Ever since the “A Hero Awakens” Trailer, I have been interested in how the story of Halo 4 was planned, written, and finally played out in the game we have come to love. After thinking about it for a couple weeks, I believe we can draw more meaning out of the story, if we try to describe it using the “Hero’s Journey” or “Monomyth” model proposed by Joseph Campbell.
This model of storytelling is quite familiar to those of use interested in Fantasy and Science Fiction. Many modern novels, movies, and epic fantasy tales follow this outline, with varying degrees of success. These include The Matrix, The Lord of the Rings, Star Wars, and the Belgariad by David Eddings. Not all steps of the Monomyth are present in every story, and sometimes steps are combined. Not every story tells the Journey the same way either, using different plot points to play out the steps of the myth. Halo 4 is no different. In this post, I will begin a small series looking at the story of the game from the perspective of the Hero’s Journey. All Italicized paragraphs are from the Wikipedia page on the Monomyth, and describe each stage.
The Call to Adventure
The hero starts off in a mundane situation of normality from which some information is received that acts as a call to head off into the unknown.
What part of a Spartan’s life is truly mundane? If they aren’t actively engaged in battle, then they are on their way to one. Perhaps the most mundane part of the Chief’s life is his time spent in cryo. I would imagine that he has been in there a lot, traversing the universe fighting the Covenant. We could say that John’s “normal” place is in the cryo chamber. I would extend this to the entire Forward Unto Dawn however, and through that extension we can say that any UNSC ship is John’s “home” or place of normalcy. It represents the starting point for him, the place were he gathers himself before his struggle with the next foe, whether that is an Inny, the Covenant, or the Didact. We will come back to this idea later.
So we begin with John is his place of normalcy, and he is called to action by Cortana, of course.
Refusal of the Call
Often when the call is given, the future hero first refuses to heed it. This may be from a sense of duty or obligation, fear, insecurity, a sense of inadequacy, or any of a range of reasons that work to hold the person in his or her current circumstances.
John obviously doesn’t refuse Cortana’s call to action, and this is one step of the journey that is not present in Halo 4. For John, it is his sense of duty and obligation that drives him on his journey, rather than preventing him from taking it. Similarly it is his absolute confidence in his abilities and the assurance of victory that allow him to preform at the level he does.
Once the hero has committed to the quest, consciously or unconsciously, his guide and magical helper appears, or becomes known. More often than not, this supernatural mentor will present the hero with one or more talismans or artifacts that will aid them later in their quest.
John’s “magical helper” is Cortana (sometimes more magical than others, but we’ll deal with the bomb later). When John pulls the lever to free himself from the Cryo tube, he has made a conscious choice to answer her call, and she joins him on his journey. The choice may seem trivial, and no real choice at all, but it is present in the fact that we have to choose to exit the cryo tube. In Halo CE, there was no such choice. We were thrust out into action whether we wanted to or not (we really wanted to though!) This method of small and quick, almost unnoticeable steps will be used in other places throughout the game.
As for magical aid that will help them later, the only thing that comes to mind is her upgrade of John’s armour, though I can’t see how that could have helped him in any special way. Another possibility could be that her mention of a way to save her by using another cloned brain at the beginning of Reclaimer, though this would fall more into the trilogy’s journey than the journey of this first act.
The Crossing of the First Threshold
This is the point where the person actually crosses into the field of adventure, leaving the known limits of his or her world and venturing into an unknown and dangerous realm where the rules and limits are not known.
Belly of The Whale
The belly of the whale represents the final separation from the hero’s known world and self. By entering this stage, the person shows willingness to undergo a metamorphosis.
I have placed these two stages together because I believe they are both contained in the final part of “Dawn”. Both the zero gravity sequence and the fall into Requiem could be described in these paragraphs.
The zero G sequence is kind of a new thing for Halo. I say kind of because we have ventured into the vacuum of space before. Cairo Station in Halo 2 and Long Night of Solace from Reach are the two that I remember most vividly, though they may be another one I am forgetting at the moment. However, this is the first time we see the lack of gravity actually making things float away, such as weapons, and dead bodies. I see this as a kind of “Crossing the First Threshold” in a game design sense.
Of course as it applies to John, the “Crossing” is his fall into Requiem. He leaves behind his familiar surroundings, the UNSC ship, and enters into the unknown Forerunner planet. He enters “The Belly of the Whale” here as well. Requiem is the whale, and it is interesting that the planet draws him in, much like the whale swallowed Jonah. I have a theory that John was in Requiem for three days, but I can’t find any dates to confirm that, and I haven’t been able to tell in the Campaign. In requiem John will begin a transformation that will force him to question his core beliefs about himself and how he relates to both the UNSC, and his own armour. Another fact; the song playing when we enter the zero g sequence, and fire the missile at the Covenant carrier is entitled “Belly of the Beast”
Stay tuned for Part 2 – “Initiation”
See you on Infinity,