The Approach to the Inmost Cave in the Hero's Journey

From Christopher Vogler's "The Writer's Journey: Mythic Structure"

Approach to the Cave - Moviepix - GettyImages-90256089
From left to right, Jack Haley as the Tin Man, Bert Lahr as the Cowardly Lion and Ray Bolger as the Scarecrow in the MGM film 'The Wizard of Oz', 1939. In this scene, they disguise themselves as Winkies in order to gain access to the witch's castle and rescue Dorothy. (Photo by MGM Studios/Archive Photos/Getty Images).

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This article is part of our series on the hero's journey, starting with The Hero's Journey Introduction and The Archetypes of the Hero's Journey.

Approach to the Inmost Cave

The hero has adjusted to the special world and goes on to seek its heart, the inmost cave. She passes into an intermediate zone with new threshold guardians and tests. She approaches the place where the object of the quest is hidden and where she will encounter supreme wonder and terror, according to Christopher Vogler's The Writer's Journey: Mythic Structure. She must use every lesson learned to survive.

The hero often has disheartening setbacks while approaching the cave. She is torn apart by challenges, which allow her to put herself back together in a more effective form for the ordeal to come.

She discovers she must get into the minds of those who stand in her way, Vogler says. If she can understand or empathize with them, the job of getting past them or absorbing them becomes much easier.

The approach encompasses all the final preparations for the ordeal. It brings the hero to the stronghold of the opposition, where she needs to use every lesson she has learned.

Dorothy and her friends, Scarecrow, Tin Man, and Cowardly Lion face a series of obstacles, enter a second special world (Oz) with its own unique guardians and rules, and are given the impossible task of entering the inmost cave, the Wicked Witch’s castle. Dorothy is warned of the supreme danger in this quest and becomes aware that she is challenging a powerful status quo.

There is an eerie region around the inmost cave where it is clear that the hero has entered shaman’s territory on the edge of life and death, Vogler writes. Scarecrow is torn apart; Dorothy is flown off to the castle by monkeys, very like a shaman’s dream journey.

The approach raises the stakes and rededicates the team to its mission. The urgency and life-or-death quality of the situation are underscored. Toto escapes to lead the friends to Dorothy. Dorothy’s intuition knows she must call on the help of her allies.

The reader’s assumptions about the characters are turned upside down as they see each person exhibit surprising new qualities that emerge under the pressure of approach.

The villain's headquarters are defended with fierceness. Dorothy's allies express misgivings, encourage each other, and plan their attack. They get into the skins of the guards, enter the castle, and use force, the Tin Man’s ax, to chop Dorothy out, but they're soon blocked in all directions.

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Peterson, Deb. "The Approach to the Inmost Cave in the Hero's Journey." ThoughtCo, Aug. 26, 2020, Peterson, Deb. (2020, August 26). The Approach to the Inmost Cave in the Hero's Journey. Retrieved from Peterson, Deb. "The Approach to the Inmost Cave in the Hero's Journey." ThoughtCo. (accessed May 30, 2023).