Have you ever noticed recurring character traits or themes in some of your favorite stories and movies ? At the core of every myth, a knowledgeable reader can recognize one or several archetypes are at play. The word archetype comes from the ancient greek language. The two main root words being “archein” and “typos”, meaning original and patterns respectively (Golden. C). An archetype is universal component of human nature embodied within a character, symbolism, or situation found within the story.
The use of archetypes are prevalent throughout mythology in the ancient world but are they still alive and well in our contemporary entertainment. Delving deeper into the characters and stories such as the Harry Potter series, Star Wars, and even Disney Films we kind find that these ancient archetypes that have been used in storytelling for centuries are still very much alive and in use in the majority of contemporary works. An archetypical character is a certain personality that has shown up in myths, legends, and stories independently in all cultures throughout time.
There are many types of archetypical characters that can be found in mythology. Each have their own sets of values, goals, ambitions, weaknesses, and ultimately serve a specific purpose within their respective stories. Carl Jung, a the chief psychologist who is responsible for identifying and defining a great number of archetypes deriving from the ancient world even believes these timeless characters are the defining factors in the development of our personalities and instincts (Stevens, A. ).
One type of character archetype is The Mentor. The Mentor is an older knowledgeable character who uses their wisdom to dvise and guide a younger, more inexperienced character, usually a hero (Anacani, M. ). Even though The Mentor is more skilled or stronger than The Hero, they are often stricken with old age, die, or have another important task to complete thus leaving the quest or task to be completed by the Hero. Two contemporary examples of The Mentor are found in the fantasy film saga “Star Wars” and “The Lord of the Rings” in the characters Yoda and Gandalf. Both are introduced into the start of their stories as older aged characters who are depicted as having hundreds of years of experience and knowledge.
They each guide and train each stories respective Hero, Luke; in the way of the force and Frodo with the wisdom and history of The Ring and what needs to be done with it. Like clockwork, both characters die off after having trained their Hero leaving them to fend for themselves with their newly acquired knowledge. The most common archetypical character is the Hero. The Hero is the protagonist who find themselves raised away from their birth family and faced with a tragedy early in the story. The Hero commonly displays bravery, strength, and disregards their own concerns for the cause of the greater good.
Throughout their quest, the Hero receives wisdom via spiritual guidance or a Mentor and ultimately experience immense personal growth by the resolution of the story. Simba displays all the traits of The Hero in Disney’s “The Lion King. ” Simba faces his tragedy when he watches his father die at a young age. Shortly after, he flees the Pride Lands and is raised away from his family with his newly found friends, Timone and Pumba. Simba is guided by his unsuspecting Mentor, Rafiki and visited by the spirit of his father.
Receiving the encouragement that he needs Simba, return to the Pride Lands as the trained and strong underdog and defeats Scar, creating a better living condition for the entire lion pride. The Friendly Best archetype is characterized by a simple creature or animal that does not play a major role in the story but is on the side of protagonist. The Friendly Beast helps the hero in same major or minor way indicating that it’s good natured and wants to assist The Hero. The Hippogriff from the Harry Potter series, is mythical creature that is so unpredictable is must be kept off the school grounds and kept tied up in the forest.
Within the first scene where the Hippogriff is introduced it indicates that it is tempermental to most students, especially one of the antagonist, Malfoy yet a friendly to the Hero, Harry. Later in the film, the Hippogriff comes to Harry’s aid when it unsuspectedly saves Harry when he is about to be attacked by a werewolf ultimately, saving his life. Situation archetypes are similar to character archetypes in that they are universal patterns used over time. However, these patterns and themes are found in the story themselves rather than the characters within it.
Each archetypical situation has a defining dramatic structure, character development, climax, and ending. These stories formed out of ancient myths but are still some of the most commonly used themes in modern storytelling proving their universal pattern is still a timeless tale that has it’s place in our modern world. The Quest archetype is a story where an item or person has to tched in order to restore peace upon a hostile land, bring fertility to a wasted land. It’s common for the quest to be an action packed adventure with a great deal of travel and character development takes place in the face of danger or adversity (Leeming, D. ).
