Wednesday, September 28, 2011

Character Archetypes

A vast majority of stories fall under the conventions of the Hero's Journey, or monomyth, a term coined by scholar Joseph Campbell. Generally speaking, it is as follows:

“ A hero ventures forth from the world of common day into a region of supernatural wonder: fabulous forces are there encountered and a decisive victory is won: the hero comes back from this mysterious adventure with the power to bestow boons on his fellow man. "


In this narrative pattern we are able to distinguish seven distinct character archetypes: Hero, Mentor, Threshold Guardian, Herald, Shapeshifter, Shadow and Trickster.

To clarify:

Hero: Usually the protagonist. their story is generally one of self-sacrifice; they must leave their familiar home and endure hardship in order to achieve a set goal and eventual self-actualisation.

Mentor: Often the "wise old man/woman", they impart their knowledge to the hero in order to better equip them for their challenge ahead. This may include the giving of gifts/rewards after the hero has completed a set task.

Threshold Guardian: They act as the gateway to the unfamiliar world that the hero will be venturing into. They often impose upon the hero some sort of challenge in order for them to prove their worthiness. Although often related in some way to the antagonist, they can also be neutral characters.

Herald: The person, event or force that disturbs the equilibrium of the hero's life and reveals their upcoming adventure.


Shapeshifter: Often a "morally grey" character whose true intentions are difficult to understand due to their shifting roles. They bring suspense to the story by keeping the hero, and reader, questioning their beliefs and actions.


Shadow: Represents the negative aspects of life, and acts as the force against the hero. They are usually the antagonist. If they are a villian, they are the ultimate opponent that the hero must defeat, usually in a dramatic conflict that renders one or the other dead.


Trickster: The mischief maker and joker who often brings comic relief to an otherwise heavily dramatic or serious story. They are cunning and sly, and may be a friend/sidekick of either the hero or villain.


Of course, our own characters must fall, no matter how vaguely, into one of these archetypes.

After thinking about the personality and lifestyle of my character, I thought she would befit the role of Mentor, Shapeshifter or Threshold Guardian, or some combination of the three. I can imagine her as somebody who is difficult to read; people will initially be suspicious and afraid of her due to her sombre nature, even though she is not at all violent. She is the only being truly aware of the enchantment infecting her land (and the only one to experiment and research with it), and could therefore be the source of important information and advice for the hero.

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