Archetypes: Hero

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 Hero

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. Apathystoicismrejecting 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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Archetypes: Everyperson

Sometimes the Ego is unassuming.

It is the Everyman. It is the Everywoman. The Everyperson.

Morality, virtue, and equality are important–and when you are an Everyperson, perhaps they are appreciated more than anything else. Among the twelve archetypes, there are none more “centered” than he. The Everyperson is not just centered in heart and spirituality and education, but also in the “wheel” of archetypes. The Everyperson can easily turn into any of the other Soul or Self types.

As I mentioned in my first and second post 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 second of the Ego types: the Everyperson.



 The Everyperson


Sometimes referred to as the Orphan, the good neighbor, silent majority, good old boy, common man, or person next door, the Everyperson is a little bit of you, a little bit of me, and a little bit of everyone else, too. The Everyperson stands on equal footing with all of her peers, and is eager to build new and lasting relationships with all of the personalities that populate her world.

The Everyperson wants, more than anything, is security. Her life has been hard: trauma and ordeals have forced her to accept a realistic outlook, and at worst, a terrible cynicism. It takes a while to became a true friend of the Everyperson.

To be accepted by her chosen peers is part of the Everyperson’s wishes. And while belonging to a family, a group, a country, or adventure is what motivates her to succeed, the unending desire for acceptance can also lead to loss of self in the effort to please so many others.

The Everyperson is virtuousdown-to-earth, and carries indelible empathy for the pain of others. If the Everyperson were an astrological sign, she’d be the Virgo. She is resilienthardworking, and is most in touch with the consequences of “the quest”, particularly death, as she has had contact with it before. She sometimes has a pessimistic or deadpan sense of humor, which can help her bond with others in tougher situations.

On the flip side, the Everyperson is disdainful of elitism, classism, and any other “-isms”–and may even, in her Shadow, turn to the mercenary (or Outlaw archetype) as a way to combat the systems that have caused her suffering earlier in life. The orphan is prone to self-pity, and is often mistrustful of others when forced into a leadership role. Unlike the Innocent, the Orphan tends to demotivate her team members with her constant negativity. She is also willing to be abused if the only other option is to be alone.


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Archetypes-Innocent animaandanimusheader

Archetypes: Innocent

What endears us to a character?

Centuries of literature from all across the globe have shown us kings, highwaymen, samurai, wisemen, star-crossed lovers, and wizards––many so common that they have become archetypes in our consciousness. According to Carl Jung, there are twelve in all, set into three different categories of Ego, Soul, and Self.

In addition to these archetypes, which each have their own motivations, mottos, and shadows, are the Anima, Animus, and Persona.

Archetypes work as an appealing framework for the characters that fill our myths, legends, fairytales, and literature. They exist in all sorts of cultures (sometimes under different names, such as the Sage being also the Wiseman, Shaman, or Taoist Monk).

What follows is a mini-series devoted to the explanation of Jung’s twelve archetypes, through examples in film*, literature, and video games, and close looks at the elements that separate them from the rest.

The series will have thirteen posts in all, including this one, and the previously published The Anima and Animus in Fantasy. It will start with the archetypes in the Ego category (Innocent, Everyperson, Hero, Caregiver), then move on to the Soul (Explorer, Outlaw, Lover, Creator), and finish with the Self (Jester, Sage, Magician, Ruler).

*examples gleaned from film and television are more accessible than those through literature, as the likelihood that a movie has been watched is higher than a book having been read.



The Innocent

The Innocent

Known by many other names, including the Child, the Youth, Utopian, naive, and mystic, the Innocent embodies all that we wish to return to in old age, and a soul untarnished by the harshness of the world.

The Innocent craves happiness above all else. It need not be just his own; the Innocent desires paradise for all, even his enemy. The motivations for the Innocent are sincere. Truth is all he knows.

This unadulterated innocence is what makes this archetype one of the most sympathetic characters, and in group settings, it is the Innocent who often rallies those sooner down-trodden. They inspire people to default to the good, especially those that are apathetic. At his height, the Innocent can convince a neutral party to fight for the Hero, even if there is no reward to be had and the chance of success is slim. His optimism is unrivaled.