The Quest is usually task upon The Hero by someone who can not complete the task themselves due to disability or sickness. An example of this can be found in “The Wizard of Oz,” where the conflict is with the protagonist, Dorothy who has been transported away from her earthly home in Kansas to the magical world of Oz. Dorothy is frightened by the new reality she is facing and is determined to get. With the advice and guidance of The Mentor, The Good Witch and a supporting character group, Dorothy takes upon the quest of traveling through the land of Oz to meet the Wizard who can restore her reality back to the real world with her family.
Next, The Task is a very common archetypal scenario we find in story telling. The Task is defined as a great act that must be completed. To defend or save the princess/lady, to save or free the land/kingdom, or resume the rightful position (Leeming, D. ). The Task shares similar qualities but is not to be confused with The Quest. The Task can serve as part of the Quest but is not the ultimate goal. For instance, King Arthur pulling the sword from the stone is an example of The Task.
A contemporary example of The Task can be found in, J. R. R Tolkien’s “The Lord of the Rings” where Frodo the unsuspecting Hero is tasked with destroying the great Ring of power shortly after stumbling upon it by accident. Frodo is lead on a great journey across the land against great evil and odds to destroy the ring and restore peace to the land. Nature vs Mechanistic World is a very popular situation archetype in modern Science Fiction Film. This motif pits the natural simplistic world against technology or society. Nature is depicted as good wholesome and normal where technology is pitted as evil, destructive, disruptive, and unnatural (Leeming, D. ).
A perfect example of this is “The Terminator” where machines humanoids are turned into cold blooded killing machines and are on a warpath to destroy all humans. Ironically the only person who can save the world is a half human, half machine cyborg seeing past it’s destructive ways and displaying his natural empathy, sympathy, and goodwill. Another category of archetypes found in storytelling and mythology is the symbolic archetype. Symbolic archetypes are representations of ideas or feelings embodied in visual images or concepts. These archetypes can be found in things, items, places, or even colors.
The serpent is one of the oldest mythological symbols used to display vengeance, death, and deception (Apollon, P. ). Referencing the “Harry Potter” series once again, the Basilisk is a perfect modern example of this archetype. The Basilisk is a deadly beast who is suppose to to be the king of all serpents. The main antagonist, Voldemort has a deep hatred against non full blooded wizards and witches due to past experiences in his young life. Voldemort leaves the Basilisk in a chamber underneath Hogwarts to protect a horcrux and take vengeance on and ultimately kill and half blooded wizards and witches.
The Magical Weapon is a common pattern we see used from ancient mythology to modern day films. The Magical Weapon is a weapon or tool that can usually only be wielded by The Hero or that is uncontested in battle. We see a Magical Weapon appear in the recent R. R. Martin’s “Game of Thrones” with the Valyrian Steel Swords. They extremely rare and highly revered weapons that are made from the strongest steel in the world where the story takes place. These weapon contain a magical power that can defeat the undead enemy that is, The White Walkers. Another example would be the lightsaber found in “Star Wars.
These weapons are uncontested in all the galaxies in Star Wars and are only wielded by the most powerful creatures who inhabit the galaxies, the Jedi. Interestingly, something as simple as a color often display symbolism in films and images and derive from ancient archetypes themselves. Colors and matching emotions we are familiar with most commonly are dark and light. Dark colors can initiate the unknown, death, or fear while lighter colors can resemble welcoming feelings, prosperity, and goodness. What about colors like green ? Green is often is associated with growth, prosperity, and hope.
For instance, in the book and recent movie, “The Great Gatsby,” where the protagonist, Gatsby is longs for the companionship of his long lost love Daisy. Gatsby revolves his entire life around gaining her affection and even lives directly across a large lake from Daisy to keep an eye on her. The author of this story puts a green light at the end of the dock found at Daisy’s home. Gatsby spends countless nights looking at this light hoping that one day his lifelong dreams will come true. The light symbolizes Gatsby’s hope and progression into the direction of his dreams.