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Thoughts on Mythic Structure: Reward/Seizing the Sword

This is Part 8 of my series on mythic structure, or monomyth.

1. After surviving the Ordeal, the hero now claims a reward.

The reward may come in many different forms: treasure, an object that helps the hero return home, a declaration of love/friendship, knowledge, power.

In The Wizard of Oz, this is the point where Dorothy, Scarecrow, Tin Man, and Cowardly Lion claim their rewards from the Wizard in exchange for killing the Wicked Witch.

2. The “reward” may be something that has always been a part of the hero.

In The Wizard of Oz, the Wizard doesn’t literally bestow a brain, a heart, or courage. He instead makes the characters realize that they always had these things inside them. Emmet in The Lego Movie survives his Ordeal and emerges as a Master Builder – which is really just a realization of his own potential.

3. At this point, the hero is no longer an initiate, but a full-fledged, evolved hero.

Even though heroes may have earlier been accepted as part of the Extraordinary World, this is when they actually “graduate” as heroes. (The Wizard, in fact, gives the Scarecrow a diploma.)

4. The reward may motivate the hero’s final push to the end of the story.

In Groundhog Day, after trying to win Rita’s love by pretending to be what she likes in a man, Phil tries honesty instead. He is rewarded with Rita believing him and staying with him the rest of that day. Even though it doesn’t break the spell, it makes him realize what he needs to do for the final stage of his journey — keep becoming the best man he can be, until the spell or curse is satisfied he is worthy of Rita.

5. The reward(s) may seem illusory–or even bring more danger–to the hero.

In The Hunger Games, Katniss’ reward is the rule change that both she and Peeta can win the games together if they are the last two survivors. Even so, she has to help keep Peeta, who is badly injured, alive. She does this by pretending to be in love with him. She is rewarded with gifts from sponsors watching the games.

Later, the gamemakers invite the surviving tributes to a “feast” where they can get an item they desperately need. Katniss risks her life to get medicine for Peeta and is almost killed. She receives another reward when a tribute named Thresh saves her life because Katniss was allied with and tried to save Rue, the other tribute from his district.

6. Heroes may take possession of something they have been seeking throughout the story.

This is why Chris Vogler also calls this stage “seizing the sword.”

In the Hitchcock movie North by Northwest, Eve Kendall has been exposed as a double agent to the antagonist. She grabs a statue filled with microfilm he is taking to the enemy and runs. In Raising Arizona, Ed and Hi recover the baby Nathan, Jr. from Hi’s two bank-robbing friends. In the Harry Potter books, Harry, Ron, and Hermoine frequently seek objects and treasures they need in their mission to defeat Voldemort–most importantly, the three Deathly Hallows.

7. The treasure/reward may be something other than what the hero expected.

In O Brother Where Art Thou? the treasure they are seeking is a lie told by Everett to induce his friends to escape from the prison camp. However, it turns out there is a real treasure they unwittingly created for themselves–a recording of an old-timey spiritual song, which becomes a massive hit on the radio.

8. The hero may need to steal his reward.

This is also known as “elixir theft.” Indiana Jones frequently steals objects he is seeking (in his mind, for a greater good so all can see them in museums).

9. Sometimes the reward is an epiphany or moment of self-realization.

In the Billy Wilder comedy The Apartment, hero C.C. Baxter has lent out his apartment as a trysting place for executives as a means to climb the corporate ladder. The girl C.C. loves from afar is meeting one of the executives at the apartment. During the Ordeal, he saves the girl when she tries to kill herself after being rejected by her lover. When the lover–now C.C.’s boss–reconciles with her and tries to get the key to the apartment for another tryst, C.C. realizes his ambition is costing him too much and refuses to give him the key. He loses his job but is happy about it.

10. Heroes may use this stage to tell others of his exploits, or celebrate with allies.

Vogler calls these “campfire scenes.” One example is the scene in Jaws when Quint tells about his survival in shark-infested waters after the sinking of the U.S.S. Indianapolis. This leads to a bonding moment for the three characters where they end up singing a song.

In the book version of The Hunger Games, when Katniss and Peeta are hiding out together in the cave, Katniss tells Peeta stories about her life to keep him awake and make their love story more appealing to viewers of the games.

11. They have to hurry up and finish telling stories/celebrating, because danger is still out there.

In the Jaws example, the shark has still not been destroyed–in fact, there is a shot of the tracking light they imbedded in the shark earlier going by the boat as they drunkenly sing. In The Hunger Games, there are still tributes looking for Katniss and Peeta so they can kill them.

Once the hero has claimed her reward, told her stories, and celebrated cheating death, the journey must resume. There are still antagonists to defeat, and soon it will be time to return to the Ordinary World.

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