However, the Innocent is not impervious to the Shadow, or those elements of an archetype that the Self rejects from its day-to-day Persona. In fact, the Innocent can be terribly naive, to the point of endangering those around him. The Innocent can also be precocious, and difficult to reason with. They are dependent on the skill of others to survive, but may not be aware of it, often living sheltered lives or having a disposition that ignores reality in order to retain a fantasy ideal.


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Archetypes: The Anima & Animus in Fantasy

Tropes. Clichés. Archetypes. From the Hero’s Journey to magic swords, these devices abound in works of fantasy, from the most ancient of mythologies, to more contemporary works of fiction.

Magic Sword Trope in Action by
Magic Sword Trope in Action

While tropes and archetypes should not be confused with the more negatively-defined cliché, all work together to build a story that is not only accessible to readers, but also bigger than the page they appear on. The use of archetypes and tropes in one’s writing can make for characters and stories that are complex and familiar, which urges greater investment from the audience that interacts with the story.

Tropes, clichés and archetypes have all been researched, compiled, espoused and, at times, discouraged, in a variety of sources, both in print and online. Archetypes, originally coined by Carl Jung for use in his analytic psychology theory, refer twelve main, primal personalities that appear frequently in mythology and fairytales across the world. They differ from stereotypes in that they are used as the framework of a character, rather than a means to an end. A good example of this difference would be The Chosen One vs. The Hero.

The Chosen One is considered an overdone cliché in that, as A.F.E. Smith writes: [The Chosen One] tends to go hand in hand with a simplistic good-versus-evil morality structure. You can’t have someone destined to save the world without also having someone or something it needs to be saved from.

The Hero, on the other hand, has a set of motivations, mottos, and a darker, shadow side that help build the complexity of character that their Persona is then laid on top of. As an archetype, The Hero has many similar traits with The Chosen One, but rather than being a passive suggestion of who or what a character is, it is active in developing a multi-layered framework for further character development.

Simply, the archetype portion of The Hero is the bones of the character, while the story portrayed builds the muscle and organs, and finally, The Persona is the skin that they use to interact with other characters on the page.

Of course, clichés can be used effectively, and archetypes, tropes, and clichés are not mutually exclusive. Examples can be gleaned easily from pop culture.

Neo, the most famous rendition of The Chosen One cliché. While Neo suffers from almost non-existant character development, in the story-driven web of the Matrix's universe, he remains an intensely familiar icon.
Neo, the most famous rendition of The Chosen One cliché. While Neo suffers from almost non-existant character development, in the story-driven web of the Matrix’s universe, he remains an intensely familiar icon.
Harry Potter is both the cliché Chosen One (fighting the aptly named "Dark Lord") and the archetype of Hero. Harry shows tremendous growth throughout his adventure, resisting his cliché place in the Chosen One narrative, while having many of The Hero's motivations.
Harry Potter is both the cliché Chosen One (fighting the aptly named “Dark Lord”) and the archetype of Hero. Harry shows tremendous growth throughout his adventure, resisting his cliché place in the Chosen One narrative, while having many of The Hero’s motivations.
Frodo, from The Lord of the Rings, works under The Hero archetype. Not the Chosen One, and one who often resisted his "Call", he fulfills the same role as Neo or Harry Potter, yet does so under unique motivations.
Frodo, from The Lord of the Rings, works under The Hero archetype. Not the Chosen One, and one who often resisted his “Call”, he fulfills the same role as Neo or Harry Potter, yet does so under unique motivations.

In all, Jung suggested that there are twelve archetypes, each with unique motivations, mottos and shadows (darker sides of the generally positive image we assign to each role, for example, the nurturing Mother vs. the overbearing Mother). While this post won’t go into each archetype (next time!), they are all listed here:


Instead, I’d like to take a look at the Anima and the Animus, and how they relate to fiction-writing, and in particular, fantasy.

The Anima & The Animus

Traditionally speaking, Jung correlated the anima and the animus with polarized, binary genders, and their relationship to one another. This is, in itself, another archetype, coming from the desire for dichotomies, either in the form of positive vs. negative, winter vs. summer, man vs. woman, white vs. black. In other words, the yin-yang.


However, today’s thinking excludes genderfying traits of personality, especially since binary gender is now widely accepted as a social construct (over sixty have been suggested to exist). So while the simplistic definition of anima has always been “the feminine principle, as present in men”, now we might redefine it to be the state of accepting emotionality, including the creative forces, intuition, and imagination.

