The first step on the road to Charlotte’s Journey was figuring out exactly what sort of story we wanted to tell. Three conditions were at the heart of it all: we would explicitly use the trajectory of Joseph Conrad’s monomyth from The Hero With a Thousand Faces, the protagonist should be female, and she should be saddled with a sword that she is unable to wield.
Below are the first three story treatments James wrote during the process of ideating Charlotte’s Journey.
Three variations on a theme: Monomyth with young female heroine stuck with a sword she can’t wield.
Suzy A. is a farm girl. Goats, day in and day out. She likes peaches, minding her own business and gossip about Bethany Q. (she fails to recognise the contradiction). She has grown up hearing the stories of her father’s adventures fighting in The War of the Reclaimation, and sometimes resents the fact that he gave up the sword for goats. Always goats. It surprises her, then, when one day one of the goats speaks to her. Of course, goats don’t talk – but they do have voices, and those in the know can use them. Not all has been reclaimed, and the goat tells her that she must convince her father to save the land from certain doom. Naturally, he refuses, dismissing Suzy as a silly girl.
She takes his sword and steals off into the night, Suzy A. meets with the goat talker, who is apparently dismayed at her father’s refusal, but notes it is the sword and not who carries it that is important. In her lust for ADVENTURE, Suzy never stops to question her guide, nor does she ask why he simply can’t take the sword himself. Suzy is thrust into peril when it is revealed the goat talker is a mean jerky jerk, an agent of the Unreclaimed. She is tossed in a prison wagon. BUT! Hope is alive. She is tossed in with her cumbersome sword. Motherfucker talks. Or, at least, Suzy A. can hear it – it doesn’t so much speak as it does channel the spirit of a long dead ancestor or its original owner or something. Only those worth of wielding the sword can hear the the voice, and the sword won’t let anybody else wield itself. It, like, burns them or something? I dunno. We can work on that. Anyway, her Dad gave up the sword because it stopped speaking to him. He expected it would start talking to his son or something.
Suzy is being taken deep into Unreclaimed territory and feels increasingly hopeless, locked up as she is with a sword she can barely lift. But, she escapes.
In hostile lands, she drags the sword with her, surviving hardship and tribulation alike. Maybe some spider monsters, or a giant land crab? Oh, and, evil Unclaimed soldiers, too. She meets an unlikely ally – a kind douchey muscle-bound guy who is, like, totally dreamy. Despite his massive ego, he hates Unreclaimed suckbags a whole bunch, so they team up. It turns out the Unreclaimed are trying to, I dunno, claim the reclaimed land that they unreclaimed in the first place. Look, they’re gonna kill the goats, okay? So Suzy A., the sword, and Gaston have to save the goat farm. They do, and Suzy A. is, as they say, totally pumped. Her dad is a bit curious as to why the sword picked her, but agrees to help teach her to wield it. She has potential to become a great heroine, but she needs to grow up a little yet, which means for now, goats. More goats. And even in the future, goats. And maybe some gossip about Bethany Q. to quell the boredom.
Suzy B. is in a large company of brightly dressed and happy people. They travel in the Rivenwood; they are headed home. An accord has finally be reached between Totallyawesomebourg and Skullcity. Although her home Skullcity hasn’t received the most favourable terms, the accord means an end to war and privation. Skullcity can finally go about recovering from their negative reputation as warmongers and a den of evil villains. Maybe a municipal committee could be put together to address the name of their city-state? Perhaps “skullcity” isn’t testing well with focus groups?
Regardless, Suzy B.’s guardian is a diplomat, and is thus the prime target when some of those villains who want to keep Skullcity’s reputation intact attack the convoy. Betrayed by their own kind! Suzy somehow survives the attack. Perhaps she is given her mission by a mentor’s last breath, or perhaps she is just a clever girl and knows what to do, but she grabs the sword that is a sign of the accord, a hatchet to be buried, and escapes into the old and mystic Rivenwood.
If the sword reaches Skullcity, the war will end. If it does not, Skullcity will assume their diplomats killed (perhaps that story is helped along by the real Skullcityian villains) and will attack Totallyawesomebourg, ruining both cities in a war neither can keep up. Problem is, Suzy B. can hardly lift the signatory sword. Given that her whole family was just murdered by her own countrymen, she develops some pretty heavy trust issues and won’t give up the sword to anybody else.
