Archetypes: Ruler

Power is not everything, it is the only thing.

Taking responsibility not only for his own life, but the lives of others, the Ruler is one of the most recognizable and easily corruptible Jungian archetypes. This is the archetype of power, plain and simple, but what comes with power is a dangerous tightrope walk between order and chaos.

As I have mentioned in prior posts in this series, this collection of essays deal 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 we conclude our look at the group known as the Self types, which are defined by goals related to the Ego, or agendas that serve to improve personal spiritual, mental, or physical standings with the world. The Ruler, driven by a need for power, is (fittingly) the final of the twelve archetypes in the series.



 The Ruler


Also known as the king, queen, boss, leader, politician, role model, manager, or aristocrat, the Ruler is always at the top of the food chain, and is generally wholly responsible for the atmosphere of the world in which they inhabit. For this reason, it is quite common to either find the benevolent ruler killed or otherwise maimed early on in the story, or the evil dictator, who is the main villain the heroes must overcome by the end. Why is this? Because if the Ruler is available and doing her job properly, there would be no story to tell!

The Ruler is concerned with creating wealth and prosperity, and in order to do that, they must obtain absolute power. By the end of the story, many Heroes may, in fact, be on the path to become Rulers themselves. Unlike the Hero, the Ruler isn’t concerned with a singular purpose—they must weigh the entirety of the community they oversee, and as such, are rarely universally loved. In fact, there may even be a benevolent ruler who appears wholly the villain, simply because they can not grant the requests of their followers. They exert their power as a first course of action, with or without counsel.

The Ruler, therefore, also has a very real fear: being overthrown. In the Ruler’s mind, he is only doing what is best for the world, but the world may not agree, and so, as the story dictates, he must fall, so the cycle can start again.

The Ruler is one of the most dangerous archetypes to fall into shadow. Aragorn becomes Sauron. Peter Pan becomes Captain Hook. Katniss Everdeen becomes President Snow. When the Ruler falls, they fall with absolute power on their side, and are difficult to overcome without heavy costs to the opposing side.


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Recommended Reading:

Other Posts in this Series:

Archetypes-InnocentArchetypes-everypersonArchetypes-HeroArchetypes-CaregiverArchetypes-ExplorerJester Archetypes Jungian archetypes in fictionArchetypes-OutlawArchetypes-THELOVERCreator Archetype Inventor JungExamples of the Sage Archetype Jung
Archetypes: Magician

14 thoughts on “Archetypes: Ruler

  1. *applauds Ariel* Fantastic job with this series! This is an excellent (and oddly appropriate) archetype to end with, too. You made an interesting point about how benevolent Rulers could fall into their shadow self and become their evil equivalent – because with power, that can so easily happen. Imagine Aragorn being more like Sauron… *shudders*

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    1. Definitely. It’s easier for the shadow to come, but also, it’s just what the story dictates. You can’t have a pure ruler unless that ruler is going to be killed (Mufasa) or unseated, or (as in children’s movies) not actually powerful. And thanks for being so patient with the wait! I’m hoping to do the next chapter of this series over the course of 2017. 🙂

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  2. Excellent. For me, it has to be King Arthur (and the excellent ‘Excalibur’) or Darth Vader. In any case, King Arthur is a far more interesting character than Aragorn ever was… in fact, I would love to read of Aragorn’s descent into flame and darkness.

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    1. Always happy to find another Excalibur fan! Well, I know a couple of my readers who adore Aragorn’s purity as a ruler, but I think that’s what makes them “boring,” right? Of all the archetypes, the Ruler is definitely the one that has to exist in shadow to exist in a story, though I’m certain we’d all be happy with pure rulers in the real world… haha.


    1. Yeah…. I’m really happy to have been finally able to get to the end of this particular portion of it. Next up will be series more related to the development of the archetypes for fiction (since they obviously weren’t originally meant for fiction.)


  3. I loved studying the archetypes as part of my counseling degree. They’re fascinating and it’s interesting how embedded they are in our psyches. Wonderful fodder for the writer and for character building. Great post!!


  4. If a novelist understands about archetypes and wishes to write a novel that’s more soul-touching, then they might consider crafting their stories with those broader character metaphors in mind. Certainly in literary criticism in undergraduate lit. courses it is touched upon.


  5. Nice article. It now makes sense why, as a Ruler, I chose a course in King Arthur. However, you might consider correcting the usage of ‘way’ to ‘weigh’ in the second paragraph. Sorry about being the spelling police…just trying to create a better, more ordered place as is my ‘way.’ 🙂


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