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Stage Eleven: Resurrection

THE RESURRECTION: The hero emerges from the special world, transformed by his experience. “What can I do, old man? I’m dead, aren’t I?”[11] This is the climax, the last and most dangerous meeting with Death in any myth. We as humans or heroes have to undergo a final purge, a final purification, before re-entering the Ordinary World. Think about this …

We shuffle back towards the village. Look! The smoke of the Home Tribe fires! Pick up the pace, we’re almost back – huzzah! But wait – the priest appears to stop us from charging back in. You have been to the land of Death, he says, and you look like Death itself, covered in blood, carrying the torn flesh and hide of your game from the hunt. If you march back into the village without purifying and cleansing yourselves, you may bring death back with you. You must undergo one final sacrifice before rejoining the tribe. Your warrior self – the adventuring hero in you – must ‘die’ so you can be reborn as an innocent into the group. The trick is to keep the wisdom of the Ordeal, while getting rid of its bad effects. After all we’ve been through on the quest, we must face a final trial – maybe the hardest.

Look at an example from real life. The lack of public ceremonies and counselling for returning soldiers from World War I and the Vietnam War veterans may have contributed to the terrible problems those soldiers had in reintegrating with society. So-called primitive societies, or those who keep cultural and religious ceremonies alive, seem better prepared to handle the return of heroes. They provide rituals to purge the blood and death from hunters and warriors – and their everyday equivalents – so they can become peaceful members of society again.

“Sacrifice” comes from the Latin, “making holy”. Sacred architecture is often used to create this feeling of Resurrection, confining worshippers in a narrow dark hall, before bringing them out into an open, well-lit area, which brings relief. Baptism, for example, by immersion or touching in water, is a ritual designed to give this feeling, both cleansing the sinner and reviving him from symbolic death by drowning.

In terms of myths relating to school life, if the Ordeal stage is your ‘mock’ exams, then the Resurrection is your end-of-year, all-important final exams. You are tested to see if you retained the learning from the Ordeal. It is often a race against time in the final weeks, to make sure everything is remembered. In fiction, look at James Bond – in Goldfinger, 007 battles the villains and races against time and impossible odds to disarm an atomic bomb, with millions of lives at stake. Watching this, we are taken with him right to brink of death one last time before Bond (or his ally, Felix Leiter), manages to yank the right wire and save us all from destruction. In Western films, it is often a shootout, or showdown. In the most powerful stories, this is the moment when all three major conflicts – inside the main character, with another person, and with the whole word – all come to a point at once, and the hero must beat them.

If successful, hero and audience should experience catharsis. This is the Greek word for ‘purging’ (or ‘vomiting up’) but has come to mean a purifying emotional release or breakthrough. In drama, stories and in real life, this allows us to purge the poisons of daily life from our bodies, minds and souls. Laughter, tears, shrieks of joy and shudders of terror, in response to seeing a moving story, are the triggers that bring about this healthy cleansing, catharsis.

In Star Wars, selfish loner Han Solo turns his back on his friends but shows up at the last minute (like the cavalry in a Western), showing that he has finally changed and is now willing to risk his life for a good cause. Luke Skywalker himself sacrifices part of himself – reliance on machines – when hearing Kenobi’s voice in his head to “use the force, Luke.” He learns, for a final time and to spectacular effect, to trust his human instinct instead of machinery. In Terminator 2, once the shapeshifting villain has been destroyed, the story then takes a higher emotional climax when the hero robot (Arnold Schwarzenegger) must sacrifice himself to keep from causing future violence in the world, and to save the young boy. In Charles Dickens’ A Tale of Two Cities, a man gives his life on the guillotine to save another man. The Wizard of Oz’s Dorothy learns to look for her heart’s desire in her own back yard – there’s no place like home … which is where we go next.

[11] From The Third Man, by Graham Greene.

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