Breaking the Stronghold

Step One—Look at the Tactics

Our protagonists and their allies disable the negative power by using some sort of method. In The Handless Maiden, the protagonist draws a chalk circle around herself and keeps herself clean. As long as she is clean, the Devil can't get at her. Along her journey, she keeps surrounding herself with good people, people who are compassionate. The deeper she is driven into the woods, the more powerful her allies become, and she ends up in a house of angels.

Jack undermines the giant's power over the course of a number of years. He has to be patient, and keep quiet. He can't tell his mother what he's up to or she'll panic. Many characters have to be discreet when they're breaking the stronghold of the old power. The swan sister in the Grimm's story, The Six Swans, makes shirts for her brothers and isn't able to speak or even laugh over the years it takes to do the work.

ASK yourself: How does my protagonist, working with the allies, break the stronghold of the negative power?

Freely associate as you answer this question so that the overall strategy of your protagonist becomes apparent to you.

Step Two—Look at Your Protagonist

There's much that we can learn from the attitudes and the methods of our protagonists. They take a particular position in relation to the old powers, and they apply themselves in very particular ways to overcome those powers. Let's reflect a little further on the powers of your protagonist.

ASK yourself: What is it that impresses me most about my protagonist and how he or she has met adversity?

For example,

I'm quite smitten with Jack! He puts his faith in the fairy (imperfect though she is) and he goes straight into the giant's lair. He doesn't run away from the realities of his life. I admire Jack's courage and charm, but, perhaps more than anything, I admire his stamina. The word stamina has an interesting etymology. It comes from the Latin stamina, meaning "threads." Early on, the word was connected with the threads that the Fates spin, measure, and cut with every life. To have stamina is to have that congenital, vital capacity to meet one's fate. Jack unflinchingly trusts his fate, and does all the stuff necessary to win his power back. He keeps going up that damned beanstalk until he gets the job done. It takes years.

He has challenges that aren't in the story, but I can imagine them. He's got to deal with his mother's frantic worrying while keeping his eyes on the goal. He's also got to deal with his guilt over the dangerous situation he is creating for the giant's wife. How does he handle all that? I think that while he's renovating his outer house, he's building himself an inner house. He lives in the sanctuary of his own heart, not in his mother's house of worry. That's a powerful idea for me. When we're in a fairy tale, we're building our inner castles, the house that is truly our own. The spell might last for years, but the one who dwells in the inner house knows where he stands, however things appear.


I don't live in the House of Worry anymore.