Well, well, well. You all thought I was finished, did you? But, as I’m sure you’ve learned, in a good story the Hero go through a death and a rebirth! And so, my dear readers, this is not the end of this series. Not yet!
Today, we’re going to discuss the Archetypes. Archetypes are the basic character types that appear repeatedly in stories throughout history just as the Monomyth is the basic structure of stories. The most important thing to understand regarding archetypes is that each one is not a stiffly defined set of rules that a character must adhere to. Instead, think of archetypes more like a drawer full of character traits that can be pieced together to make a complete character. Just because our Mentor is our Mentor doesn’t mean she can’t have attributes that are more often related with other archetypes as well — even the villainous ones. Like the stages of the monomyth, you can mix and match, reorder and repurpose all of the archetypes. And like the stages of the monomyth, the more you understand their purpose, the more adept you’ll be at utilizing them and the more fun you can have with them.
In going through the stages of the monomyth, we’ve already encountered three of the archetypes — the Hero, the Mentor, and the Threshold Guardian. But, according to Vogler’s breakdown, there are five more. So let’s look at those.
Herald — This one is fairly straight-forward. The Herald is the character that provides the catalyst for the Hero to launch into adventure. It could be simply relaying news of war, death, or change. It could be a challenge or declaration. It could be a prophecy or an omen. Or a million other things. And already you should see that archetypes mix and match on their own. Think of Star Wars. Darth Vader is the first Herald in the story for the audience — he makes it known from the opening what the major threat is and sets things in motion by kidnapping Lea. But R2D2 also becomes a Herald, a more useful one, by bringing Lea’s message to Obi Wan and setting our heroes into action.
Shapeshifter — The Shapeshifter is most often referring to the character that changes purposes throughout the story either literally or figuratively. As the name would imply, the character often (but not always) goes through a physical transformation as well. So we have the kind, old woman who gives Snow White the gift of an apple. The old woman, of course, later shapeshifts into the witch and the sweet gift is actually a curse. We also have Cadel from David’s Winds of the Forelands series — an assassin who “shifts” into a traveling musician when it suits him best. And there’s even Gollum who physically shifts from an average hobbit into a twisted creature but also shifts mentally within himself many, many times, becoming both servant and enemy to Frodo. And since I’m sure many of you (including Faith) are thinking about Jane Yellowrock, I’d say that though she is obviously a literal shapeshifter, her connection to this archetype is limited to that. Her compass points the same direction throughout — kicking butt and saving the day. She is foremost the Hero. Leo is far more of a Shapeshifter in that we don’t often know (at first) if the things he does are good or bad for Jane, and he tends to change his purpose as it suits him. In Return of the Jedi, Darth Vader adds Shapeshifter to his list of archetypes when he turns away from evil by saving his son and then literally revealing his true face.
Shadow — This is the darkness in the story that haunts and challenges the Hero. Shadows create conflict and are a major spice to any tale. The most obvious Shadows are the villains of a story. So, Darth Vader is a Shadow. But any character can have a bit of Shadow in them and doing so often makes characters far more interesting. Jane Yellowrock has a Big Big Shadow named Beast. Not that Beast is evil. Shadows are not always bad things. But Beast puts demands on Jane that are often dark and at odds with her desires, so she must literally argue with herself to deal with the Shadow inside her. Misty’s Kestrel has numerous shadows to deal with — her crew being one that constantly causes her problems. And, in her pirating world, being both a woman and a magic-user become serious Shadows at different times.
Ally — This one is pretty self-explanatory. This is the character that aids the Hero (or the villain). Robin to Batman, Watson to Holmes, Dog to his Boy. And yes, Darth Vader is an Ally to the Emperor (and in death, he becomes an Ally to Luke).
Trickster — This archetype serves a few key purposes and falls on the shoulders of a character that causes mischief. That mischief either sets in motion serious change for the story or is simply comic relief. All the hobbits journeying with Frodo are tricksters at one point or another. One could argue that AJ’s Will Hawthorne is a bit of the classic Trickster Hero — a character who uses humor and mischief to save the day (and his own skin). But this is one part that ol’ Darth Vader does not partake in. He’s never comic relief, and he doesn’t play in mischief. He does cause serious change but it’s not through pranks, tricks (not traps), or other such deeds.
Like the monomyth stages, this is merely an overview of the archetypes. Each one has nuances and purposes larger than I have room to discuss here. Especially because each archetype encompasses not only the physical actions of a character but also the emotional content the type provides to the story. For those interested, I once again recommend both Campbell’s The Hero with a Thousand Faces and Vogler’s The Writer’s Journey. But at the very least, make sure to learn the lesson of Darth Vader — one character can be many archetypes.
Oh, and tomorrow’s David’s birthday! So, feel free to wish him a Happy Birthday as he reaches the age of *cough cough*.