Jung originally believed that men had one central anima to the psyche, while women were often host to several animus (the male counterpart). The anima also had four different states (of eroticism), which Jung titled Eve, Helen, Mary, and Sophia.

Eve –– the emergence of an object of desire. For Jung, this was when men saw women merely as “The Mother”, or the object to be fertilized.

Helen –– A woman as a placeholder for virtue. In this state, the woman has already achieved some success on her own.

Mary –– The spiritual mother; a holy version of Eve, and often the last state accepted by the man.

Sophia –– Wisdom with virtue. Highest level of mediation between the conscious and unconscious mind.

The point of the anima was to show how, first, a man might get in touch with his unconscious and grow as an individual, but also how he would interact to women in his life, based on the current state he is in. The animus has four similar levels, but rather than being tiered, can be occupied by several men at a time in a woman’s unconscious or daily life. For the animus, the states are as follows:

Man of mere physical power –– The champion, the physical hero. “Tarzan”.

Man of action or romance –– Possessing of initiative and a capacity for planned action. A war hero, hunter, poet.

Man as a professor, clergyman, orator –– The bearer of the Word.

Man as a helpful guide to understanding himself –– an incarnation of “meaning”. A mediator, spiritual leader, messenger of the gods (Hermes). Highest level of mediation between the conscious and unconscious mind.

However, for person to get “in touch” with an animus does not mean their central Self, or Persona is altered. From Wiki:

The process of animus development deals with cultivating an independent and non-socially subjugated idea of self by embodying a deeper word (as per a specific existential outlook) and manifesting this word. To clarify, this does not mean that a female subject becomes more set in her ways (as this word is steeped in emotionality, subjectivity, and a dynamism just as a well-developed anima is) but that she is more internally aware of what she believes and feels, and is more capable of expressing these beliefs and feelings. Thus the “animus in his most developed form sometimes…make[s] her even more receptive than a man to new creative ideas”.

While fiction-writing, perhaps, does not make use of all the levels of anima and animus, especially in the inner conflicts of the main characters, tropes have emerged that follow these sentiments. In fantasy in particular, one of the most classical versions of narrative, when the main character is a male, is that any central female in the text often becomes (or is) romantically inclined towards him. Look no further than The Odyssey, The Lord of the Rings, The Matrix, or Terry Goodkind’s Sword of Truth.

Conversely, when the main character is female, at least in Western fiction, there tends to be a harem effect, with the woman surrounded by men either competing for her, or guiding her forward (Twilight, Hunger Games, Little Women). These archetypes (on both ends) have obviously led to a great deal of tropes and clichés over time, many of which Anita Sarkeesian deals with in her ongoing Feminist Frequency series. (Oddly, this is reversed in many classical Eastern fantasies.)

However, should we strip the genders from these roles, their usefulness to fiction is still apparent. In dealing with a character whose subconscious is the anima, you have a character that is more proactive and willing to execute the tasks put to her, while a character with a suppressed animus would be more reactive, unwilling to leave their comforts to perform.

In other words, what we might refer to today as an extravert or introvert.

It is no wonder, then, that Jung’s archetypal categories became the basis for the Myers-Briggs Personality Test. MyersBriggsTypesIt is my belief that inner conflicts, like those portrayed by Jung in the four steps of both the anima and animus, can occur regardless of the gender. Further, these bases for inner conflict can help shape characters in profound ways.


Frodo Baggins –– a passive character forced into an active role, he must ultimately get in touch with, and use, his inner strengths to overcome the conflict of the Ring and the disbanding of the Fellowship. However, his initial passivity remains the central pillar of his character when it comes to the climax with Gollum, who was spared an earlier death. His more passive, emotional nature also slowed the corruption of the Ring, whereas the other, active guardians surrounding him (animus) are corrupted quickly.

Harry Potter –– Harry is an active, curious character who is eager to go on adventures and expand his world. Yet a central figure always looms in his mind: the Dark Lord (the Chosen One‘s nemesis). His anima could also be the spirit of his mother, whom he never really knew yet has clear perceptions of. It is this perception that guides him through his trials (Harry must LOVE, rather than HATE, for example, to conquer).

Both of these examples have little to do with gender, but fall within the confines of Jung’s overreaching definition.

What other books can you think of that help illustrate (or refute!) this idea? If one does not have a dichotomy of personality at work, can they still come across as more than a cliché, or cardboard cut-out character?