In some respects, Voyage and Return is like The Quest. Both involve a journey but beyond that they could not be more different.
Let’s start with a summary of the story structure. Note it has the 5-fold structure of all the story types we’ve explored so far.
- Anticipation and fall into another world. The circumstances of the hero or group of heroes is often relevant. They lack something and usually they are not aware of what they lack. And note the journey out is usually not significant, often effectively instantaneous and in any event, little significant happens during the journey.
- Initial fascination or dream. They find themselves in a new world and at first they are intrigued maybe excited by it.
- The experience feels unreal but because the rules are unknown, the experience becomes more frustrating. Sometimes they make enemies.
- Nightmare or serious threat. Their presence triggers a real threat and things come to a crisis.
- Thrilling escape and return. The return is important because it poses the question: what difference has the voyage made?
Voyage and Return is a common story type, often haunting and mysterious. It takes several forms. There are at least 4 main types:
- Marooned somewhere in our own world, eg Robinson Crusoe.
- A strange civilisation in an imaginary world, eg Alice, Narnia
- Social, where the hero finds themselves in a different social setting, eg Brideshead Revisited
- Switched identities or transformation, eg Kafka’s Matamorphosis, Freaky Friday (film and novel).
To understand the nature of this story type, we need to answer three questions.
How Do They Get There?
Unlike The Quest, the hero or group of heroes have no purpose in making the voyage. The voyage is usually involuntary. Even where the hero plans the voyage, there is no aim other than to see what’s there. Usually they stumble upon it; there is rarely significant planning.
However, the hero is often psychologically ready for something to happen. They may be frustrated by their life or job and ready for a change.
Whereas the journey in The Quest often takes up about half the story, preparing the hero for the challenge to come, the Voyage is often just a means to effect a transition to a different world.
What is The Nature of the Other World?
The hero or heroes are trapped in an unfamiliar world, perhaps where their inability to interpret what’s going on makes it more threatening. Encounters with the inhabitants gradually lead to a sense of increasing threat.
The early stages are often quite pleasant. The hero makes contact with the inhabitants. In many stories this includes bonding with a sympathetic character of the opposite sex. However, the outcome of this relationship is not the same as it is for The Quest.
What Happens to Them?
This is the crucial question for this story type. They return transformed or not transformed. Occasionally, the untransformed are left trapped in the other world.
The transformation often leaves them chastened, repentant or visionary. They return as a different person, able to deal with the issues they face in their own world. Consider the five stages from the point of view of such a hero:
- They begin in a state of unawareness, possibly even as a dark character.
- Their current state plunges them into a new world
- Increasing frustration leads to
- A nightmare that causes something significant to change
- Meaning they understand their own world better, a victory over their former selves
The untransformed can be neutral or dark. There are many examples of neutral, where the hero shows no change, perhaps because it was all a dream. Examples include Alice and Dorothy.
Often a sign of lack of transformation is leaving the friend of the opposite sex behind. They return with a sense of loss that reinforces their original state. There is some inadequacy in the relationship that is never rectified. They are tested and fail.
Whatever the outcome, this story type poses the question: what difference did the voyage make?
Application to Business
Like Overcoming the Monster, this is a popular story type but perhaps one with fewer business applications.
The social voyage and return may be the most helpful here. Many people have stories to tell about an accident that moved them into a new world and how they returned as a different person. Examples might be victims of crime, spending time in prison, paralysis. Any event that knocks a life off-course, raises similar questions. The interest in the story is how the hero found their way back and the nature of the transformation they undergo.
This story may work for markets of survivors of some life-changing event who seek help in finding their way back. But it is worth pausing here because we can see in real life it is not possible to return to life as it was before. Everything changes. This is not just a personality transformation, return is not possible if by return we mean the same state as at departure. The world visited creates a new world in the here and now. The state at the end of the story combines the old and new worlds.
Perhaps the key is in the return journey? In The Quest, the outward journey is important. In this story type it is the return journey. Where the return is precipitate, leaving important elements behind, then transformation is unlikely or unsuccessful. Where the return is planned and taken seriously, then transformation is likely to be successful.
There are at least two types of case study based on this story-type:
- A client stuck in a humdrum or stressful environment, realises they want to see change. A coach might help them, perhaps leaving a job or a marriage and entering a new world. They might help them navigate the new world they create for themselves until they find they have transformed their lives and feel fully engaged.
- A traumatic event precipitates someone into a new world, eg prison or hospital and they need to find their way back to autonomy.
Telling this story-type may help coaches find clients who are somewhere in this story. The threat they must overcome is internal and often they are not clear what they are up against.
There is another story type that takes this same concern, of overcoming inner darkness, in a different direction. What do we do when someone close to us is trapped in their inner darkness? What if we don’t understand what is happening to them?
Maybe the best solution is to resort to Comedy!