The Hero's Journey

by Margie Deck & Nancy Holder

In the 1980s, a young film executive named Christopher Vogler published a now-famous 7-page memo discussing the work of Joseph Campbell, a professor of comparative mythologies and religions who posited that there is a near-universal “monomyth” of the Hero’s Journey—a quest, complete with archetypal tropes that Vogler pinpointed in many of Hollywood’s most successful films. Vogler used the recently released Star Wars as his template. He developed his ideas into a book that became a bestselling how-to for both script and prose writers: The Writer’s Journey: Mythic Structure for Writers, published in 1992. Now in its third edition, Vogler is still used by writers as a reference book and an aid for plotting; it has been a textbook in MFA creative writing classes as well.

Vogler divided the Journey into twelve steps and thus far, “The Terror of Blue John Gap” tracks perfectly with his charted steps. On this page, Hardcastle is Crossing the First Threshold, which is the fifth step of the Journey. It is a tribute to Conan Doyle’s mastery as a storyteller that without Hollywood memos, how-to books, writing seminars and/or critique groups, “The Terror of Blue John Gap” is a hallmark of solid storytelling.

Here are the five steps of the Journey that Conan Doyle has covered so far:

1. Establishment of the Ordinary World: Placing the hero in their everyday life.

Hardcastle describes his living situation as a tuberculosis patient and his surroundings at the Allerton farm in Derbyshire.

2. The Call to Adventure: the hero is presented with the possibility of a quest.

“Young Armitage” tells Hardcastle that a monster lives in the Blue John Gap mine, and Hardcastle is tempted to explore the cave simply to debunk the local superstition.

3. Refusal of the Call: the hero decides against the quest.

Hardcastle decides that the existence of a Terror is ridiculous, and that he’ll explore the cave later, when he’s feeling better.

4. Meeting with the Mentor: a person gives the hero knowledge and/or items to aid their quest, thus tilting the balance in favor of the quest.

Sensory details at the cave—the roar of the Terror, bloody tufts of wool from missing sheep— lend credence to Armitage’s insistence that the Terror is a real monster, enticing Hardcastle to explore more deeply into the cave after all.

5. Crossing the First Threshold: the hero accepts the quest.

Hardcastle goes into the cave, determined to investigate the mystery of the Terror. He has embarked on his quest.

The last full sentence on this page reads, “And now I come to the point where I met with such sudden and desperate disaster.” Vogler’s sixth step is shorthanded as “Tests, Allies, and Enemies.”

And that is a steppingstone to page seven of the text.

Copyright 2023 Margie Deck & Nancy Holder


Caves and Caverns

by Mark Jones

There are several plausible sources of inspiration for ‘The Terror of Blue John Gap’ but one of the most specific is offered by Crichton Porteous in his Derbyshire guidebook, Caves and Caverns of Peakland (1951). Porteous writes: ‘Within a hundred yards of the Blue John entrance cabin is a biggish natural hole in the hillside, partly shaded by trees. This is believed to be almost exactly over the deepest part of the cavern, though no direct way down is known. It was this hole that suggested to Sir Arthur Conan Doyle in 1908 the plot of his short story, “The Terror of Blue John Gap”… and the idea for his monster is said to have come from a description given by an army officer of representations of animals scratched on cavern walls in Gibraltar’ (p.46).

continued . . .


front cover & matter: a (home) • bcd    back cover: e

text: 12345 • 6 • 78 • 9 • 10 • 11 • 12 • 13
14 • 15 • 16 • 17 • 18 • 19 • 20


page 6 of the manuscript of "The Terror of Blue John Gap"

The autograph manuscript of “The Terror of Blue John Gap” reproduced above is courtesy of Dartmouth College Library, Rauner Special Collections, MS-93: Sir Arthur Conan Doyle.


It [deleted: descended / inserted: went down] at an acute angle for some fifty feet,

the floor being covered with broken [deleted: rock / inserted: stones]. Thence there extended a long

straight passage cut in the solid rock. I am no geologist but the

lining of this corridor was certainly of some harder material than

limestone for there were points where I could actually see the

[deleted: quarry / inserted: tool] marks which the old miners had left in their

excavation as fresh as if they had been done yesterday. Down

this strange old world corridor I stumbled, my feeble [deleted: light] flame

throwing a dim circle of light around me which made the shadows

beyond the more threatening and [deleted: [illegible] / inserted: obscure]. Finally I came to a spot

where the Roman tunnel opened into a water worn limestone

cavern, a huge hall, hung with long [deleted: white / inserted: lime] icycles of white deposit.

From this central chamber I could [deleted: [illegible] / inserted: dimly] perceive that a number

The full story as it was printed in The Strand is available at
The Arthur Conan Doyle Encyclopedia.