supernatural element intervenes, making it impossible for the protagonist to continue to resist.

The third segment is slightly easier to think about. Throughout the game there’s constant supernatural aid to make Alan write an ending where Darkness becomes dominant. Whether it’s the poltergeist or the Taken, the Darkness, as a gathered force, puts pressure on the protagonist to accept defeat.  With the Dark Presence keeping Alice hostage beneath the depths of Cauldron Lake, it forces Alan to obey the entity; the kidnapping acting as a catalyst for Wake’s writing.

The Acceptance of the Call often follows the Refusal of the Call which can, and does in the game, rely on supernatural aid. As a subject with many dependent factors it isn’t considered to be a category of its own despites its importance. While the aid comes in the form of the kidnapping, the acceptance can be interpreted as being Jagger’s insistence for Alan to travel into the cabin in search for Alice after seeing her pulled underneath the waters. During the flashback in Episode four, Alan comments “Jagger had Alice, and so she had me” proving that the kidnapping and the Darkness’ power forced him to write and accept the call.

Crossing the First Threshold
After understanding and surrendering to the inevitable, the protagonist ventures forth and begins his journey.

Following the Acceptance of the Call, the protagonist assumes a physical presence to stop the enemy. This can be compared to the moment when Alan writes himself into the story; the crossing of the threshold from a passive role as the narrator into the more active role of protagonist, and in doing so changes the text from fiction into reality. It’s the defining moment when Alan becomes more independent and assumes more responsibility; the turning point of the character. Although this does pose an interesting question: as Alan wrote himself into the narrative and therefore creating it so he has always been the protagonist...Does this mean that Alice was kidnapped because Alan wrote it?

Entering the Belly of the Whale
The hero travels to the danger zone, preparing to take on the antagonist in its own domain.

Bringing the story of Departure to a close, Alan travels across Bright Falls to stand on the edge of Cauldron Lake. With the Clicker in his hand, he’s prepared to jump into the ocean below and enter the Dark Place located beyond the waters. With this act he is challenging the Dark Presence within its lair to save Alice. At this moment he becomes a true hero,

Wake after the final battle
The manuscript page from This House of Dreams has caused some confusion over whether Alan Wake’s American Nightmare can be classed as Initiation or Return. While the lost manuscript page is entitled Return, the presentation of the handwritten words on the title page implies that Alan Wake’s return was in fact Initiation with the Return yet to come. The story could fit into either section.

Click here to read the second part of the article >>


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