Mythic Structure: The Virgin’s Promise, Part Two

by Melanie Marttila
published in Writing

In the last speculations, I introduced you to Kim Hudson’s The Virgin’s Promise, the feminine archetypal structure and promised that I’d analyze two stories in my next column.

I decided to explore Ever After, the Cinderella movie starring Drew Barrymore for my first selection. The Virgin’s Promise is a screenwriting tool, first and foremost, and Ever After is a movie I can watch again and again.

For my second selection, I returned to The Hobbit. Last time around, when I broke down The Hobbit using The Hero’s Journey, I found that the story didn’t line up with Vogler’s twelve stages.  I wanted to try an experiment to see if Bilbo’s adventure was more in keeping with a different archetype and structure.

Care to find out how that worked out? Read on!

Dependent World

In Ever After, Danielle de Barbarac’s dependent world is one of servitude. After her father dies, Danielle’s stepmother Rodmilla relegates her to the role of servant. Danielle loves the other servants and believes she’s protected by her low status. She’s happy to let her stepmother and stepsisters engage in court intrigues as long as they leave her out of it and leave her father’s home to Danielle when they find more comfortable situations for themselves.

Bilbo’s dependent world is Bag End. He is safe in his rural community and living a complacent and routine hobbitish life of second breakfasts and elevenses until a bunch of dwarves show up on his doorstep.

Price of Conformity

The expectation placed upon Danielle is not only servitude. Unknown to Danielle, her stepmother is slowly selling off all of Danielle’s father’s possessions, so she can live in the manner to which she’s grown accustomed. The Belgian neighbour to whom she sells these items is also interested in Danielle and Rodmilla is holding out on selling her stepdaughter so that she can demand a higher price.

Bilbo’s expectation is to be a respectable hobbit. The problem is, he has Tookish blood and the Tooks are notorious, and therefore disreputable, adventurers. When Gandalf arrives and asks Bilbo to be the dwarves’ burglar in their quest to reclaim their lost treasure from the dragon Smaug in the Lonely Mountain, Bilbo’s Tookish curiosity is roused and though he initially wants to decline the offer, he ultimately accepts the challenge.

Opportunity to Shine

When she sees someone trying to steal her father’s horse, Danielle attempts to stop him. It turns out to be Prince Henry and he gives her a pouch of coin to compensate her for the horse’s use. Upon returning home, Danielle learns that Maurice, one of the other servants who helped raise her after her father’s death, has been sold. She borrows one of her stepsisters’ gowns and pretends to be a noble to buy Maurice back with Prince Henry’s money.

When the dwarves are captured by goblins and Gandalf leads them to safety, Bilbo gets separated from them and finds a ring. He then encounters Gollum who engages Bilbo in a riddle contest, which he wins. As Gollum rages, the ring slips onto Bilbo’s finger. He realizes that Gollum can no longer see him and escapes. Maybe he can be a burglar, after all.

Dresses the Part

Danielle has a second encounter with Henry when she rescues Maurice, but Henry doesn’t recognize her as the servant who pelted him with apples earlier. He demands her name and, to keep her identity secret, Danielle gives Henry her mother’s name, Nicole de Lancret. Danielle quotes from Moore’s Utopia, a cherished gift from her father, in her conversation with Henry and the prince is intrigued.

Another meeting, when Danielle is swimming and the prince’s guest, Leonardo da Vinci, is testing his water-walking shoes, cements the bond. Danielle finds herself dressing as a noblewoman increasingly often as Henry returns to visit her.

Gandalf must leave Bilbo and the dwarves as they enter the forest of Mirkwood, and Bilbo uses his common sense, his ring, and the elvish sword he received after their earlier encounter with some trolls, to save the dwarves from giant spiders. Bilbo rises in the esteem of the dwarves.

