"We'll never survive."
"Nonsense, you're only saying that because no one ever has."
- Wesley and Buttercup (when preparing to enter the Fire Swamp), "The Princess Bride"
This is Stage Five in the Hero's Journey. The earlier stages are here:
Stage One – The Call to Adventure
Stage Two – Refusal of the Call
Stage Three – The Helpers Arrive
Stage Four – Crossing the Threshold
By the time we reach this stage, the hero has committed to the adventure.
She is on the plane; she has accepted the new job; she is pregnant; she has said “Yes” to a big opportunity.
(Not all at once, obviously, but you get the idea?)
The die is cast, and the future lies in wait.
Almost immediately, the hero begins to face tests, trials and tribulations.
The road ahead is not a smooth one.
For instance – you have been offered an internship in Venice.
You arrive in the middle of the night, after 20 hours of travelling, and have to find your way to your hotel.
In the dark winding alleyways of Venice you get lost, it starts to rain, and you realise your first year course in Italian has not given you enough tools to ask for – or follow – directions.
Weeping softly to yourself, you drag your suitcase along the labyrinth of cobblestones and bridges over darkly gleaming canals for what feels like a small eternity.
And you wonder why you ever thought you could do this.
Tests may include taking great personal risks, battling with monsters, solving puzzles and enduring varying extremes of discomfort.
(Think about the Twelve Labours of Hercules, for example. Or the number of levels you have to beat in any videogame.)
There may be a series of events or mini-adventures within the story or there may be deliberate tests, typically by a gatekeeper who will reward the hero either by giving them some magical artefact, or critical information, or otherwise helping the hero along the way.
In stories and movies, the trials and tests steadily build tension and also develop the character of the hero.
These tribulations are necessary to hone the hero’s skills, to test her strength, to build her confidence and her resilience and capacity to cope.
She will need all of these, and more, later in the story.
Whilst the surface tests may be physical, the actual test is often of the inner qualities the hero will need, including courage, integrity and humility.
Some of the battles, therefore, are with the hero’s inner self – her own frailties and failings – and allow her to become more truly herself, more empowered, more able; stronger and wiser than she ever knew she could be.
How do you meet your tests, trials, and tribulations?
Weeping, railing against the fates, crawling under the duvet are all very tempting.
A sense of humour helps.
Stubbornness, determination, gritted teeth are useful too.
Know this. You will survive, for the ultimate arc of your story is not yet.
And when it comes, you will be ready.
UP NEXT - Stage Six: The Belly of the Whale