THE HERO'S JOURNEY (05-07)
THE HERO'S CHALLENGE AND TRIAL (08-09)
THE HERO IN ROMANTIC LOVE (17-18)
THE HERO'S TRANSFORMATION THROUGH SACRIFICE (38)
THE HERO'S QUEST FULFILLED (56-60)
Author's Note: The author thanks Cath Bard for her beta reading and comments, and also the Xenites at the Tavern Wall message board for all their encouragement. In addition, the author found this book very helpful: THE HERO WITH A THOUSAND FACES by Joseph Campbell, 1949, Bollingen Foundation, Princeton University Press.
Xena goes Norse in the Norse Trilogy.
 Early in the sixth season, the directors, writers, and producers who bring us XENA: WARRIOR PRINCESS, and who are collectively known as The Powers That Be (TPTB), presented a three-episode arc consisting of THE RHEINGOLD (119/607), THE RING (120/608), and THE RETURN OF THE VALKYRIE (121/609). Initially the Xenaverse fans called these episodes "The Ring Trilogy", referring to the rumors that they were based loosely on Wagner's epic opera "Der Ring des Nibelungen." When it was revealed that the stories would also include the 11th century Old English poem characters Beowulf and Grendel plus a spattering of other Germanic and Norse legends, many started calling it "The Norse Arc." Now that the episodes have aired it is easy to see why many Xenites are just referring to it as "The Romantic Arc."
 Be forewarned that TPTB did not follow strict historical form. They never have and likely never will. Why bother now? This story arc threw together Beowulf, Grendel, Odin, Brunhilda, Grinhilda, and a few Rheinmaidens along with a touch of the Brothers Grimm, and some fiery drama ala operatic Wagner spiced with a pinch of Tolkien. Moreover, of course, a generous helping of our two favorite Greek warriors to add all the sugar and spice. Stirred all together they created a wonderful hybrid mix of myth and fairy tale that was a hallmark of XENA episodes.
 Into this stew, they tossed not only interesting characters with a good plot, but also the makings for classic romantic tales: heroes and knights, maidens and monsters, true love and sacrifice, and magic and enchantment. The result was a remarkable display that continued to show us just how close Xena and Gabrielle were and just how much they meant to one another.
 Cleverly, TPTB refrained from telling us exactly how close the warrior and bard were and instead demonstrated their bond by offering up situations to test their loving resolve. When Xena and Gabrielle passed through every challenge successfully, it was clear that these two were loving partners in every sense of the word. Despite hardship, rivals, magic, and godly interference, their love prevailed.
The Hero's Journey
 One of the greatest powers of myth is that, as a living story, it grows and changes as it is retold to the peoples who want to learn its teachings. In viewing the XENA: WARRIOR PRINCESS Romantic Arc, it appears that the urge to tell the classic hero's story is still very much alive. By the positive reaction these episodes have received, it is evident that people have a deep yearning to hear such tales. TPTB have given us wonderfully updated versions of the ancient hero myth to which many of us can better relate.
 In his 1949 classic study of the mythic hero, THE HERO WITH A THOUSAND FACES, Joseph Campbell described the hero's journey and transformation story arc. Campbell was able to trace this story of the archetypal hero through most of the mythologies of the world. The journey, from its inception through its completion, followed a cycle of steps, many of which were present in this XENA trilogy. These steps will be very familiar to anyone that has heard myths or fairy tales throughout their lives.
 These are the steps of the classic cycle we see within the Romantic Arc: the call to adventure, tests, the appearance of helpers, triumph, return, and the resolution which restores balance to the world.
The Hero's Challenge and Trial
Xena meets Odin.
 The classic Hero's journey begins as a call to adventure that will be thick with perilous battles and impossible challenges. The end goal of the mission is the winning of the hero's much deserved reward. The prize can be kingdoms, riches, or fame. Sometimes the rewards are less material, such as freedom, redemption, love, or a spiritual rebirth.