Secret World

Henry invites Danielle to visit a monastery with him, where he is again impressed with Danielle’s passion and her views on the responsibilities of the royalty to the people they rule. Returning from the monastery, the wheel of their carriage breaks and Danielle, who urgently needs to get home before her stepmother discovers she’s gone, suggests they walk. On the way, the gypsies from whom the prince recovered the Mona Lisa earlier, corner the pair, and Danielle’s daring attempt to rescue Henry by carrying him away wins the gypsies over.

During the party the gypsies throw them, Danielle and Henry kiss for the first time. The monastery and the forest provide Danielle with her secret world in which she is free to express her true nature.

The world outside the Shire is Bilbo’s secret world. He is away from other hobbits and is free to express his Tookish nature. Mirkwood, specifically, is the place where Bilbo and the dwarves begin to believe in Bilbo’s talents as a burglar. A second capture, by wood elves this time, finds Bilbo rescuing the dwarves again, hiding them in barrels and floating them down the river to safety.

No Longer Fits Her World

Danielle manages to get home and crawl into bed before the rest of the household rises, but is rudely awakened by Rodmilla and her daughters, who demand breakfast. In a rare show of defiance, Danielle tells them to feed themselves. After her adventures, Danielle finds it increasingly difficult to remain subservient, as her stepmother demands.

Later, Danielle finds Rodmilla and her eldest daughter Marguerite admiring Nicole’s dress and glass slippers. As punishment for her earlier disobedience, Danielle will not be attending the prince’s masque and will not need the dress. Marguerite taunts Danielle to violence and burns Danielle’s copy of Utopia. Rodmilla has Danielle whipped for daring to strike Marguerite.

The dwarves and Bilbo arrive at Lake Town and travel from there to the Lonely Mountain. Bilbo uses his ring to sneak into Smaug’s treasure hoard and using both common sense and riddling, he flatters the great worm into revealing his weakness. Emboldened by his success, Bilbo steals a golden cup and Smaug flies, raging, to take his revenge on the nearest settlement: Lake Town.

Fortunately, a thrush overhears the exchange and flies to Lake Town to tell Bard about Smaug’s weakness. Bard defeats Smaug, but not before the dragon burns Lake Town to the ground. Bilbo is a true burglar, now, but he regrets that anyone came to harm because of his actions.

Caught Shining

While her stepsister Jacqueline nurses Danielle’s wounds, Rodmilla and Marguerite attend the queen. While there, they discover the identity of the mystery woman the prince has been seeing—it’s Danielle! Meanwhile, Danielle, still recovering from her punishment, sneaks out to see Henry one more time. She tries to tell him who and what she is, but Henry has been so inspired by her that he ignores her, rambling on about his plans for the future.

When she gets home, Rodmilla confronts Danielle and locks her in the cellar. It’s the night of the masque, and Danielle can’t be allowed to interfere.

When the dwarves reclaim the Lonely Mountain, Bilbo finds the Arkenstone, but he hides it, fearing what Thorin, the leader of the dwarves, might do. The men of Lake Town and the wood elves come to make claim on Smaug’s treasure. The men seek reparation for Smaug’s destruction and the wood elves have a prior claim.

Thorin refuses to help and Bilbo tries to ransom the Arkenstone to stop the hostilities. Thorin sees Bilbo’s theft of the Arkenstone as a betrayal and banishes him. The dwarves summon their kin and battle seems inevitable.

Gives Up What Kept Her Stuck

Trapped in the cellar, Danielle despairs. Maurice and Gustav, a young artist friend of Danielle’s, seek help from Leonardo da Vinci, who promptly releases Danielle by removing the cellar door’s hinges. Danielle confesses her truth to Leonardo and he tells Danielle that Henry deserves to hear the truth from the woman he loves.

“A bird may love a fish, signore,” Danielle says, “but where would they live?” Leonardo responds by making her wings and sending her to the masque.

Bilbo is now with the men of Lake Town and the wood elves. He’s failed to convince Thorin to negotiate, but the men and elves appreciate what he tried to do. As the armies prepare to do battle, Bilbo can only bear witness. Whatever happens now, there’s no real going back for Bilbo.

