Can you think of any more examples of character archetypes? Have a think about it and then do some research to see if you’re on the right lines and to find out more.
From the previous section, we are already told about the mentor, sidekick, and shapeshifter.
My list also contained the hero, villain, protector, love interest, and the fool/idiot/comedy character.
In ‘The Writer’s Journey’, Vogler details ‘The Most Common and Useful Archetypes’ as:
Hero: The protagonist, or central character.
Mentor: Provides motivation, insights, and training for the hero. Helps alleviate doubts and fears. In a story, the mentor may not be a a physical person.
Threshold Guardian: Protects the ‘special world’ and it’s secrets. May provide essential tests and obstacles that the hero must bypass. Can be a person, animal, natural phenomena, or other item standing in the hero’s way.
Herald: Issues challenges and announces the coming of change. Often appears at the start of the journey to present the challenge and get the story started. May be a character, a news flash, a letter, a dream, or a vision.
Shapeshifter: Change appearance or mood, and are difficult for the hero and audience to pin down. They may mislead the hero, and their loyalty is often in question.
Shadow: Can symbolise our darkest desires, untapped resources, rejected qualities, or greatest fears and phobias. May not be all bad as the shadow could be positive qualities that have been hidden for some reason. The enemy/villain often wears the shadow mask, or it may be a suppressed inner demon that needs to be accepted or purged.
Ally: Can serve a variety of functions such as companion, conscience, comic relief, messenger, scout, or confidant. Allies do mundane tasks, but help add extra dimension to the hero’s personality.
Trickster: All the characters in stories who are primarily clowns or funny sidekicks embody this archetype. The trickster loves to disrupt the status quo.
When you’ve identified a list of archetypes, try and come up with an example for each from an existing story. What function does the archetype play in that story, either psychologically or dramatically?
I am going to take the eight archetypes above and use them to examine the characters in The Lord of the Rings.
Hero: Frodo Baggins – ‘The Ringbearer’
Mentor: I would say both Gandolf and Aragorn embody the mentors in the story. In many archetype models there is a character described as a sage, a magician, or a wise old man/woman, and Gandalf is the obvious candidate. When Gandalf disappears at various points in the story, Aragorn takes on the role as guide and teacher to Frodo and his friends.
Threshold Guardian: There are many obstacles and challenges faced in the LOTR stories, starting with the race to get to the Bucklebury Ferry and cross the river to reach Bree, where Frodo is supposed to meet Gandalf. The main threshold guardian though is Saruman, who has produced an army of orcs to stop Frodo. Gollum could also be said to to be a threshold guardian as he leads Frodo and Sam into the spider’s lair in order to prevent them from completing their mission of destroying the ring.
Herald: Gandalf is the one who realises what Bilbo’s ring is, and the one who sets Frodo out on his journey, therefore heralding the start of the adventure.
Shapeshifter: I see three shapeshifters within the story. In the The Fellowship of the Ring, Boromir pledges himself to protect Frodo, but at the same, he is unable to resist the call of the ring and there is a moment when you wonder where his loyalty lies. Gollum is another shapeshifter. He is consumed by the ring, but his original persona – Sméagol – still makes an appearance at times, so he is truly shifting from one personality to the other. The third character who expresses shapeshifter energy is Aragorn. At the start of the story he is just a ‘ranger’, although it is clear he is much more than that. By the very end, he takes his rightful place as ‘King of Gondor’.
Shadow: The overall shadow is Sauron, but his shadow energy is expressed in different ways. Through Frodo, it is shown by his increasing battle with the temptation to give in to the power of the ring.
Trickster: Merry and Pippin take on the most comedic roles in the story, but Gimli the dwarf also adds some comic relief to the proceedings.
Ally: Frodo’s allies are mainly the eight other members of the fellowship, but his biggest ally from start to finish is his friend and gardener, Sam, who eventually helps him destroy the ring and complete the mission.