 The primary effects of the hero's journey are sacrifice, transformation, and a return of balance to the troubled world. These effects are as important, if not more so, than the winning of the primary goal, for in that transformation and personal sacrifice, the hero learns her life lessons and of what her heart and soul are made. To paraphrase the Greek poet Constantine Cavafy's "Ithaca": The arrival at Ithaca is not the reward, but instead the true reward is the journey itself.
 Xena's mission of seeking her own redemption by fighting for the greater good has been a long and arduous journey. This has become her daily life. Here she is again trying to clean up her foul past by destroying an evil ring of power and ridding the troubled countryside of a rampaging beast. She is responsible for the forging of both the ring and the monster. Her struggle to right these wrongs seems so impossible as to be suicidal.
 Anticipating a bloody end, Xena leaves her partner, Gabrielle, behind when she sets out on her mission. Tall, dark, and dangerous is still a little dim when it comes to thinking she is leaving Gabrielle behind just because she departed alone on some fatal mission. It is very sweet of Xena to want to save her love from a dire fate, but she has tried this several times before and it did not work.
 Although she may not mark herself as such, Gabrielle is a hero in her own right. While she is not seeking out rings or monsters, she is a warrior for the greater good who has adopted one of the most perilous missions of all: to travel at Xena's side. What Gabrielle knows, and we know, but Xena is still learning, is that Xena is Gabrielle's mission.
 Xena has attempted to keep her partner safe by leaving her behind, but that hardly breaks Gabrielle's stride when it comes to denying her partner's wishes and following after her. Gabrielle has always had a stubborn streak. This doggedness combined with her unconditional love for her partner will be a good quality for Xena in the coming perils.
 We do not know much about Beowulf, where he came from, or what will become of him. More is learned of him through his behavior as the story progresses. He is like Xena in that he does not bend his knee before gods. Pragmatic and a realist, Beowulf understands this journey may end with his death, however, he is too noble not to fight the odds.
 A monster no one can stop, except perhaps the very demon who made it, is slaughtering his kin and comrades. Strong, quiet, dignified, honorable, and out for bloody revenge, he travels miles and miles to find Xena. He lays the broken lock of Odin before her, challenging her to return to a distant land and fight a creature that will most likely slay the both of them.
Brunnhilda and Gabrielle have a heart-to- heart.
 Brunhilda is a Valkyrie, a skilled warrior, and an admirer of Xena's - the Xena of old, that is: the slash and burn Destroyer of Nations Xena. Brunhilda plunges headlong into this hero's adventure as a co-conspirator with Xena's enemies. Despite her admiration for Xena, it is clear that Brunhilda will gladly betray her hero when it comes time to answer her own call to destiny. What Brunhilda cannot know is that call will take on a form she never imagined.
The Hero in Romantic Love
 Such is the stuff that makes up classic romantic tales. A stunningly beautiful, righteous woman steals the hearts of the noble knights. They fall all over themselves to, if not win her heart, then at least prove themselves worthy of her unrequited love by fighting and dying not only for her but for the causes she believes in. After test and trial, one true heart rises above all the rest. The maiden and the knight join in their sacred love forever after.
 In classic fairy tale style, Gabrielle, a sweet young bard from Poteidaia, has everybody falling at her feet: Beowulf, Brunhilda, and Xena. If Grendel had not been on such a rampage, he would have loved her, too. She captures their hearts by being brave, true, gentle, persistent, deadly in battle and faithful in her love for Xena. True to her unassuming nature, Gabrielle is blissfully unaware of the two new hearts melting in her wake. Moreover, her handsome new suitors are made of some noble stuff.
 The primary goal in this cycle of stories appears to be Xena again seeking atonement. As the tale progresses, a secondary goal for both Xena and Gabrielle emerges: the preservation of their loving bond. The two goals are thoroughly woven together as Xena is incapable of striving for redemption without the guiding love of Gabrielle.
