For years I have been a writer, an editor and a teacher of creative writing. Now I want to share some of what I have learned along the way. Write On The Fringes is a blog about the dangers, the disappointments and the rewards of writing. It's a record of the writing of a novel, from the tantalising first inklings of an idea, through to the final draft. But above all it's an exploration of the art and the craft of writing and the nature of story, as well as a search for the essence of creativity and the complex nature of truth.

Monday, September 17, 2012

The Heroine's Journey

'The journey of the Heroine is about saying 'yes' to the true self and, in so doing, to become more fully alive and effective in the world.'
Maureen Murdock

For the past few weeks I have been writing about Joseph Campbell’s model of the Hero’s Journey and how it translates to the stages within story. However, many women are concerned that this model of the heroic journey excludes women, or at least doesn't allow for gender differences. Maureen Murdock, in her book, The Heroine's Journey goes some way towards addressing this problem by suggesting a useful alternative model for women which is similar to but in a sense more layered than Campbell’s model. I won’t go into the details of each stage in this post but they include:
Separation from feminine; identification with Masculine and gathering allies
Road of trials, meeting ogres and dragons
Finding the (illusory) boon of success
Awakening to feelings of spiritual aridity: death
Initiation and Descent to the Goddess
Urgent yearning to reconnect with the feminine
Healing the mother/daughter split
Healing the wounded masculine
Integration of the masculine and feminine

Unlike Campbell's linear structure for story, Murdock proposes a circular structure more appropriate to the inward seeking nature of the woman's journey. While, I agree with and appreciate the stages Murdoch lists in her model, I am not drawn to its circular nature. In some ways a circle might symbolically represent completion but it also represents the potential for nightmarish repetition; to end where you began is not what stories seek to do. As psychologist, Roger Woolger writes, 'psychologically, circles can represent every kind of self-perpetuating torment’. I prefer to imagine the journey as a double spiral structure, one that ensures a descent but also a return to a new position, expressing the symbolic death of the body and its spiritual rebirth through initiation. As a double spiral we are also left with the suggestion that there will be new journeys, taking us into new adventures, both internal and external.

 In The Heroine’s Journey, Murdock calls one of the stages, 'Initiation and Descent to the Goddess', describing the Babylonian myth of Inanna's descent into the underworld, to visit her sister Ereshkigal who has been raped by the gods and exiled to the underworld. On her way, Inanna must pass seven gates, at each of which she surrenders more of her identity, until naked she arrives in the Underworld where she is stripped of her life and left to rot, before being released once again, reborn. The myth of Inanna, is a beautiful story, a metaphor for initiation into the mystery of life and like many of the more masculine heroic stories, it also recognises the need to confront the darkness in our psyches. In my novel, Flight, this darkness is represented by the malevolence invading the protagonist’s dreams and threatening her life, as well as the surfacing of old memories, particularly of herself as a baby. There are parallels between the myth of Inanna and Flight, with Fern's stay in the psychiatric ward acting as a metaphor for the underworld. It is here that Fern begins to experience the malevolence attacking her. And here that Fern begins to surrender her identity, when in the mirror she comes face to face with her skeleton self. Later she dreams of her skeleton self, collapsing into pieces, symbolising the death of her old self. From there she must face the darkness in order to begin the restructuring process and eventually give birth to a new self.

Whilst accepting that there are essential gender differences and that it is useful to identify them, I believe, like Vogler, that despite a clear historical bias in determining the content of stories and the gender of its heroes, the structure of heroic myth maps a human process of evolution towards a potential that exists beyond these differences. Most stories involve a character's descent into their psyche in some way with their ultimate goal the balancing of the masculine and the feminine. Certainly some of the markers along the way are different, as Murdock identifies. In many respects, men and women do have different journeys: the masculine journey is usually an active, goal oriented quest, whilst the feminine journey is more internal, like the story of Inanna, a descent into ones depths. Yet, as Bruno Bettelheim points out in The Uses of Enchantment, 'even when the girl is depicted as turning inward in her struggle to become herself, and a boy as aggressively dealing with the external world, these two together symbolize the two ways in which one has to gain selfhood: through learning to understand and master the inner as well as the outer world.' While the plot in stories usually represents an external active adventure of some sort, the character arc generally represents an inner journey. So a protagonist might embark on an adventure in order to learn how to be active in the world but in so doing also be forced to confront his or her inner demons.

 Perhaps ultimately both journeys are a metaphor for the same goal, hence the 'active' and 'masculine' slaying of a dragon is a metaphor for inner change, for facing those things within us that we are most afraid of and for reclaiming our treasure. So while we should not deny the rich differences between genders, it is in these journeys that we reclaim our power, seeking to recognise and in a sense move beyond duality by balancing the masculine and feminine elements within ourselves.

Copyright (c) 2012 by Rosie Dub. All rights reserved. You may translate, link to or quote this article, in its entirety, as long as you include the author name and a working link back to this website:


  1. Like a touch cannot be a sequence, differences are self referential. I cannot differ from you without you. But beyond that dependency, what we have in common is our essence. It's good to read something that recognizes that simple truth, even more pleasing because it's unfashionable.

  2. I like the idea of a circular structure which seems to complement earlier symbols and myths as associated in many cases (don't ask me to back this up - I've seen so many in art books, books on healing, and so on but never stopped to explore the feminine (myself included which must be somewhere on the back-burner)- I am lead to also think of architectural designs in which the feminine, the circular, is central to the construction of towns/cities built on a circular template...

    You might be interested to see the use of circular structures here:

    I am wondering if the feminine journey is not infact a journey toward selfhood but a journey into selfhood?


  3. Congratulationnnnnnnnnnnnns DR Dub!

  4. Thanks for sharing this interesting and educative information. I think many writers will find your contribution very helpful, I have equally learnt something from it.
    Accounts Software For Small Business