The Resurrection and Return With the Elixir

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

Dorothy waking up at the end of the movie, "The Wizard of Oz."

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In his book, The Writer's Journey: Mythic Structure, Christopher Vogler writes that for a story to feel complete, the reader needs to experience an additional moment of death and rebirth, subtly different from the ordeal.

This is the climax of the story, the last dangerous meeting with death. The hero must be cleansed from the journey before returning to the ordinary world. The trick for the writer is to show how the hero’s behavior has changed, to demonstrate that the hero has been through a resurrection.

The trick for the student of literature is to recognize that change.


Vogler describes the resurrection by way of sacred architecture, which, he says, aims to create the feeling of resurrection by confining worshipers in a dark narrow hall, like a birth canal, before bringing them out into an open well-lit area, with a corresponding lift of relief.

During the resurrection, death and darkness are encountered one more time before being conquered for good. Danger is usually on the broadest scale of the entire story and the threat is to the entire world, not just the hero. The stakes are at their very highest.

The hero, Vogler teaches, uses all lessons learned on the journey and is transformed into a new being with new insights.

Heroes can receive assistance, but readers are most satisfied when the hero performs the decisive action herself, delivering the death blow to the shadow.

This is especially important when the hero is a child or young adult. They absolutely must single-handedly win in the end, especially when an adult is the villain.

The hero must be taken right to the edge of death, clearly fighting for her life, according to Vogler.

The Climaxes

Climaxes, nevertheless, need not be explosive. Vogler says some are like a gentle cresting of a wave of emotion. The hero may go through a climax of mental change that creates a physical climax, followed by a spiritual or emotional climax as the hero’s behavior and feelings change.

He writes that a climax should provide a feeling of catharsis, a purifying emotional release. Psychologically, anxiety or depression are released by bringing unconscious material to the surface. The hero and the reader have reached the highest point of awareness, a peak experience of higher consciousness.

Catharsis works best through a physical expression of emotions such as laughter or tears.

This change in the hero is most satisfying when it happens in phases of growth. Writers often make the mistake of allowing the hero to change abruptly because of a single incident, but that's not the way real life happens.

Dorothy’s resurrection is recovering from the apparent death of her hopes of returning home. Glinda explains that she had the power to return home all along, but she had to learn it for herself.

Return With the Elixir

Once the hero's transformation is complete, he or she returns to the ordinary world with the elixir, a great treasure or a new understanding to share. This can be love, wisdom, freedom, or knowledge, Vogler writes. It doesn't have to be a tangible prize. Unless something is brought back from the ordeal in the inmost cave, an elixir, the hero is doomed to repeat the adventure.

Love is one of the most powerful and popular of elixirs.

A circle has been closed, bringing deep healing, wellness, and wholeness to the ordinary world, writes Vogler. Returning with the elixir means the hero can now implement change in his daily life and use the lessons of the adventure to heal his wounds.

One of Vogler's teachings is that a story is a weaving, and it must be finished properly or it will seem tangled. The return is where the writer resolves subplots and all questions raised in the story. She may raise new questions, but all old issues must be addressed.

Subplots should have at least three scenes distributed throughout the story, one in each act. Each character should come away with some variety of elixir or learning.

Vogler states the return is the last chance to touch the emotions of your reader. It must finish the story so that it satisfies or provokes your reader as intended. A good return unties the plot threads with a certain degree of surprise, a taste of unexpected or sudden revelation.

The return is also the place for poetic justice. The villain’s sentence should directly relate to his sins and the hero’s reward be proportionate to the sacrifice offered.

Dorothy says goodbye to her allies and wishes herself home. Back in the ordinary world, her perceptions of the people around her have changed. She declares she will never leave home again. This is not to be taken literally, Vogler writes. The house is the symbol of personality. Dorothy has found her own soul and has become a fully integrated person, in touch with both her positive qualities and her shadow. The elixir she brings back is her new idea of home and her new concept of her Self.

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Peterson, Deb. "The Resurrection and Return With the Elixir." ThoughtCo, Aug. 26, 2020, Peterson, Deb. (2020, August 26). The Resurrection and Return With the Elixir. Retrieved from Peterson, Deb. "The Resurrection and Return With the Elixir." ThoughtCo. (accessed June 8, 2023).