 Intrepid, heroic, commanding, and clever, the best warrior on the planet is still seeking to believe herself worthy in Gabrielle's eyes. It has taken awhile but Xena is starting to see that she is deserving of Gabrielle's love and it is not just a passing phase on the bard's part. Xena always looks a little surprised when Gabrielle makes a heart-felt declaration of love to her. Maybe now she will give up that irritating habit of slipping away and realize that Gabrielle will follow her anywhere, at any time, for any reason.
 For her part, Xena's love for Gabrielle is forever engraved on her heart. She will do anything for Gabrielle. We see the final evidence of this truth when Xena sacrifices herself to keep the ring from Odin's hand thus protecting her partner from danger.
 After the ring makes her a mere shadow of her former self and Xena can no longer remember Gabrielle, she is nevertheless visited by visions of her soulmate. While Xena thinks that perhaps she is going mad, she stills sees that the young woman loved her very much. The specter declares, "I am lost without you", and "I am the truth of who you are". It is not exactly clear whether these visions are Xena's subconscious memories seeping through or astral projections from her sleeping soulmate. Whatever they are, they mark how much Xena and Gabrielle are one with the other.
Beowulf is a manly sort of man.
 Beowulf is the classic hardy warrior. Most likely, he has never laid eyes on someone quite like Gabrielle before. Female warriors certainly seem to be around the North countries, but this foreigner with the special spark intrigues him. He is stricken by her beauty after just a minute in her company. Then there is that ever-present specter of impending doom that makes the lovely bard especially attractive.
 Beowulf is strongly silent in his love. He catches on to what is between Xena and Gabrielle. Rather than disrupt that relationship, he becomes Gabrielle's valiant knight and Xena's comrade in arms. He wants to rid the countryside of Grendel and fights hard with Xena to that end. He shows what he is really made of when he starts to risk his life not only for Gabrielle but also for the woman that Gabrielle loves.
 When Xena understands that Beowulf is having feelings for her partner, she does not even broach the subject and shows not a hint of jealousy. She seems a bit surprised at first, but then it is as if such an attraction is perfectly acceptable. Beowulf's behavior has not changed for the worse. If anything, he will fight harder now spurred on by chaste romantic love. Xena knows that story well.
 Beowulf delivers Xena back to the enchanted Gabrielle so that she might revive her. He has tried it already himself when he believed Xena was dead. Then, it was only right to attempt the rescue the woman he loves.
 In the end, all he will receive for his dedication will be Gabrielle's smile, a heartfelt embrace, and the pleasure of kissing her hand. Despite whatever he may feel inside, this outward display of affection must be enough. For a gallant knight such as Beowulf, who is well aware of the situation for which he has given his heart, it will be enough.
 In the end, Brunhilda is just as noble as Beowulf, but she takes the scenic route to becoming a Knight of the Bard. She is a tad fanatical and selfish. Unlike Beowulf, Brunhilda has no problem muscling in between the two soulmates. Xena does an instant assessment of Gabrielle's female suitor and smells a rat. Interestingly, again Xena is less concerned that the rat is after her bard and more concerned that the rat is not who she claims to be. The last time a blonde warrior went after Xena's bard and hid her true purpose, Xena lost a good chewing tooth and many people had a very bad day. It would be wise not to push Xena's jealousy button. Ugly things could happen.
 Brunhilda's first meeting with Xena is a bit of a shock. This Xena is not the one that she has made a study of. Xena is a changed woman. She fights for the greater good now. Gabrielle has changed Xena's heart. Brunhilda is starting to see what a dynamic and stalwart love Gabrielle embodies. Not only is this young Greek incredibly beautiful, she is also mysteriously powerful. What kind of a love could change the Destroyer of Nations into a valiant champion for good?
 As Brunhilda's understanding of Xena changes, so does her appraisal of what she thought Gabrielle loved in Xena. She is surprised to find that Gabrielle's partner is not just a rough, cunning, bloodthirsty warlord. Brunhilda is going to have to change her tune if she wants a chance at the bard. At first she imagines she is going to win Gabrielle by fighting Xena to the death, like Gabrielle is going to be turned on by the prowess of a beautiful, leather clad warrior who can slice up the best rivals. Well, OK. Gabrielle does have a thing for leather, muscle, and steel, but you start to lose her quickly when it comes to pointless fighting.