Kingdom in Chaos

Danielle arrives at the masque as the king is about to announce who Henry will marry. She makes a grand entrance in Nicole’s gown and slippers with Leonardo’s wings fluttering behind her. When Henry runs to meet her, she again tries to tell him who she is, but Henry wants to introduce her to his parents instead.

In a desperate move, Rodmilla publicly denounces Danielle and exposes her as a fraud. Henry refuses to hear Danielle out and she runs back home, defeated.

Gandalf reappears with a warning that goblins and wargs are approaching. Men, elves, and dwarves must all band together to face this common threat. The battle of five armies begins.

Wanders in the Wilderness

In the wake of the masque, Danielle has rededicated herself to her role as servant, but now she is working to save her home, which she knows Rodmilla is impoverishing in her quest to raise her status in court. Danielle still believes that her stepmother will leave the house and servants in her care once Marguerite is married to Prince Henry, but Rodmilla has other plans. Danielle is sold to the Belgian, Le Pieu.

Bilbo is not a warrior, but he does his best in the ensuing battle. It looks like the goblins and wargs are about to overwhelm everyone else when Beorn and a flight of giant eagles (friends of Gandalf’s) arrive. Thorin is wounded in the battle and asks to see Bilbo, afterward.

Chooses Her Light

Danielle is kept in irons by Le Pieu because she keeps trying to run away. One day, after she has cleaned his swords, Danielle uses one to demand her freedom. “My father was an expert swordsman, Monsieur. He taught me well.” Danielle rescues herself because she is, more than anything else, her father’s daughter.

As Thorin dies, he tells Bilbo that he was right to steal the Arkenstone and try to stop the battle before it began. Bilbo was a good burglar and the dwarves would never have reclaimed the Lonely Mountain without his help.

Re-Ordering (Rescue)

Danielle leaves Le Pieu’s keep just as Henry arrives to rescue her. He confesses his foolishness and his love for her. Later, Rodmilla and her daughters are summoned before the king, who demands to know why she lied to the queen about Nicole de Lancret. Rodmilla and Marguerite are about to be sent to the Americas as punishment when Danielle, now princess, speaks up to save them. She asks that they be shown the same kindness as she was, and they become servants.

Thorin and Bilbo are reconciled, and Bilbo is awarded a share of the treasure. The dwarves make peace with men and elves and all debts are settled.

The Kingdom is Brighter

Leonardo presents Danielle with a portrait he painted of her as a belated wedding present. Danielle and Henry decide to live happily ever after. Rodmilla and Marguerite have difficulties adjusting to their new circumstances, and Jacqueline is affianced to Le Bon, one of Henry’s men.

Bilbo returns to the Shire, no longer a respectable hobbit, but he doesn’t care. He’s now wealthy and accepts visits from Gandalf, dwarves, and elves, from time to time, enriching the society of the Shire. He keeps the ring as a memento. And, of course, he writes the tale of his adventures with the dwarves.

Taking it to the Page

Last time, I asked you to revisit some of your favorite stories and see whether The Virgin’s Promise structure applied. Now that I’ve also shared a couple of exemplars, you can see that the mythic structure is applicable to more than just romances and fairy tales.

Take this new knowledge with you to your work-in-progress and see if it will help you re-order your writerly kingdom. To deepen your understanding, I’ll recommend (again) requesting Kim Hudson’s book from a library, bookstore, or reading app.

I’d love to hear how this mythic structure helped you, whether you thought The Hobbit worked better with The Virgin’s Promise structure, or any other insights that this two-part series inspired.

Until next time, keep speculating and see where it leads you.


Melanie Marttila creates worlds from whole cloth. She’s a dreamsinger, an ink alchemist, and an unabashed learning mutt. Her speculative short fiction has appeared in Bastion Science Fiction Magazine, On Spec Magazine, and Sudbury Ink. She lives and writes in Sudbury, Ontario, Canada, where she spends her days working as a corporate trainer. She blogs at http://www.melaniemarttila.ca and you can find her on Facebook and Twitter.

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