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"Tell me, who gives a good goddamn?
You’ll never get out alive!
Don’t go dreaming, don’t go scheming
A man must test his mettle
In a crooked ol' world
Starving in the belly, starving in the belly
Starving in the belly of a whale!"
— Tom Waits
, Starving in the Belly of a Whale
This, as denoted in The Hero with a Thousand Faces
, is the conclusion of the Initiation, the first phase of The Hero's Journey
: "The hero, instead of conquering or conciliating the power of the threshold
, is swallowed into the unknown, and would appear to have died." There is no turning back
from this point. This is The Hero
's point of no return where he resigns himself to the difficult task ahead. Forward march to the Road Of Trials!
It may not be entirely pleasant
— there's a reason Campbell compares it with dying. It is often the moment of greatest personal
danger for the hero. The Hero
can move forward by defeating the Threshold Guardians
, but also by being destroyed by them.
For tropes about actual stomachs, try Fantastic Voyage Plot
, Swallowed Whole
, Ribcage Stomach
, or Womb Level
Anime & Manga
Films — Animated
- The battle in the Cathedral in Claymore, Clare comes close falling and becoming a Youma herself, but ultimately pulls back and from that point on is all but immune to turning.
- In Chrono Crusade after the events on the "Marionette Train", when the True Companions are sent down the path towards Aion.
- After Kamina's death in Tengen Toppa Gurren Lagann, Simon falls in despair and is functionally useless until he meets Nia and has to save the rest of his True Companions.
- The Eclipse and its aftermath serve as this in Berserk. His best friend turned betrayer, his comrades dead, and his lover gone insane, Guts accepts that nothing would ever be the same again and takes on the quest to slay apostles, even remarking to himself that he is going into the void all alone.
- In Fullmetal Alchemist Edward and Alphonse Elric burning down their childhood home marks this for them, as the declared that there was no turning back on their quest to get their original bodies back.
- A surprisingly literal example happens in Attack on Titan when Eren gets nommed by a titan on his first mission. While he's inside its stomach, he discovers his titan shifting powers which prove to be a game changer for humanity's side.
Films — Live-Action
- Like the Biblical story of Jonah, the title character in Pinocchio literally heads into a whale's belly, in order to rescue his father Geppetto.
- Anakin's was when he travelled to Coruscant and became determined to become a Jedi, which set him off on his course.
- And Luke's was when he boarded the Death Star.
- The Matrix: After Neo swallows the red pill and awakes in his battery pod outside the matrix.
Religion, Mythology, and Folklore
- C. S. Lewis's The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe: When the Pevensies resolve to stay in Narnia and find Mr. Tumnus instead of returning home, which sets them on the road to save the world.
- In The Book of Three of the Chronicles of Prydain this corresponds to Taran's imprisonment in Spiral Castle.
- In The Wheel of Time, Rand must enter a series of archways to learn the history of his true native people, the Aiel. If he stops or turns back at any point during this journey, he will never return.
- In Tad Williams's Memory Sorrow And Thorn, Simon's first journey beneath the tunnels of the Hayholt on the heels of his mentor's Heroic Sacrifice is the point where his journey becomes irrevocable. It also includes the literal metaphor of being "swallowed up" by the earth, followed by his emergence, alone, starving, and companionless.
- In The Quest for Saint Camber, Kelson and Dhugal are swept away in a mudslide and washed into an underground cave system behind a waterfall. They follow the cavernous tunnels looking for an escape route and are forced to break into the tombs of the Servants of Saint Camber (who have been in hiding for two centuries due to the anti-Deryni persecutions) to escape. To avoid death sentences for despoiling the Servants' graves, Kelson must undergo a ritual trial called cruaidh-dheuchainn; he's sent naked into an underground chapel that has chemical fumes used to induce visions, and he must stay there overnight and report whether or not Camber visits him. After this, he's ready to return to his capital and face the task of taking his throne back from his cousin Conall.
- Cleanly marked in Harry Potter and the Philosopher's Stone: when Harry is on the Hogwarts Express, he thinks, "He didn't know where he was going... but it had to be better than what he was leaving behind."
- In the Whateley Universe, it's the moment when Ayla Goodkind leaves the 'normal' world and rides into Superhero School Whateley Academy. Given that 'Goodkind' means 'mutant-hating enemy' in this world, it's pretty much like someone named Hitler going to a university in Jerusalem.
- In Neverwhere, the Ordeal that Richard goes through. Other characters note that he seems more mature after passing it.
- In The Lord of the Rings: When the Fellowship enters Moria.
- And before that when Frodo agrees to be the ringbearer for the Fellowship's journey at the council of Elrond.
- In The Count of Monte Cristo, Edmond Dantès is initially a benign, trusting, and naive young man with a happy future ahead of him. Then he's falsely imprisoned. He initially hopes that he'll receive justice and return to his friends. But after four years, he realizes that he'll never be released. This is the trope-point where there is no going back to his old life, only ahead... It initially drives him to despair and a suicide attempt. But the unexpected arrival of a fellow prisoner, the remarkable Abbe Faria, turns his thoughts in a new direction, toward escape and revenge. This also marks a change in Dantès's character.