 This greater good stuff takes a bit to sink in, but once it does Brunhilda is a quick study. She tells Gabrielle that she is changed by her love for her. In addition, it is not just empty words. She knows that only strong magic can keep Gabrielle and the ring safe from Odin and the Valkyrie. She makes the ultimate sacrifice of herself with a clever spell. By becoming a surrounding wall of flame that only Gabrielle's soulmate can penetrate, Brunhilda not only protects the woman she loves but saves Gabrielle for her only True Love.
 When that True Love comes at last to retrieve Gabrielle, Brunhilda lets her, and only her, pass into the encircling flame to awaken that love. With the two soulmates reunited, Brunhilda no longer need fear for her love's safety. Brunhilda has kept her vow to Gabrielle and in doing so has ennobled herself.
Gabrielle is caught in the middle. Again.
 Meanwhile, the object of everyone's desire only has eyes for one woman. Gabrielle wishes to be at Xena's side forever. She believes in her partner with an undying faith that leaves no room for doubt or hesitation. After all they have struggled through together, Gabrielle knows, trusts, feels, lives, and breathes Xena. The young bard will be all and do all, all for Xena's sake.
 She willingly follows on Xena's heels into this adventure. Her love for Xena drives her forward when others tarry or waver. Her persistence rewards her, and once she finds Xena again, she refuses to part from her side despite all dangers. Only when Brunhilda forcefully rips her away from Xena is Gabrielle separated from her love. First chance she gets, she lights out in Xena's direction like a magnet pulled to north.
 Brunhilda interrupts Gabrielle's return to Xena to say that her love is true. Gabrielle stands amazed at first, but then it is time to get back to Xena. Wait, Brunhilda wants Gabrielle to reconsider who she loves. Gabrielle looks at her like Brunhilda is nuts. No, Brunhilda wants to prove it to Gabrielle. Gabrielle tells her to get a life. Time to find Xena.
 Unfortunately, she does not get to Xena in time and fate steps in. This sets the stage for yet another classic romantic scene to be played out in Xena's chapter of the love story: the True Lover, tested by time and by fire, risks all to retrieve the woman of her heart's desire.
 Deep in an enchanted sleep, protected by Brunhilda's flame, Gabrielle awaits her love's return. Even in that deathlike sleep, she dreams that Xena will return for her. As the legend of her waiting grows, men become enamored of her beauty and wish to free her from her plight. Even Beowulf bears the scars of his attempt. Lords and knights imagine themselves worthy enough to break the spell and claim the Lady of The Ring. Of course, none can, and several die in their foolish ventures. The missing soulmate needed to rescue the sleeping beauty is off getting married in Denmark.
The Hero's Transformation Through Sacrifice
 The hero's transformation is a critical step in the mythic cycle. Only in that change can the ordinary person become the extraordinary hero who wields the mystical power or the magical tools that will lead to triumph. The transformation may be physical (death, disfigurement, shape- changing), spiritual (divination, enlightenment, sexual union with the God/Goddess), or mental (expansion of consciousness, attainment of wisdom).
The production staff affectionately dubbed the monster "woody".
 In the heat of battle, caught between Grinhilda, Odin, and the Valkyries, Xena makes a fateful decision in the hopes of saving Gabrielle from Odin's wrath. She chooses to slip the ring onto her finger and momentary claim its godlike powers to defeat her enemies before the ring can destroy the things she values most in her life: her love for Gabrielle and the woman she herself has become.
 Xena knows the risks of her actions, but her determination to protect her true love is stronger than her willingness to protect herself. Nevertheless, her timing is off and she cannot remove the ring before its evil power takes its toll. In the transformation, Xena not only loses her love of Gabrielle and all of her memories, she loses her Self as well. Their shared love and its effects were the very things that held her heart and mind together.
 Now a shadow of her former self, Xena wanders aimlessly until Hrothgar of Denmark takes her in. Beowulf finds her by chance one year later, on the day of her wedding. Later Xena will refer to her life here as dreamlike. Disturbing visions of her former life invade her waking moments. She feels Gabrielle's presence but does not realize who she is. She is loath to consummate her marriage. While she distracts herself with worthy service to Hrothgar's people, she knows that some important piece of her is missing.
 After a misunderstanding requires that Xena leave her new husband, Beowulf takes her back to the ring of fire that surrounds Gabrielle. Here Xena chooses to make a potentially suicidal sacrifice for a woman whom she sees as a complete stranger. She hears encouraging words from Brunhilda's fiery form in the flames and after penetrating the wall of fire, and cutting away the overgrown thorns, kneels beside the sleeping Lady Of The Ring. She is mysteriously drawn to kiss the beautiful woman and in that tender kiss reawakens her true Self.
 Xena is transformed again, this time back to the warrior complete with memories of her love for Gabrielle. The shadows are now brought into the light, and she is complete within herself. Gabrielle is the touchstone of Xena's consciousness. The other half of Xena's lost soul, Gabrielle is the path that leads the warrior back to her true Self.
 In this trilogy, despite a transformation which leaves her, asleep for a year, Gabrielle's sacrifices cause her little change. Moreover, she is the catalyst of change in others. The other heroes: Xena, Beowulf, and Brunhilda all experience profound change due to their relationship with Gabrielle.
 She will give up family, home, creature comforts, and her very life if need be to make her Way with Xena. Xena takes Gabrielle's sacrifices personally and occasionally has bouts of guilt and regret for what her partner must go through. However, Gabrielle makes it all very clear that it is her choice, and she is of a single mind to travel her life's path with Xena. No matter the cost. No matter the cost. Repeat after me: NO MATTER THE COST.
 After knowing her for only a short while, Brunhilda correctly observes that Gabrielle will gladly pay any price for staying at Xena's side. Her price paid in this story is to become the enchanted protector of the ring. With the ring resting in her palm, she sleeps and waits. She will wait an eternity if required. When at last Xena comes for her, she is transformed from the Lady of the Ring and reawakened into Gabrielle.
 Gabrielle takes on a transformation steeped in symbolism and meaning when she becomes the sleeping Lady of the Ring. In his book, THE HERO WITH A THOUSAND FACES, Joseph Campbell writes of this familiar mythic figure who is seen in many tales:"She is the paragon of beauty, the reply to all desire, the bliss-bestowing goal of every hero's earthly and unearthly quest. She is mother, sister, mistress, and bride. Whatever in the world has lured, whatever has seemed to promise joy, has been premonitory of her existence-in the deep of sleep, if not in the cities and forests of the world. For she is the incarnation of the promise of perfection; the soul's assurance that, at the conclusion of its exile in a world of organized inadequacies, the bliss that once was known will be known again; the comforting, the nourishing, the "good" mother-young and beautiful-who was known to us, and even tasted, in the remotest past."
 It is remarkable how closely Campbell's assessment of the sleeping woman matches what Gabrielle symbolizes. Xena's successful quest of waking this lady will result in the reunion of the exiled soulmates and restore their loving bond.
 He is a warrior protector. He does not act foolishly, but it is evident that he is more than willing to risk his life for others. To protect his kith, he accompanies Xena to battle Grendel and Grinhilda. He fights off Valkyries, Vikings, and raises a sword against Odin himself.
 When he loses his heart to Gabrielle, he spends a year of his life seeking any possible way to free her from the enchantment that imprisons her. On the hand that dared touch Brunhilda's protective flame, he will bear the scars of his love forever. Despite his true heart, it is not enough to rescue Gabrielle.
 Unlike others who also seek the ring, his wish is purely for Gabrielle's welfare. He proves this when he returns Xena to Gabrielle's side. He forsakes his long friendship with Hrothgar, travels across the sea, and receives a horrendous wound from Grinhilda, all for the sake of a woman he knows can never return his love.
