Jung calls them pieces of our subconscious. Shakespeare used them all the time. Joseph Campbell claimed to have identified their essential forms. They're as old as storytelling...archetypes are practically inescapable. In the wrong hands, they can turn out badly, but if used to craft a story, they can lend far more depths of meaning than you could fit into the story alone.
An archetype is a sort of cross between a symbol and a character. Because of this hybridization, an archetype can not only span stories and cultures, but also connect with the reader/player, interact withing the story. Archetypes connect with us on a deep, personal level, and infusing elements of archetypes into characters can lend them a timeless quality. So that being said, let's have a look at a few common archetypes...
The sage is more knowledgeable than anyone else. A sage embodies knowledge, and (more importantly) truth. Their purpose is to communicate this truth to the rest of the world, because their access is a unique privilege, given for a specific reason. The sage has not arrived at this knowledge through effort, but because of a gift. They have glimpsed the Truth that underlies all of reality.
Example: Gandalf the Grey
The avenger believes in something, and is willing to fight to the death for it. Whether it's actual vengeance or the cause of a zealot, the avenger's actions are strong and decisive, and usually swift. The purpose of an avenger is to provide justice, and the immediate power of a belief. The avenger knows the Truth, believes the Truth, and will pay a huge cost to see that Truth upheld.
Like the sage, the mentor is wise, but the mentor's purpose is far more specific. The mentor is there to serve as a guide to another character. The mentor has more experience than that character (we'll call him "the hero"), but isn't the one who's supposed to complete whatever task has been assigned to the hero. The mentor guides the hero into their destined role, because this is the destined role of the mentor. The Truth has called the hero, and the mentor will lead the hero to that call.
Example: Obi-Wan Kenobi
Sometimes known as the trickster, the shifter has many guises. The shifter uses them to fool, but very seldom uses them for malicious reasons. The purpose of the shifter is to "loosen up" everything: a shifter knows that the Truth exists, but that mere rules can be played around with a little. Well, usually. Sometimes, the shifter just likes to bring new ideas to the table, to challenge authority with reckless abandon. If there's a loose cannon in the group, it'll be the shifter.
Example: Captain Jack Sparrow
A Closing Bit
Hopefully you've enjoyed this little interlude of storytelling. The archetypes are interesting to study, and I'd also like to note that what I've listed up here is merely my interpretation of some of the classics. You might have a totally different idea about them. I'm covering one main aspect of them, not trying to make a comprehensive overview, so that can easily lead to the omission of some aspects of the archetypes. Come back on Tuesday for a brand-new post!
- Good evening, afternoon, or whatever time it happens to be there, ladies and gents! I happen to be Andy, who happens to be a freelance web designer, musician, writer, and whatnot.Roman Catholic, student of tabletop gaming, and someday soon I'll have my own designs in the field!
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