- The Biblical story of Jonah in the belly of the whale, where Jonah had no choice but to accept God's plans for him, is the Trope Namer (although the Hebrew word used in the Old Testament is fish "דג" NOT whale "לִוְיָתָן").
- In The Odyssey, after Ulysses/Odysseus is the sole survivor of a shipwreck and ends in Calypso's island.
- Arguably long before that. Since the time spent on Calypso's island is spent in the company of a bevy of beautiful women who want nothing more than to keep him there. The Belly of the Whale for Odysseus is pretty much the moment Agamemnon drafts him into the Trojan War; his life goes downhill from there for the next TWENTY YEARS (10 at war with Troy, 10 trying to get home but with a sizable chunk of time on Calypso's island). Looking at the events of the Odyssey, the moment of hubris in which infuriates Poseidon would probably count.
- Final Fantasy IV's Belly of the Whale is when Cecil is shipwrecked and washed up, all alone, near Mysidia, a city he had attacked and plundered before the start of the game. He has no choice now but to walk the road of atonement.
- In Baten Kaitos, after the first big Wham Episode, Xelha finds herself locked up alone in the Imperial Fortress. It's only with the help of the Guardian Spirit that she escapes. And more literally, Baten Kaitos is a star in the Cetus constellation. Yes, it is the belly of the whale.
- In The Legend of Zelda: A Link to the Past, this comes when he rescues Zelda from Agahnim and becomes a fugitive.
- In The Legend of Zelda: Ocarina of Time, when the Great Deku Tree dies and Link must leave the forest.
- And later when Link is sealed in the Sacred Realm for a seven-year coma, only to awaken to a Crapsack World in which he first thing he sees is a ReDead.
- In The Legend of Zelda: The Wind Waker, when the pirates first drop Link off at the Forsaken Fortress.
- Arguably it's immediately after his defeat at the Forsaken Fortress. When he's sent to the fortress, he's still an overconfident kid. After he was tossed into the ocean and rescued, THAT was when he wised up to what he really needed to do.
- In The Legend of Zelda: Twilight Princess, when Link finds himself turned into a wolf and locked in the twilit Hyrule Castle.
- In The Legend of Zelda: Majora's Mask, after the Happy Mask Salesman has taught him the Song of Healing and given him his quest.
- Sora from Kingdom Hearts does this twice. Once in the sub-journey that is the first game, when he separates his heart from his body, and again and more fitting of the trope in his series-long character arc when his heart is shattered entirely and he has to put it back together and heal before he gets another chance to pass the official Hero's Test Yen Sid was giving.
- The initiation ritual for a Liir joining the Black Swimmers in Sword of the Stars fits this to a tee. First, he goes through what is basically a funeral, where his loved ones circle him, sing to him, and touch him one last time. After he is handed over to the Black Swimmers, his lungs are filled with the oxygenated fluid that Liir warships use instead of atmosphere. To the recruit, this is very much like drowning, and indeed the first day of training is called "Drowning Day". After he has been reborn, not as a Liir, but as a Black Swimmer, he will undergo his military training.
- In Super Robot Wars Alpha and OG, Campbellian Hero archetype Ryusei Date's symbolic death and rebirth comes when he and the rest of the SRX team are forced to use their dangerous, untested Combining Mecha in the middle of battle and re-emerge as the gigantic Super Robot X.
- Cave Story has a memorable case. After the reasonably light-hearted adventuring through Grasstown and the Sand Zone, Quote sees Toroko die in front of him, and is cast into the Labyrinth by Misery.
- In Tower of God, the secret plot of Headon and Yu Han Sung requires 25th Baam to disappear from the face of the earth and the eyes of King Zahard. Apparently, it was most effective when he was killed by the person he was looking up to and searching for just when everybody thought it would be just fine. Not only is this a staged death, it is the final sladgehammer stroke that destroys Baam's innocence and replaces it with emotional emptiness.
- In Gunnerkrigg Court, this moment comes in chapter 7, when Antimony sees Robot S13 on the bridge and rushes out to help, knowing that she'll get in trouble for it. She then gets pushed off the bridge and spends the night trapped in the gorge.
- In The Inexplicable Adventures of Bob!, this happens to Bob in his very first story arc, when he is swallowed by a space monster. Fortunately, Earthlings turn out to be indigestible, and he punches the stomach wall until the monster upchucks him. More recently, he has lampshaded that his survival there was pure luck, and his way of getting out was just inspired by Pinnochio.
- Avatar: The Last Airbender : In "The Southern Air Temple," after Zuko's attack on the Southern Water Tribe forced Aang to accept his identity as the Avatar, Aang realizes "I really am the last Airbender," and he becomes aware of the danger of the Avatar State.
- 70 years later in The Legend of Korra, Aang's successor Korra manages to escape some Threshold Guardians (the Order of the White Lotus) and conciliate others (Lin Bei Fong and Tenzin) and finds herself firmly set in Republic City of Adventure.