Life is full of peril. Danger and darkness lurk the corners, and in our blackest moments, most of those journeys would fail if not for the Hero rising up to save the day. He–or she–is the final trump against evil: resilient, strong, and death-defying.
We experience most stories from the eyes of the Hero, and many follow the archetypical journey named after him. The Hero’s Journey, often used to describe works of fairy tale and fantasy (in particular), would not exist without this archetype, the most familiar of all of the Egos.
As I mentioned in prior posts in this series, this collection of posts deals with the archetypes first put forth by psychiatrist Carl Jung, and the use of these archetypes in fiction. Every post deals with the motivations, character profiles, and Shadows (or negatives) of each archetype. This week is the third of the Ego types: the Hero.
THE TWELVE ARCHETYPES
Also known as the Warrior or Crusader, the Hero can manifest as many superheroes, sports players, and soldiers. His narrative is well-known.
The Hero only wants to prove her worth, and return home to her ordinary world. However, she is often forced into action by external forces, good or bad.
Once the Hero has taken on his task, he is focused, and will fight for only what really matters. Losing is not an option. The Hero will continue trying to succeed, or die trying. He is addicted to success, and once one goal is complete, he will not be satisfied until the cycle has started again (this is why so many Hero stories can easily span years, in sequel after sequel). The Hero restores peace for everyone but himself. Often, he leaves the fight with both an unhealable wound and a weapon or tool that gives him an advantage over his foes.
Though the Hero is courageous, determined, and disciplined, he is quite susceptible to his Shadow. Apathy, stoicism, rejecting help, and especially arrogance are all vices he has a hard time avoiding. On the extreme side of things, the Hero can become the ruthless villain, ignoring all good and sense for the attainment of his goals.
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The boxer who just didn’t know when to quit (or retire). A masterpiece of sports fiction, the Rocky series shows the pitfalls of a Hero after his initial challenge, and the decay of character a long period of inactivity can inflict.
Most people know the early days of King Arthur – the boy who pulled the sword from the stone to become king. But what I wish to highlight here is the King Arthur of the later years. Arrogant, ruthless, and cruel. Having succeeded in being king is not enough for him, and he destroys much in trying to achieve more “than his paygrade”.
Though Batman is pictured, he is an Outlaw. Here we look at Superman and Wonderwoman, both having received “The Call” to fight, and as we can tell by recent movies, haven’t left the action yet.
Thorin is a Hero among dwarves. He is strong, diligent, and virtuous. However, arrogance gets the better of this dwarf when he quests to restore the throne of his father in “The Hobbit”, nearly to the destruction of all he holds dear. In the end, he must give up it all to restore his honor, and the balance between the factions at war.
Poor Oddyseus, picked on by the gods for immortal amusement. But he rises up, to each and every task, until at last he can return to his ordinary world (his wife)… where he discovers things aren’t exactly how he left them.
If you are a child of the 90s, you already know the story of Simba, and like many of these examples before him, arrogance and impatience leads to the greatest tragedy of his life: the death of his father.
Hercules is the bravest of the brave, but he is also not allowed the life of a god, or the life of a mortal, putting him in constant turmoil with the characters around him. Arrogance, as with the rest, is often what leads him to trouble… and his downfall.
Miranda, from The Devil Wears Prada, is the Shadow Hero at her finest. Ruthless and success-oriented, she doesn’t give a lick for morality or justice if they get in her way.
Again, not much needs to be said here. The Hero archetype tends to repeat itself with little variation, which is why it is also known as the monomyth (Joseph Campbell). Aragorn must rises to action to defeat the evil threatening his world, but in doing so, he must also accept the crown he has always run from.
Was there ever a point Frodo wanted to be on his Journey? Probably not. Journeying to destroy the One Ring was Frodo’s courageous act to save the world he loves, only to save it for everyone but himself. He is never able to love the Shire like he used to after the fact, with the wound he got from a Morgul knife paining him for the rest of his days.
Atreyu, of the Neverending Story, is the Hero to Sebastian’s cowardice. He resists the evils of his world, and even though he loses his friend Artax to the Swamp of Sorrows, he still overcomes his challenges, retaining his pure heart. (BTW, Atreyu is supposed to be a green-skinned native. Go figure.)
After a Black Monster destroys his hometown of Neet and kills his parents, Dart (from the game Legend of Dragoon) begins a quest to find the monster and avenge his family. Along the way, he meets mentors, helpers, healers, and the like, in a classic Hero’s Journey.
Though this character doesn’t need much explaining to make his inclusion here obvious, Harry Potter (while an Orphan) is also a Hero, going so far as to sacrifice himself to restore balance to a world that needs to escape his nemesis. This act requires more courage than skill, magic, or intelligence, and Harry is nothing short of brave (even though he fears failure every step of the way).
Neo, while technically embodying the trope of ‘Chosen One’ is also the Hero of his tale, unable to live in his status quo for very long without the next ‘level’ of danger presenting itself.
The Hero Archetype isn’t just limited to Western stories. Son Goku, of Dragon Ball (based off of Journey to the West) can’t seem to go on enough adventures, and is always training himself up for the next conflict. It isn’t enough to have beat his foe – he needs to be #1.
Other Posts in this Series: