For men, the typical adventurous journey recounted in fairy tale and epic is a prelude to and an embodiment of the amorous quest; the male must establish his masculine identity before he is internally free to love. In the archetypal adventure the hero, alone, sets out somewhat innocently, unaware of the immense tests he will inevitably face. The hero, like the lover, is often looking for something lost—magic sword or Holy Grail (his full phallic strength, perhaps)—or he is bent on defeating an evil dragon or confronting other grave dangers (to self or country, king or maiden). The danger he faces is externalized. It is not Father who presents the problem but the dragon.
In real-life love, too, the lover encounters much that is strange, mysterious, even threatening and therefore exciting, on his journey. He, too, must test his mettle. In order to possess the Other, he must confront certain prohibitions and demons. But unlike the hero, whose demons are found in the external world, the lover's demons are frequently found to reside in his own unconscious. Just as the hero, confronted by external demons, draws on the magic of the sorcerer, so too the lover, whose demons are within, must fight using those internal resources that have been given him—positive identifications and the benevolent images of good parents—as a legacy of growing up.
Just as the heroine confronts and resolves certain basic psychological conflicts, so too does our hero. But the boy's inner psychological journey of separation, individuation, Oedipal thrust, and ultimate reunion is somewhat different from the girl's. The problem of obtaining nurturance does not appear to loom as large for men. And why should it? Women are socialized and psychologically groomed to give nurturance, men to receive it. The hero's problems have more to do with establishing his masculinity; with the potential threat of castration by another male, a father "competitor"; with devising strategies for defeating the father competitor and taking his place; and with the question of whether or not he is powerful enough to fulfill—fill up—a woman.
The nature of the male Oedipal conflict, and of the abiding male fears of competition and castration, are too well established to require more than brief note here. By and large, most psychoanalytic accounts of male-development focus on the boy's struggle with his father, as do the heroic accounts of male adventure. But one must also take into account the primary impact of the mother-son relationship at different points in the boy's development. Too often the female has been portrayed more as a prize than as a protagonist in the developmental process.
Two very different images of women run through male fantasy life: woman as temptress, seductress, femme fatale, and woman as nurturer, comforter, eternal mother. In the first category are images of the sirens, of the Bride of Darkness and the Whore of Babylon, of Medusa, Delilah, Carmen, and Cleopatra. In the second category are the Muses, Lady Luck, Beatrice, the pure Virgin, and Lotte, whom Werther first sees distributing bread to children. In Frank R. Stockton's short story "The Lady or the Tiger?" the hero's life hinges on whether his beloved is a loving, self-sacrificing woman who will try to save him by relinquishing him to another woman, or a serpent-woman who will let him go to his death rather than let another woman have him.