 At the end of the journey, Beowulf is older, wiser, scarred, and secure in the knowledge that his nobility is in tact. His is a living example to his younger sidekick of courage and strength. He never brags or discusses his feeling for the Lady of the Ring. She is a memory of the heart that he will carry forever.
 No one else in the story can beat out Brunhilda's extreme transformation and sacrifice. She starts out in the story as a covert agent of Odin, bent on betraying Xena and Gabrielle so that Odin might seize the ring. Unexpectedly, she finds herself in love with Gabrielle. At first, she imagines that she can wrench Gabrielle away from Xena, evade Odin, and then they can create a love together. When Gabrielle gives her a reality check, Brunhilda discovers what it means to truly love and what sacrifices that love will require of her.
 Gabrielle's effect on Brunhilda is no less than magical. The Valkyrie now chooses to give her life for love, completely, and unselfishly. Using the power taught to her by Odin, she creates for Gabrielle an eternal sanctuary of flame formed from her very life force. With the ring grasped in her hand, Gabrielle falls into an enchanted sleep from which only her soulmate can awaken her.
 Brunhilda proves true to her word and holds back all intruders save one. She recognizes Xena as the one with whom Gabrielle should be. "The love within you burns brighter than any flame," she tells the soulmate. She allows Xena passage to awaken Gabrielle. Then Brunhilda's flame force weakens and much of her energy is sucked into the ring. When Gabrielle departs, Brunhilda's disembodied voice bids her, "Gods' speed." Although she may not actually be dead, Brunhilda is transformed forever.
The Hero's Quest Fulfilled
Gabrielle and Xena escape from the Norse mythos. Or do they?
 After Xena is restored to herself, she then defeats the Monster Grinhilda not by evoking the power of the ring but by revoking it. About to be crushed to death in Grinhilda's lethal embrace, Xena begs her to look into her own heart for the woman she once was and to forgive Xena for her trespasses against her.
 Just as Xena was restored to the woman she once was, granting Xena forgiveness also restores Grinhilda. Her transformation shatters the powerful spell of the ring, and it reverts to the golden ingot it was before Xena forged it with evil intent. Grinhilda is returned to Valhalla and Odin's side. Here her love will restore the goodness in the once good god soured by Xena's old betrayal. Her honor will teach the Valkyrie a better way.
 With Gabrielle at her side, Xena retraces her steps to the watery abode of the Rheinmaidens. The nymphs are afraid at Xena's appearance and then in turn amazed for they see she returns the magical Rheingold into their care. When they wonder at what magic could cause such a transformation in Xena's heart, Xena replies that it is not magic at all. She turns to her partner and it is clear that her love for Gabrielle is the inspiration for her change. Balance is at last restored.
 In the end, this hero myth teaches that good character will achieve a satisfactory end. Although not all the heroes survived, all will forever feel the effects of the adventure. It is shown that the noble qualities of love, courage, and forgiveness will weigh out against evils fiercest rage.
 The Romantic Arc presents a cast of heroes who prove to be a perfectly matched set. All moving in a dance together, they attain those goals which would have been impossible without each other. At numerous junctions in the story, had any of the heroes lost heart or proved false, the consequences would have been dire. Xena, that stoic lone wolf, never needed so much help from so few of such fine character.
The author lives and fly fishes in Northern California. When not obsessing about Xena and Gabrielle, she fantasies about Tolkien's Middle Earth. When stuck in reality, she pursues the hobbies of reading, studying history, birding, gardening and various handicrafts. She does have to work for a living, but that is not worthy of discussion.
Favorite episodes: A DAY IN THE LIFE (39/215); THE IDES OF MARCH 89/421); BEEN THERE, DONE THAT (48/302); THE BITTER SUITE (58/312)
Favorite line: The line where it all started - Gabrielle: "You have to take me with you and teach me everything you know." SINS OF THE PAST (01/101).
First episode seen: THE QUEST (37/213)
Least favorite episode: KEY TO THE KINGDOM (78/410)