What do the stories of Alice in Wonderland have in common with H.G. Well’s The Time Machine and a great deal of other science fiction? What has Beatrix Potter’s little nursery tale of Peter Rabbit in common with Evelyn Waugh’s Brideshead Revisited; or Coleridge’s The Rime of the Ancient Mariner with the parable of the Prodigal Son; or the Greek myth of Orpheus’s journey to the underworld with the film Gone with the Wind?
There is a second plot based on a journey quite different from the Quest. It has inspired such an extraordinary range of stories that it might seem impossible that most of them could have anything in common – apart from the fact that they include some of the most haunting and mysterious tales in the world. This is the story plot we may call Voyage and Return.
The essence of the Voyage and Return story is that its hero or heroine (or the central group of characters) travel out of their familiar, everyday ‘normal’ surroundings into another world completely cut off from the first, where everything seems disconcertingly abnormal. At first the strangeness of the new world , with its freaks and marvels, may seem diverting, even exhilarating, if also highly perplexing. But gradually a shadow intrudes. The hero or heroine feels increasingly threatened, even trapped; until eventually (usually by way of a ‘thrilling escape’) they are released from the abnormal world, and can return to the safety of the familiar world where they began.
There are two obvious categories of story where the Voyage and Return plot is particularly familiar. The first is that type stretching back to the dawn of storytelling which describes a journey to some land or island beyond the confines of the known or civilised world. The other describes a journey to some more obviously imaginary and magical realm closer to home.
It is generally through stories of the second type that most of us first become acquainted with the Voyage and Return theme because, from C. S. Lewis’s The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe to Frank Baum’s The Wizard of Oz, it provides the basis for some of our best loved stories of childhood.
Two classic instances are Lewis Carroll’s Alice stories, Through the Looking Glass and Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland. Bored and drowsy on a hot summer’s day a little Victorian girl suddenly finds herself transported underground into a totally strange ‘wonderland’. Several times she finds herself altering in size. She meets a bewildering succession of animals and other creations, behaving like human beings but talking to her in riddles. Everything in this surreal dreamworld is like a parody or distortion of something familiar. But just as this dream seems finally to be turning into a death threatening nightmare, with the Queen of Hearts in the courtroom scene angrily shouting ‘off with her head’ and all the cards rising up into the air and ‘flying down on her’. Alice is jerked back to the reality of her familiar world by waking up, as if from a dream.
Almost identical in outline is the plot of that perennially popular Hollywood fairy tale, The Wizard of Oz (1939), Young Dorothy, who is staying with her uncle and aunt on their farm in Kansas is upset when her dog Toto is taken off by Miss Gulch for chasing the rich, bad tempered old spinster’s cat. Toto manages to run back home but, terrified she will lose him again, Dorothy takes him off into the countryside, dreaming of escape into some far- off land ‘over the rainbow’. On their way home, the are suddenly swept into the sky by a swirling tornado and find themselves falling abruptly down into the magical technicolor land of Oz, like Alice falling down her hole into Wonderland. Here Dorothy is greeted by a bewildering succession of characters, including the little Munchkins and the Good Witch Glinda, but provokes the deadly hostility of the Wicked Witch, the equivalent of Alice’s Queen of Hearts (and a reincarnation of Miss Gulch). Dorothy escapes down the Yellow Brick Road to seek the help of the mysterious Wizard of Oz in getting home. On the way she is joined by three allies, the Scarecrow, the Tin Man and the Cowardly Lion, but eventually the Wicked Witch traps them all in her castle. Just when the nightmare is at its height, Dorothy in desperation throws a bucket of magic water over the witch, causing her to vanish. After their ‘thrilling escae’, they return to the Wizard, who turns out to be a fraud. But the Good Witch uses her magic to enable Dorothy to return home to Kansas, where she wakes up in bed as if emerging from a dream.
Another familiar childhood example of such a journey into an imaginary world is Barrie’s Peter Pan (1904), the story of how the children of the Darling family fly off from their familiar nursery in the middle of the night, led by the little boy who cannot grow up, to the Never Never Land, a strange childhood dream realm inhabited by fairies, Red Indians, talking birds and pirates. Again the mood of their adventure is initially one of exhilaration. But increasingly it is shadowed by their awareness of the menacing presence of the pirate chief Captain Hook, a typical ‘monster’ figure, with his hook in place of a hand. Eventually the story works up to a nightmare climax, when Hook and his men take the children prisioner on board their ship and threaten to kill them. There is a final ‘thrilling escape’ when Peter Pan arrives in the nick of time and forces the monstrous Hook to jump overboard into the jawas of the crocodile, and the children return safely home to their nursery at home with their parents.
Some of the very earliest stories a child can grasp are simple versions of the Voyage and Return plot (long, for instance, before they can really appreciate the relative complexities of the Rags to Riches story with its ‘Princes’, ‘Princesses’ and ‘transformation scenes’.
The Tale of Peter Rabbit tells of the little rabbit who ventures out of the familiar world of the burrow and the wood which are his home, into the forbidden world of Mr McGregor’s kitchen garden. At first the new world is exhilarating. But gradually the mood changes. First Peter feels sick with overeating. Then he turns a corner and sees the terrifying Mr McGregor, who pursues him. The nightmarish chase continues until Peter thinks he is irrevocably trapped in the garden. But at last, by jumping up on a wheelbarrow, he sees the gate leading back to safety. He makes a heroic dash, with McGregor in hot pursuit, and in a ‘thrilling escape’just manages to scramble out of the garden and back to the familiar safe world of home and mother.
But of course the Voyage and Return theme has shaped stories a good deal more complex than these simple versions of childhood. Here we move on to the second category in which such stories are most immediately familiar to us, those which involve a journey to some undiscovered realm beyond the confines of the known world.
What Can I Expect?
Here’s an outline of “The Seven Stories of Your Life itinerary.
PART I THE SEVEN GREAT STORIES OF YOUR LIFE
- Why Do We Need Stories?
- The Basic Stories
- Once Upon A Time
- Overcoming the Monster
- The Essence of the Monster
- The Purpose of the Monster
- Not Completely Human
- The Thrilling Escape from Death
- Rags to Riches
- The Dark Figures
- The Central Crisis
- The Dark Version
- Rags to Riches: Summing Up
- The Quest
- The Call to Adventure
- The Hero’s Companions
- The Journey
- The Trials
- Visit to the Underworld
- The Helpers
- Voyage and Return
The Dark Power: From Shadow into Light
PART II THE COMPLETE HAPPY ENDING
- The Twelve Dark Characters
- In the Zone
- The Perfect Balance
- The Unrealized Value
- The Drama
- The Twelve Light Characters
- Reaching the Goal
- The Fatal Flaw
PART III MISSING THE MARK
- The Ego Takes Over
- Losing Your Plot
- Going Nowhere
- Why Sex and Violence?
- Rebellion Against ‘The One’
- The Mystery
PART IV WHY WE TELL STORIES
- Telling Us Who We Are: Ego versus Instinct
- Into the Real World: What Legend are You Living?
- Of Gods and Men: Finding Your Authentic Story
- The Age of Loki: The Dismantling of the Self
Epilogue: What is Your Story?
About Peter de Kuster
Peter de Kuster is the founder of The Heroine’ s Journey & The Hero’s Journey
Peter is founder of the Heroine’s Journey and Hero’s Journey project where worldwide thousands of professionals shared their story of making money doing what you love. He wrote 50+ books. Peter has an MBA in Marketing, MBA in Financial Economics and graduated at university in Sociology and Communication Sciences.
You can contact Peter at email@example.com