** SPOILER ALERT: This post contains spoilers for the end of the Wheel of Time series. You’ve been warned. **
The protagonist’s character arc in a hero’s journey is nonlinear. After their adventures, the hero must come full circle and return to their starting point either physically or metaphorically. By doing so, the reader can acutely see how the character has changed. Once home, the character must either reconcile their newness with their old world, or choose to abandon it entirely.
An example from classic fantasy can be seen in the characters of Bilbo and Frodo Baggins. Bilbo never wanted adventure. During the entire story, he yearned for the peace and simplicity of Hobbiton. He was certainly changed by his adventure with the dwarves, but he was able to leverage his gained experience and wealth into higher social standing within his old society. Bilbo changed his home to match his new self and was able to remain.
On the other hand, after his adventures Frodo never again truly belonged in Hobbiton. Though forced from his home, Frodo wanted the adventures his uncle Bilbo had experienced. His journey, was much darker and left him more broken. No one in Hobbiton could share his experiences or perspective, not even his best friend Sam. As such, when the elves left Middle Earth, Frodo chose to journey with them. Frodo’s change was so drastic that he could no longer live within a society of peace loving hobbits.
Though Bilbo and Frodo both made a physical return to their home space, this choice isn’t required by the Hero’s Journey archetype. However, to see a metaphorical return, we’ll have to look to another series entirely. Rand Al’Thor started the Wheel of Time as a farm boy stuck in the Two Rivers. His dreams were to explore and experience the larger world. However, his life was hijacked by the universe to complete a specific task. When successful, he was freed from the burdens laid upon him as Ta’veren. In his metaphorical homecoming, Rand chose to follow his initial dreams and travel. Though he never went back to the Two Rivers, the return to his original state is still apparent and his changes even more so.
By closing the circle of the Hero’s Journey, the author provides contrast between the character’s starting and ending states. This not only shows the reader how the character’s choices have affected them and their world, but also adds significance to the adventure as a whole. After all, a character who ends their journey exactly where and as they began has really not adventured at all. Whether a physical or metaphorical homecoming, the character can never be the same after their experiences. As such, they must either change their environment to suit their new station or leave their home to find a place where they can fit better.Tags: Sequence 05: Tropes and Archetypes