In a previous post I talked about the dual function of archetypes as presented by Christopher Vogler in his book, The Writers Journey, namely a dramatic and a psychological function. This deserves further explaining.
The dramatic function of an archetype, such as the Hero, is to display behaviour in a way that drives the story forward, but also in a way that pulls readers and audiences into the drama.
Heroes finds themselves in a position where they have to solve a local or societal problem, and to do so in an intriguing and captivating way, if the tale is to succeed. This comes down to the writer employing good dramatic principles such generating suspense, placing the hero before a dilemma, having him or her struggle to master difficult skills, go on a journey of self-discovery, and the like.
“The dual function of archetypes offers the writer a complete system of managing character behaviour.”
The psychological function of an archetype, on the other hand, demonstrates how the hero can achieve success though a process of integration, to use Carl Jung’s term. But integration of what, you may well ask?
Simply stated, the integration of the remaining archetypes, or to put it in another way, through the integration of the energies that dwell within the Self, primarily the Shadow (the dark energy within us all), but also the Mentor, the Herald, the Threshold Guardian, the Shapeshifter, the Ally, and the Trickster. It is only when the Hero acknowledges these energies within, then manages to achieve a balance between them, that he can overcome the physical challenges in the world.
A story, then, can be seen as the projection on the pages of book or the surface of a screen of the energies struggling for balance within one’s self—as the externalisation, personification and hence dramatization of these forces. Understood in this way, Christopher Vogler’s archetypes offer a complete system of writing stories that arise from myth, our collective unconscious, and our deep literary traditions. They are about ourselves as much as they are about the world.
The dual function of archetypes includes not only the dramatic dimension of stories but the psychological remnants found in humanity’s collective unconscious that form the basis of our rich, mythic traditions.