Posted by: Alastair Rosie | September 22, 2012

Approach to the Inmost Cave

APPROACH TO THE INMOST CAVE

Then came Jesus to the to a place called Gethsemane and said to his disciples, “sit here while I go ahead and pray.” Matthew 26:36
It’s a familiar story to anyone raised in a Christian household. The night Jesus was betrayed and I thought I’d use this story to introduce the approach to the inmost cave. For those who haven’t read the story Jesus goes to prepare himself for death and asks his disciples to wait with him while he prays. He begs God to spare him this end but finally concedes it is not my will but your will. His erstwhile disciples in the meantime have fallen asleep. Shortly after that he is betrayed by Judas and seized by the guards and brought to the temple to stand trial. In literary and psychological terminology it is called the ‘dark night of the soul.’ Jung referred to it as the Approach to the Inmost Cave, the final test before the big climax. It is here we ask our hero, “are you really ready for this supreme test?”
Frodo and Samwise enter Shelob’s lair and Frodo is taken prisoner. Samwise is a ‘fool hero’ just like Jesus, because the most foolish person is the hero. Samwise rescues Frodo frequently and in the end carries him all the way up Mount Doom. Jesus is a fool hero because by his death he saves mankind, according to the Bible. I’m using the bible in the mythological sense here. In spite of my agnostic belief system I do find the bible stories quite inspirational when constructing my own stories. When we compare the approach to the inmost cave in Lord of the Rings and the bible we find very different ways of entering the cave. In Lord of the Rings it’s an actual cave reached by scaling a mountain, in the bible it’s a garden but in contrast to the beauty around about, Jesus is entering an emotional cave, the knowledge he’s about to die. And if he wants to complete his task of saving mankind then he must die and trust he will rise again. And thus he prays to purge himself.
In Underworld, Selene enters an inmost cave that is very familiar, it contains three coffins, two of which have vampire elders. She has woken Victor a hundred years ahead of schedule and must now answer for her actions and explain her reasons. Victor condemns her for this heresy and has her taken away to await punishment. If you put Underworld and the sequel Underworld Awakening together and watch them back to back then the approach to the inmost cave will change from the crypt to the Lycan lair where Lucian has Michael hostage.
The inmost cave can therefore be an actual underground cave or an emotional emptiness where the hero and her companions might purge themselves of anything that will hold them back from their final assault on the fortress of darkness. In Terminator the approach to the inmost cave culminates in Sarah making love to Rhys, which brings John Connor into being. Your inmost cave need not always be dark and terrifying, it can also be a place where new bonds are forged, vital wisdom is shared that will help our heroes. We may find that some of the hero’s companions haven’t been quite so heroic, maybe one has pulled back from the edge and lost their life, others like the cowardly lion in The Wizard of Oz find a semblance of courage. In Titanic, Rose has to descend into the belly of the ship to find her other half, her soulmate. She faces unspeakable terror and is forced to do things she wouldn’t normally do.
This last test is but one of a series of tests that should be ironing out the wrinkles, making our hero strong enough to face the final ordeal. In the beginning she wasn’t ready to face this final monster but having battled a number of foes, perhaps refused the offer of a handsome suitor, maybe forsaken family ties, she is ready to face her final ordeal, once she passes the sentinels who might be guarding this approach to the cave. It’s like the last minute check before a parachute jump, you know the chute has been packed properly, or you should if you’ve got any sense of self preservation. You know what you have to do but there’s one last check, make sure the harness is tight, spit out your chewing gum, extinguish the cigarette, checking your ammunition and finally hooking yourself up. Any second you’ll be flying through the air trusting in a piece of silk attached to strings.
Once your hero has come this close to the inmost cave there’s no turning back. In literary terminology if crossing the threshold is plot point one or the first door, then this stage is plot point two or the second door, the point of no return. Once she exits the cave the monster or the arch criminal will know someone has come to challenge him. He will dispatch his minions to kill or capture her. Maybe he’s been watching her go through this final ordeal hoping she fails or turns back but now she’s gotten through it he pulls out all the stops. Time to bring out the big guns so make sure at this point in your book you’ve pulled all the strings tight. Don’t throw something unexpected into the works just to help your hero. By this stage they should be as ready as they’ll ever be to attempt this final challenge. I’ve seen some incredibly stupid things done at this point that come at me from left field. Suddenly discovering she is best friends with a bunch of former Navy SEALs who just happen to be in the area is one that springs to mind. I’m not saying they can’t find unexpected help, just don’t overdo it, less is more at this point. The mentor may even leave your hero here with a blessing.
In closing this is also the place to lay out the very real threat to the hero, death, dishonour, professional failure or some other catastrophic event but it has to be real. In the movie, JFK, Garrison meets X in Washington where he learns vital information about the plot to kill Kennedy, he hesitates, “it’s too big, I can’t do this.” X encourages him and pushes him forward to the trial because as he puts it, “you can’t turn back now.” But notice during his talk he’s spelled out the nature of the forces arrayed against him, the CIA, top generals, government officials, these are big scary monsters and they’re facing a Southern lawyer who’s faced ridicule from family, friends, and the mass media. He reminds Garrison that he is the only one to actually bring charges against one of the perpetrators.
So now your hero is facing the dark night of their soul, the fuse is set and soon they will take that final step towards the climax. Do your homework here and people will keep turning the page, but pull back and chicken out and you’ll leave your reader feeling cheated.
Onwards and upwards!

Other examples of the Approach to the Inmost Cave.
Clarice in Silence of the Lambs when she visits Hannibal for the last time.
Jonah in the bible story Jonah and the Whale when he is swallowed by the whale.
Sarah Connor in Terminator Two when she is in Mexico and has a nightmare about the apocalypse and then leaves to destroy Skynet.
King Arthur in the Jerry Bruckheimer movie of the same name, the night he buries one of his knights and makes love to Guinevere. Here he is acknowledging his failure to keep all his knights alive and cementing his bond with the Britons in sexual union with a Briton. As they both climax he is called to the wall to find the entire Saxon army camped outside. Arthur and Guinevere are now ready to go into battle and become king and queen of the Britons.

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Responses

  1. I found it interesting that you say Sarah making love to Rhys, which culminates into bringing John Connor into being an inner most cave moment (I love this movie!) I’d actually never thought of it like that and was completely intrigued with this post. I’ve saved it in my favourites and am going to read through it again this afternoon. In the meantime, I’m going to go through my novels and find the inner most cave moments for my characters.

    Fabulous post 🙂

    • Yeah there’s a wide variety of inmost cave moments, they don’t always have to be negative or terrifying, they can also be uplifting and encouraging.
      Thanks for the kind comment as well:-)


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