‘Who knows what evil lurks in the hearts of men? The Shadow knows!’ — “The Shadow,” 1930s CBS Radio Detective Serial
‘Sad that I love the darkness so much and I’ve never knew it.’ — Maggie Evans in “Dark Shadows” (1966).
Whether it’s an old radio drama about a crime fighter or a Gothic soap opera, writers like what they can do with shadows and the purported evil they conceal. In Jungian psychotherapy—and, consequently—in the hero’s journey, the shadow is a major concern.
As Daryl Sharp writes in Digesting Jung: Food for the Journey, “everything about ourselves that we are not conscious of is the shadow.”
The shadow is said to contain a muddle of resentments, inferior notions, infantile fantasies, aggressive feelings, and other things about ourselves we’re not willing to openly admit to. On the other hand, as Robert Bly suggests, the shadow also contains everything about ourselves that society (parents, teachers, etc.) brainwashed us to get rid of because “it wasn’t proper” or “wasn’t fitting.”
The Hero’s Journey
The hero’s journey is impossible to understand, much less use as a structure in writing fiction, without confronting the shadow, first as a concept, and then within ourselves. The writer knows himself by making that which is not conscious, conscious, and then he brings his revelations into the lives of his fictional characters.
In Enemy, Cripple & Beggar: Shadows in the Hero’s Path, Erel Shalit, calls the shadow a crucial image in the hero cycle, the blood of the hero’s soul:
Without a shadow, there are no dangers to overcome, no struggles to endure, no weaknesses to suffer that make us human, no rewards of consciousness to be gained, and no depth of soul to be treasured.
Three Helpful Books
In addition to such standard hero’s journey references as Joseph Campbell’s The Hero With a Thousand Faces, Christopher Vogler’s The Writers Journey: Mythic Structure for Writers, Stephen Larsen’s The Mythic Imagination, and Jean Houston’s The Hero and the Goddess: The Odyssey as Mystery and Initiation, these three books will help you explore the shadow:
FROM THE PUBLISHER: The Hero is that aspect of our psyche, or in society, who dares to venture into the unknown, into the shadow of the unconscious, bringing us in touch with the darker aspects in our soul and in the world. In fact, it is the hero whom we send each night into the land of dreams to bring home the treasures of the unconscious. He, or no less she, will have to struggle with the Enemy that so often is mis-projected onto the detested Other, learn to care and attend to the Cripple who carries our crippling complexes and weaknesses, and develop respect for the shabby Beggar to whom we so often turn our backs – for it is the ‘beggar in need’ who holds the key to our inner Self.
A Little Book on the Human Shadow, by Robert Bly, edited by William Booth, Harper and Row, 1988.
FROM THE PUBLISHER: Robert Bly, renowned poet and author of the ground-breaking bestseller Iron John, mingles essay and verse to explore the Shadow — the dark side of the human personality — and the importance of confronting it.
FROM THE PUBLISHER: According to authors Connie Zweig and Steve Wolf, each of us has shadows that hold forbidden feelings such as shame, jealousy, greed, lust, and rage. Left to their own devices these shadows will become destructive saboteurs–causing us to betray our loved ones as well as ourselves. It is not within our power to choose whether or not to have these shadows; however, Zweig and Wolf believe that it is within our power to take responsibility for our shadows and put them to productive use. Chapter by chapter Zweig and Wolf reveal the shadow side of love, parenthood, siblings, friendships, midlife, and work. Rather than deny or destroy these shadows, the authors show readers how to confront and “romance” them in order to access the energy, vitality, and creativity that usually lie dormant within our dark sides.
Everyone carries a shadow, and the less it is embodied in the individual’s conscious life, the blacker and denser it is. – Carl Jung