WHY ARE READERS DRAWN TO ARCHETYPES?
Hello again! Thank you so much for joining me in my second weekly blog post for a discussion on Using Archetypes in Storytelling}. I hope you find this blog interesting and fun—as well as educational! The question I posed “Why are readers drawn to archetypes“? is something I would love to get your thoughts on. Why do you think there is such a fascination with archetypes in storytelling? Please post any thoughts or comments in the box at the bottom of the page so everyone can see!
So, what is an archetype?
An archetype is a recurrent symbol in literature, art or mythology that may present itself as a character, a theme, or a setting and is commonly used in storytelling. The term “archetype” has ancient Greek origins and can be traced back to Greek mythology—where the first “superheroes” originated—each of them handsome, resourceful—and just a tad shy of perfection. Perhaps the most famously remembered archetypal figures were created by William Shakespeare, with Romeo & Juliet, in the plot of two star-cross lovers.
Archetypes are constitutional building blocks of storytelling and their presence contributes to the totality of the story and gives the audience an identifiable human component. Many believe the reoccurring story (or use of archetypes) gives literary works a widespread acceptance. This is predominantly true because people recognize something that touches them about their own lives—whether it’s overcoming barriers to success or making sure your family is safe, there is recognizable universal goal.
Swiss psychologist Carl Jung believed archetypes to be images and thoughts with universal meanings—a type of symbolically expressed fundamental need, He further believed the archetypes repeatedly surfaced everywhere—in people’s dreams, in art. In religion, and of course in literature. The use of archetypes gives authenticity to literary works by drawing real encounters from the world through characters and their actions and circumstances. Today we will discuss a few of the 12 commonly used archetypes—each with their own set of values and meaning—and how they are used in storytelling.
The Hero Archetype
Perhaps the most commonly used archetypal figure in storytelling, The Hero is found in practically every story composed and is a character that transcendentally displays goodness with their struggle against evil. From the sleuthing of Sherlock Holmes to the imaginative exploration of Alice in Wonderland, the hero archetype is nearly always the protagonist and despite trials and tremendous obstacles, he or she generally stays true to self and maintains a moral goodness. The hero archetype may present itself overtly—like Superman—or in a more unassuming way, like Sarah Conner in Terminator.
All archetypal heroes have common characteristics and serve as an idealized human capable of dealing with problems that surpass normal human abilities. The potential examples in literature are endless, but an example of a tragic hero is Jay Gatsby from F. Scott Fitzgerald’s The Great Gatsby. The hero archetype is variable and may present as loners or as a collaborator, they may be either comic or tragic, they can be willing or unwilling, and their mood ranges from cheerful to cynical.
The Mentor Archetype
The mentor is another common archetype in literature and usually presents as the teachers who provide the protagonist with motivation, guidance, training, and inspiration. The mentors counsel mimics that of a parent and often he or she often serves as the hero’s “moral compass”. A great example is Yoda in Star Wars, who mentors Luke Skywalker into his journey of self-understanding. Yoda will teach Luke about the dangers he will face during his quest and what skills he needs to survive. George Lucas read the book titled The Hero with a Thousand Faces numerous times before endeavoring Star Wars because it spells out the formula needed to effectively use archetypes in a story. The mentor archetype invests in the student learning and offers suggestions and recommendations on the best course of action.
The mentor usually fills in the void of the hero’s parents but is flawed—seen as an outcast from society—yet still highly recognizable and intrinsically trusted by the hero. The mentor may not be the ideal teacher but are nonetheless generally lovable.
The Villain Archetype
And of course, we could never forget the Villain archetype—another character that essentially appears in every story (unless it is a fantasy romance)—and appears as the antagonist with characteristics such as self-centeredness, evilness, and only being interested in achieving their own goal. It is noteworthy to mention that villains are not required to show up as evil in stories, however, they are always going to be “opposite” of the main character.
The villain is a “shadow” figure and like in life, the best way to beat the shadow is to make peace with it. An example of a villain is nemesis to Spiderman, the Joker or Darth Vader to Luke Skywalker. The Villain almost always has a contempt for society and are quite aware that evil is far more seductive of a power than good.
The heroes and villains exist because most of us—deep in our soul are aware there is a constant struggle of good versus evil going on and that each decision we make is a battle to stay right and true to ourselves.
The Love Interest Archetype
This archetype is the type that will psychologically generate the most intense feelings and impulses which guide us into the decisions we ultimately make. Metaphors that personify positive archetypes are usually the female love interests of the hero. A negative archetype as the love interest will present as a temptress or someone who will corrupt others—think of Kathleen Turner in Fatal Attraction. Very few stories function without some kind of love interest.
The Innocent Archetype
The Innocent archetype’s strategy is to do no wrong. Frequently considered as “boring” because of their naiveté, they continue onward, both loyal and full of hope. A classic example of an Innocent is none other than Cinderella herself. She is accepting, gentle, and idealistic—always demonstrating perseverance and the ability to face any obstacle placed in front of her. Dorothy in The Wizard of Oz is another prime example of the Innocent archetype.
Summing it up…
Archetypes have a universal appeal in language and by using them in writing you speak directly to a wide audience on an exceptionally individual level. The concept of an archetype has as always been—and will likely continue to be—a debated topic. Archetypal literary criticism argues that archetypes ultimately shape the text of the work with cultural and psychological myths. I think we would all agree that archetypes are instantly recognizable in stories—and with good reason—so they can play on audience familiarity. As the world continues to change around us quickly so do the stories you see play out in literature. The metaphors that personify impulses, motivations, and feelings
Feedback is Appreciated
This blog was intended to just give a fun introduction to some common archetypes and how they are used in stories. If there are any writers out there with experience using archetypes in their story development, please share with the rest of us! Illustrators too, if you have archetypal experience please use the comment box below and share your thoughts! I love reading everyone’s comments and encourage you to get involved.
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