Jack Scully, the protagonist in last year’s blockbuster Avatar, is a virgin, says screenwriting theorist Kim Hudson.
Well, not exactly a literal virgin, but an archetypal virgin akin to innocent young women found in ancient fairy tales and modern films.
“In Avatar, Jack Sully is told what the values are and he doesn’t fit in,” said Hudson, 49, in a phone interview from Vancouver.
“So he’s trying to reframe himself and he actually has to sell his soul a little bit in order to fit in, but he learns, eventually, that he needs to be himself and to know what his values are and stand up for that.
“And that’s his virgin’s journey.”
This may not have been what director James Cameron had in mind. But then again, the unintentional application of mythical archetypes is crucial to their use.
Universal archetypes, first described in modern psychology by Carl Jung, are embedded deep in your mind and exist in stories in cultures around the world, so the theory goes. They’re powerful because they speak to eternal human problems and, most notably, a person’s search for a concept of self.
They help unwitting people understand life’s challenges.
Hudson, who grew up in Whitehorse and moved back this summer, just published The Virgin’s Promise: Writing Stories of Feminine Creative, Spiritual and Sexual Awakening, a work seeking to fuse the theory of universal archetypes in the Jungian tradition, and their usefulness in moviemaking, with another myth: the virgin’s journey.
Think Cinderella, Little Red Riding Hood and Bend it Like Beckham. Or Pretty Woman, Billy Elliot and even Rocky.
All these films tell essentially the same tale: a character’s exploration of their self by confronting their community’s expectations of themselves and, eventually, changing the community’s values – or what they think of the character.
In mythology studies, the virgin archetype is also called the maiden or the princess. But Hudson chose virgin because it’s gender-neutral.
“We all need to have the creative, the spiritual and the sexual awakening that creates a boundary between who we are and who everyone wants us to be,” she said.
But a feminine connotation is intentional, since the virgin’s journey is an exploration of the feminine in both males and females.
“(The journey) is generally in the realm of her home because it’s her relationship with herself,” said Hudson. “It’s her interior world that she has to work out. The voices in your head are given by the people around her – she has to overcome her fear of going against her father, essentially.”
Conversely, we all have a masculine side. But the search for self on that side – called the hero’s journey – is much more well-known.
“The place where the hero needs to create his boundaries is in the physical world,” she said. “He goes to a foreign land, he picks up tools and, through his bravery, learns to conquer evil and keep the village safe. Whereas the virgin usually stays in the domestic realm.
“The boundaries she creates are within herself. She doesn’t go out and conquer anything or kill anything off or change the physical world that much.
“So, basically the hero is an external journey who goes out and changes the physical world to make it safe whereas the virgin’s is an internal journey where she changes the beliefs, the way people look at her or the place of the individual in the community.
“The hero complex is leaving the mother – can I exist apart from this nurturing environment? The virgin is overcoming the father complex which is, ‘Can I hold an opinion that is separate from my father’s opinion and still be lovable.’”
Hudson says she spent most of her life exploring her masculine side.
The daughter of Yukon Supreme Court judge Buzz Hudson, and a Whitehorse resident through childhood, Hudson was drawn to the wilderness.
While studying geology and biology, she spent her summers working in bush camps in northern Ontario and British Columbia. After completing a master’s degree at Queen’s University, she took her last $17,000, bought a truck in Whitehorse and went prospecting in the mountains near Dawson City.
“That’s basically the masculine journey – to face your fear of death, the unknown, to know that you can survive in the physical world,” she said.
In popular culture, the hero’s journey is well-trodden ground.
Drawing on Jung’s theory of universal archetypes buried in the human unconsciousness, American mythologist Joseph Campbell popularized the concept of the hero’s journey with his 1949 book The Hero with a Thousand Faces, a retelling of classical hero myths with an emphasis on the similarity of embedded themes across ancient cultures.
Campbell’s influence was widespread, but most notably in film. George Lucas wrote the script for Star Wars along the lines of the hero’s journey outlined in Campbell’s book. The science-fiction trilogy’s popularity drew more screenwriters to the idea fundamental storytelling concepts exist and they can be found in classical mythology and be retold through modern art forms.
Christopher Vogler, a Hollywood executive, took it a step further and wrote The Writer’s Journey, a guide for screenwriters looking to deepen their creations with mythical archetypes.
Now Hudson has created her own guide but with a focus on the virgin archetype.
Her hunch Campbell had missed a theme came from the experience of giving birth to two daughters a few years ago.
“It brought me in touch with the nurturing side – the connection with nature, the joy of just being rather than just doing,” said Hudson.
“It was a time of also going inside and learning about my relationship with myself. As you give more and more to your kids, it causes you to ask who am I to me. That’s what the virgin’s journey is about.”
Hudson felt a new inner trajectory – a new power animating her life – around the same time she began taking courses at the Vancouver Film School. She was made to read Campbell on the first day.
“I remember being overcome by this material,” she said.
But something was missing. The hero’s journey didn’t cover another form of individuation – or emergence of the self – that she was experiencing. And she began to see the same story in movies both new and old.
After studying at a Jungian school in Switzerland, her theory began to emerge.
While both the hero and the virgin seek their true selves, the hero does it by overcoming their own fear and, essentially, being selfless in an unknown land. The virgin learns to be self-fulfilling.
“That’s a major dividing point between the two,” she said.
And the hero has a clear goal while the virgin insouciantly changes her behaviour without a clear idea of where they’ll end up.
“Billy Elliot didn’t’ start with ‘I’m going to be the lead role in Swan Lake; he just said he had to dance.”
The virgin’s journey is mostly found in fairy tales, not myths, she said.
The difference is that fairy tales lack the outward-looking story arc of grand myths, and they’ve usually been reserved for the exploration of the feminine, her book says. While ancient patriarchal societies place greater power on the hero-driven myths, feminine fairy tales have a long history too, she said.
Some feminists have accused her of endorsing feminine stereotypes, she said.
“I do get some backlash, particularly on the rescue aspect, and that’s an innate part of the feminine journey.”
The rescue, one of the universal themes in the virgin’s journey, involves the hero saving the virgin.
“It’s not a journey for women, but for the feminine in all of us,” she said.
“From the hero’s point of view, the rescue is proving that he’s brave. But from the virgin’s point of view, the rescue is someone from her community recognizing that previously they were trying to shape her into someone she wanted to be, and now she proves she has an innate value, like a virgin forest.
“One is recognized for her own value and she is recognized in her community. The feminine is always relational.”
The virgin’s story is often enmeshed with a hero’s journey and sometimes only elements of it exist. Hudson’s hope is that her book, which describes the journey in over a dozen steps, will help screenwriters use the archetype more professionally to make stories more compelling.
“(The virgin’s journey) is fundamental to the human condition,” she said. “We will all go through the challenges and follow the arc of the virgin.
“Whenever someone stands up for themselves, the virgin archetype comes out.”
Contact James Munson at