Understanding Archetypes IV

In this concluding post on the subject, we examine Christian Vogler’s Ally and Trickster archetypes.

Ally
Ally

Ally

The chief dramatic function of the Ally, also known as the Sidekick in more colloquial language, is to support the Hero on his or her journey. The Ally serves as a companion, sparring partner, conscience, comic relief, and sounding board, allowing the exchange of ideas that might otherwise stay hidden. Even the strongest of Heroes have benefited from Allies. Hercules’ Ally, Iolatus, for example, was a skilled charioteer and Olympic champion who cauterised the necks of the Hydra to stop them from regrowing, after Hercules had cut off their heads.

An Ally may often appear as more than one person or animal in order to fulfill a different need in the Hero during the journey to the goal. The French Emperor, Charlemagne, assembles a whole band of Ally knights from his empire — his Paladins, to assist him, while Toto, Dorothy’s beloved dog, is perhaps her closest and earliest Ally. Some of the most memorable stories feature strong Hero-Ally relationships — Prince Hal and Falstaff, Sherlock Holmes and Dr. Watson, Don Quixote and his squire Sancho Panza, James Bond and Miss Moneypenny, Batman and Robin, and a whole range of robots, animals, and humanoids serving the needs of Luke Skywalker in the Star Wars sagas.

The psychological function of the Ally is often expressed through dreams, which remind us, and the Hero, of the hidden or suppressed parts of one’s personality in need of remedying in order to achieve the story goal. Allies, therefore, also represent strong internal forces that emerge to aid the Hero in an emotional or spiritual crisis.

Trickster
Trickster

Trickster

This archetype represents the energy of mischief and the desire for change. Tricksters are typically clowns or comical sidekicks that toy with the Hero, often cutting him down to size and forcing him to confront his true nature.

Psychologically, Tricksters serve to cut down big egos by highlighting the foolish and hypocritical aspects of the Hero, forcing growth through self-examination, laughter, and humility. Often, the Trickster’s role is appropriated by the Hero as a mask, in order to overcome an obstacle that is not achievable through traditional means.

Dramatically, Tricksters provide comic relief, relieving tension, suspense, and conflict, which can often become monotonous and overbearing in a story. In this sense, Tricksters help to restore the internal and external balance — both within the Hero, and without — in his or her relationship with other characters and the environment.

Trickster Hero
Trickster Hero

Trickster Heroes

Tricksters also appear as a type of Hero, especially in folk and fairy tales such as the Hare of African tales, the Br’er Rabbit of the American South, and in the more modern era — Bugs Bunny, Duffy Duck, Speedy Gonzales, Tweety Bird, and Woody Woodpecker. Some of the earliest human Hero Tricksters in film comedy are Charlie Chaplin, the Marx Brothers, and Laurel and Hardy.

Summary

The Ally, or Sidekick, helps the Hero on his journey to achieve the goal. The Ally is often expressed in dreams as suppressed or hidden parts of the personality that need to be revealed in order to reach the goal. The Trickster represents the need for change in order to restore internal and external balance in the Hero and the world. The dramatic function is to allow for comic relief and insight into the true nature of the journey.

Series Conclusion

This concludes our four-part exploration of Christian Vogler’s eight archetypes. We remind ourselves that although each of these archetypes stands on its own, the real value lies in blending archetypes together to inflect a deeper rendition of character. Archetypes may appear as conflicting aspects of a single character, typically the Hero, reflecting the complex psychological landscape of the psyche.

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Understanding Archetypes III

This is the third installment in our exploration of Christian Vogler’s archetypes. In previous posts we have looked at the Hero, Mentor, Threshold Guardian, and Herald archetypes. In this penultimate post on the subject, we examine two more archetypes: Shapeshifter and Shadow.

Shapeshifter
Shapeshifter
Shapeshifter

Shapeshifters are difficult to grasp because their very nature is to change and mutate. Shapeshifters take many forms, the most common being the Hero’s love interest, often a fickle woman who toys with his goals and emotions. In Fatal Attraction, for example, the shape-shifting woman changes from lover to an unstable and murderous foe within a short space of time. In traditional fairy tales, Shapeshifters manifest as wizards, ogres, and witches.

Psychologically, the archetype expresses the energy of the anima and animus, as explained in the writings of Carl Jung. The animus is the male element in the female unconscious and the anima the female element in the male unconscious. In theory, both elements are needed for survival and to maintain a healthy internal balance. Suppressing one of them in the opposite sex, as society would often have us do, can lead to instability and breakdown. Often, repression of the anima or animus finds release in dreams and fantasies as opposite-sex gods, monsters, even family members and colleagues. The theory may also explain why we often project our ideal form of lover onto another person — as our desire to map the anima or animus within ourselves onto another. In Alfred Hitchcock’s Vertigo, for example, James Stewart’s character forces Kim Novak to change her clothing and hair to match those of Carlota, a figment of Stewart’s imagination.

Dramatically, the Shapeshifter brings suspense and doubt into the story. Shapeshifters raise questions of faithfulness, love, and betrayal in the life of the Hero. Film noir and thrillers, in particular, abound with this archetype — the femme fatale as the female temptresses and destroyer, echoing the biblical characters of Eve, Delilah, and Jezebel. In the film Basic Instinct Sharon Stone’s character is perhaps one of the most famous femme fatales based on the Shapeshifter archetype. Not all Shapeshifters take the form of the femme fatale, however. In Greek mythology Zeus, a prototypical Shapeshifter, and ruler of the gods of Olympus, is a male. At a more innocent level, shapeshifting forms part of the normal game of love, in which lovers display, exaggerate, or hide aspects of themselves from each other, often dressing up for the role.

