After listening to quite a few Jordan B. Peterson lectures – perhaps a few too many if that is possible – I clambered up into my tree fort – though tree seat might be a better description – and wrote down this idea. Tragedy, comedy, and horror are all fragments of the Hero’s Journey. I didn’t even write it down like that. Instead I drew a picture.
That’s the hero’s journey, roughly. The descent from normalcy into chaos, the voluntary transformational death, and the ascent from the underworld. Joseph Campbell said that the first half is tragedy and the second half was comedy, but I don’t think that’s quite right. The first half is only a tragedy if that’s all that happens, and the second half – when taken in context – isn’t really a comedy as much as the second half of the hero’s journey.
So instead, I’m going to break apart the hero’s journey into the three-part system I’ve outlined above, and propose that each of the other three story structures are missing one of the steps.
The tragedy is missing the resurrection and ascent, as the hero never returns from the underworld. The descent into the underworld is perhaps not in answer to the call to adventure, and is instead a fall or stumble into chaos. The death, too, is not embraced voluntarily. In any case, there is no resurrection in the tragedy, and the death is final.
The comedy is missing the transformational death. The protagonist never really needs to change something fundamental about themselves. There is no treasure recovered. Nothing is lost. Nothing gained.
The horror is missing the descent from normalcy. The thing that arises from the underworld was never a hero at all, or at least isn’t a hero any more. But it emerges none the less, clawing up, like a zombie from the grave, or a terror from the black depths of the ocean. What the monster brings from the underworld is not treasure, but corruption, dragging the known and the normal into the underworld with it.
So, that’s it! I looked around the internet a bit and didn’t find anyone else proposing this particular conceptualization. So, figured I’d just share it. It seems to fit the gross structure anyway. Hopefully you’ll find it useful in your writing!