When I came up with the plot of Dark Legend I didn’t set it to any formula. In fact, originally, the overarching plot was very loose and the linking threads were only going to come together at the very end. It was extremely episodic in its nature- A fact that is still reflected in the format of the books. As it grew and developed I allowed it to organically knit together into one story, basically the story of Will, a kid who sets out to save the world (because nobody else will,) accidentally becomes famous for it and as a result gives birth to a modern legend.
The titular ‘legend’ is something that grows and comes about throughout the course of the six books. It is a very specific idea, one that crystallises itself around Will, concerning a warrior who will supposedly save the world- Standard heroic fare in other words. Will is at the centre of this legend and although his friends jocularly refer to him as such, he isn’t actually the legend of the title. The legend doesn’t physically exist, it is only born as a consequence of Will’s actions. It is invented through rumour, gossip, tabloid trash and as a result of a human need for hope amidst a dire situation. The legend is something that Will either rebuffs, ignores, or uses to his advantage at various times, sometimes to his detriment.
Had I proscribed the story to any kind of formula (which is hardly ever a good idea) the most likely formula would have been the monomyth or ‘hero’s journey.’ This was theorised by Joseph Campbell in his book ‘The Hero With a Thousand Faces’ and it’s been liberally used in practically every science fiction/fantasy franchise ever since. It consists of seventeen steps which, unsurprisingly, neither Will nor Dark Legend fits in with it.
1. The Call To Adventure
This is something we never see. It’s also made quite clear that Will is not ‘called’ to adventure… He chooses it. He is nothing special, not pre-ordained to save the world, but he decides that he will and only by what follows does any kind of ‘saviour’ come about (and that saviour isn’t even real. He’s a collective figment.) You could argue that this applies to the side characters but, again, they choose to go with Will. They can walk away any time. They aren’t called.
2. Refusal Of The Call
At no point does Will ever refuse to fight the graffe. There are times when he gets tired with them, when he wishes that the whole business would end and there are times when he is on the verge of surrender but he NEVER refuses to fight. He may well deny that he is any kind of hero or saviour but that is not the same thing as refusal, especially when all the time he’s in denial he’s clobbering fifty plus mutants a night.
3. Supernatural Aid
Campbell specifies this as some sort of protective guide who presents the hero with some kind of talisman or artefact to help on his quest. The closest Dark Legend has to this is Erac, a rejected specimin of the early graffe experiments. However, Erac only shows up long after Will has begun his journey and he never offers Will any kind of talisman. He does offer his help to Will, and occasional advice, but it is more often than not for purely selfish reasons. Erac has his own little secret and he’ll protect it at all costs. You might call the red and black rings talismans but they aren’t supernatural… And the black has been ‘missing’ for a long time so…
4. Crossing The First Threshold
Never happens. Will crosses this long before the story begins. According to Campbell this also involves ‘Threshold Guardians’ which, likewise, don’t exist.
5. Belly Of The Whale
‘The idea that the passage of the magical threshold is a transit into a sphere of rebirth is symbolized in the worldwide womb image of the belly of the whale. The hero, instead of conquering or conciliating the power of the threshold, is swallowed into the unknown and would appear to have died.’
No. Just… No. What does that even mean? Apparently a ‘final separation from the hero’s known world and self.’ Quite frankly, I don’t think this happens anywhere in the series. Even if it did happen it would probably be some time before the story has even begun.
6. The Road Of Trials
This one is just silly- The hero faces tests and ordeals, some of which he fails. Isn’t this just a general, common story-telling element and not a part of some formula? Every main character is going to face some kind of challenge or test or have some problem to overcome, no matter how mundane. That is the main thrust of storytelling. Without it there is nothing to tell. So of course, Will has his ordeals but what would be the point if he didn’t?
7. The Meeting With The Goddess.
This is another one which makes little sense to me- The hero supposedly encounters some kind of all powerful, unconditional love often represented by what Campbell calls ‘the queen goddess of the world.’ The real world doesn’t work like that and NOBODY in Dark Legend is representative of any kind of unconditional love or comes across it or gets it given to them. Love is a game of give and take.
8. Woman As Temptress
The hero is lead astray, often by a woman, and almost abandons the quest- There is very little that would make Will actually give up his cause, least of all a woman. Whilst he does get around a bit and he isn’t averse to a pretty face, he is without a doubt an absolute slut, Will is always very much his own master and he always knows that his job has to take precedence over pretty much everything else. There are temptresses, but none in the way that Campbell means them.
9. Atonement with the Father
This doesn’t have to be a father, it can be a father figure or whatever is representative of the ‘ultimate power.’ Campbell claims this is representative of the abandonment of the ego and the id. The hero supposedly rises and understands the ultimate power or father figure. The trouble with Dark Legend is that, again, Will is his own master. There is no ultimate power and the closest he has to a father figure is DI Fisher, whom he doesn’t need to answer to and already pretty much has an understanding with by the end of the second book. Yes, Will is going to have to atone for his sins before the end and face some consequences for his earlier actions but the only one doing any judging is himself. He only has himself to atone to.
Our hero comes to an understanding of some sort that prepares him for the final battle- In Dark Legend there are revelations, yes, but none that serve to prepare Will for the final battle. There’s no sudden, divine revelation that changes everything. The way in which Will prepares for the end is seeded throughout the entire series, starting with Joe and Greg foisting themselves onto him in the first book. It’s in how he grows and in his interactions with his friends and enemies and in what happens to him. The final battle comes about as a result of six books worth of plot and character development, not some sudden and new found knowledge.
11. The Ultimate Boon
From here on in I can’t actually say much because it would give the ending away- But the ultimate boon is essentially the end goal of the quest and the achievement of it. Will’s goal, right from the start, is to live a normal life. To get that he has to beat both Harris and the graffe… But, if he somehow manages to achieve both of these things (and if he doesn’t, or if he dies, then there is no ultimate boon) it makes the remainder of the hero’s journey irrelevant as far as this story is concerned.
12. Refusal Of The Return
That is, a refusal to return to the real world once the goal of the quest has been reached- But Will can’t refuse, can he? Achieving his end goal, essentially, would mean that he has returned to the ‘real world’. He doesn’t have a say in the matter.
13. The Magic Flight
The hero runs off with the prize back to the real world, usually in some mystical way. Err. See above.
14. Rescue From Without
The hero is rescued by powerful guides and brought back to the real world. Hmmm… No. I don’t think you can interpret any part of the ending as this.
15. The Crossing Of The Return Threshold
This is self explanatory- It’s basically ‘The Return’ but as this would be the same thing as the ultimate boon (If Will even gets it) I’ll just refer you to that paragraph.
16. The Hero Becomes The Master Of Two Worlds
IE: The physical and the spiritual- It doesn’t happen.
17. Freedom To Live
A dead character can’t have the freedom to live, can he? But let us blithely assume for a moment that Will survives- Do you really think for one second that everything he has been through isn’t going to haunt him for the rest of his life? Will might get his prize, a normal life, but living free of all the death, the pain and the anguish that has come before? No. He’ll never have that, whatever happens.
So, as you can see, although parts of the monomyth apply to Dark Legend, it doesn’t fit in. You’d have to do some pretty dodgy acrobatics to get it to work if you wanted it to.
Building Worton is a series of posts going behind and beyond the scenes of the Dark Legend books- Spawn, Swarm, Stop The Cavalry and Sting, with No Angel Born in Hell and Extinction still to be released. All are available from Amazon (including in paperback) and from various eBook retailers