Shadow
Shadow
Shadow

The Shadow represents the energy of the dark side -– a character’s rejected, repressed, or unexpressed thoughts, feelings, and beliefs. Psychologically, the Shadow feeds on trauma or guilt that has been suppressed and driven deep into the unconscious. From there, emotions may grow into something monstrous and destructive. Just as the Threshold Guardian represents neurosis, so the Shadow represents the psychosis that hamper and harm us.

At the dramatic level, the function of the Shadow is to oppose the Hero and provide her with a worthy adversary in her fight to reach her goal. In fact, the Shadow is none other than the antagonist who engages the Hero in the life-threatening conflict that drives the story forward.

I mention, as an aside, that each of the eight separate archetypes may find combined expression within a single character — as aspects of that character. This means that the Shadow can manifest in the Hero, and vice versa: a Hero can have dark moments, and the antagonist can, on occasion, act heroically. In the film, The Terminator, for example, the Schwarzenegger character grows from Shadow to Hero within the course of the story and ultimately saves the day. It is this mixing and blending of archetypes that ultimately results in rich and complex characters who endure. That, however, is a separate subject to be dealt with in a future post.

Summary

The Shapeshifter is the most malleable archetype in a story. It is typically found in male/female relationships, but it is also useful in portraying characters whose behaviour and appearance changes to serve the needs of the story. The Shadow, on the other hand, represents the obstacles the Hero faces in reaching the goal, but it can also represent the Hero’s hidden and repressed feelings, thoughts, and beliefs.

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Understanding Archetypes I

We know that creating engaging and effective characters involves observation, maturity, and imagination on the part of the writer. Well-written characters feel real; they radiate naturalness and spontaneity through their thoughts, emotions, and actions — they resonate with verisimilitude. But there is another layer to character creation that has less to do with serving character, and more to do with character serving the story — character as a function of the story argument.

In The Writer’s Journey, Chrisopher Vogler, who built on the work of American mythologist Joseph Campbell, offers a theory of storytelling based on the structure of myth and archetype. Carl G. Jung first used the term, archetype, to refer to the shared ancient patterns that find their way in our dreams and stories. Exploring this further, Vogler argues that myth examines the basic materials of the human psyche through the medium of storytelling. He sees stories as journeys undertaken by the Hero to achieve a goal with physical, spiritual, and emotional dimensions. In this sense, each narrative element has a function to perform — to help create and sustain the story across a myriad of layers. And so too with Character, which draws on the notion of archetype to broaden its universal appeal.

Vogler offers eight character types, or archetypes, that, collectively, fulfill the story argument: Hero, Mentor, Threshold Guardian, Herald, Shape Shifter, Shadow, Ally, and Trickster. Although these names may sound somewhat arcane, we’ve met them before under different appellations — Hero/Protagonist, Ally/Sidekick, Shadow/Antagonist. Each of these characters acts according to his or her type, presenting one side of the argument while propelling the story forward towards its ultimate conclusion. In this post we look at some of the main characteristics of two archetypes: Hero and Mentor.

Hero
Hero
Hero

One of the earliest renditions of the Hero was Perseus — the monster slayer — who encapsulated the Greek ideal of heroism. At a psychological level, the Hero archetype represents the ego’s search for completion and identity. As a dramatic device, however, the Hero offers the reader or audience a specific perspective, someone to identify with, drawing us deeper into the story. Typically, Heroes grow and learn rough hardships encountered in pursuit of the goal (although some Heroes may remain static, causing others to change around them, instead). They are doers — they initiate and sustain action. Often, Heroes are asked to sacrifice loved ones and/or themselves in pursuit of the goal. Additionally, Heroes are often flawed and may be willing or unwilling pursuers of the goal. Although Heroes may be leaders, captaining armies or groups into battle, they may also be loners, attempting to solve the world’s problems on their own.

Mentor
Mentor
Mentor

A Mentor is closely allied to the Hero, training and guiding him or her during the pursuit of the goal. Vogler reminds us that psychologically, Mentors represent the higher Self — the wiser, nobler, more god-like aspect of us. The dramatic function of the Mentor is to teach and train the Hero, preparing him for the challenges ahead. This is often a two-way process, with the Mentor learning from the Hero as much as the Hero learns from the Mentor. Mentors typically provide the Hero with gifts, be it weapons, medicine, or food, again, intended to aid in the attainment of the goal. Gifts, however, should be earned, either through self-sacrifice, or commitment. Like Heroes, Mentors may be willing or unwilling participants in the task. Occasionally, a flawed Mentor may instruct through counter example — by showing the Hero the dangers of taking a wrong path though enacting it in his own life. Sometimes, a Mentor can mislead the Hero, typically in Thrillers such as Goodfellas or The Public Enemy, which invert heroic values in the telling the tale. Finally, a Mentor, who may either show up early in the story, or towards the end, when he is most needed, provides the Hero with inspiration, guidance, and motivation, granting her gifts to aid her in the task at hand.

In Summary

Archetypes are shared character types, found in myths and dreams, that reoccur across all cultures. Archetypes form the universal language of storytelling, and, as such, are an indispensable part of a writer’s craft.

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