Used to a life of comfort, she has really got to push herself in the Rivenwood. It’s harsh old forest, rife with wild magic, and she is being pursued by her family’s murderers. In short: shit’s creek, no paddle. It would be easy to give up. She hates the fucking sword for all its cumbersome, symbolic weight. And its literal weight, too. Big ol’ useless chunk of metal… useless. Its the sword they want, after all, not her (flawed reasoning, Suzy!).
She wants her comfortable wagon, her mom’s game stew, maybe a fire, how about a comb to help get some of the underbrush out of her hair? Is that too much to ask? She could pitch the sword in a river and be done with it, go live on a farm away from the war – it could be a comfortable life. But she would never be able to live with herself. Her family already died for this dumb sword.
So, Suzy B. toughs it out, makes it through the Rivenwood, drags the annoying sword, evades capture (but only just – climactic battle anyone?) and saves the day! Yay! She is a Skullcity national hero… But her family is still dead. Can she go on living in this cushy Skullfort when the bones of her father are lying above the ground in the Rivenwood, his skull not resting in its due place in Skullcity? Perhaps she should go recover the bonecase of her father…
Suzy C. is the only child of her tribe’s chieftain. Her mother died in childbirth, and although her father is nothing but doting, she harbours some secret guilt, feeling as is she killed her own mother. As nomadic barbarians warrior tribes goes, hers is fairly benign – they might skirmish from time to time with their hated blood enemies, the dark Raven clan, but they are Blood Goats, and have in recent years become less and less nomadic. Agriculture is the name of the game. Winters are still hard, but the tribe moves with the game.
Suzy C. has long suspected her father would have preferred a son. While it is true that he would have loved a boy too, ol’ dad is just an all around all right dude, and Suzy C.’s suspicion is rooted in the simple fact that Dad was raised by men to be a man and a leader – he does not know the secret ways of the women of Blood Goat clan. His wife would have taught Suzy the important womanly knowledge, things Blood Goat Chieftain simply does not know. As a result, Suzy’s upbringing more resembles that of the boys of the clan.
So here’s the kicker: because Blood Goat Chieftain has no other children, Suzy is set to become her clan’s leader when the chieftain dies. This is a big break from tradition – never has a woman led the tribe since the days of Old Madrigal, a semi-mythic figure Suzy idolises. Suzy digs the idea of leadership, but both her and her father worry that the tribe, and indeed her future husband, whoever that may be, will not accept her rule. Thus, her somewhat boy-ish upbringing (Her father is trying to teach her the strength of a warrior, a value he believes in necessary for Blood Goat Clan leadership).
Further, when Suzy reaches the age of, oh, say, fourteen, Blood Goat Chieftain takes her on the traditional manhood coming-of-age ritual. Not only will this give her strength (both spiritually and physically) but hopefully her success will raise her in the esteem of the tribe at large. Part of this ritual is being given a weapon that is too large and heavy to be used by the young man undertaking the trial. As chieftain’s daughter, Suzy gets a rare metal sword. Probably valuable iron. Father/daughter team sets out, has a few adventures, but eventually this trial requires that Suzy set off on her own.
Throughout the process, Suzy communes with Old Madrigal – not like seance commune, but just sort of talks to the old semi-mythic warrior woman. Madrigal doesn’t so much speak back, but still acts as a guiding force, a sort of benevolent spirit. All the while, whispers have been spreading about the new Dark Raven chieftain, who has styled himself a king of all barbarians, and is assimilating all other clans. Naturally, they appear as antagonists to the Blood Goats during Suzy’s trial. Or, perhaps Suzy has a rival, a cousin or something that thinks he should be the future chieftain and wants to disrupt Suzy’s efforts to succeed. OR BOTH!
Anyway, point is, Suzy has a rough go of it, but emerges from the wilderness tougher, wiser, and wins the respect of a number of tribe elders, really becoming the modern-day Old Madrigal and demonstrating that the tribe’s gender politics are old and outmoded.