All the books in all the world could not contain all there is to know.
Benevolent mentors and custodians of wisdom are some of the hallmark characters of fantasy. Part mystic, part genius, the Sage is an essential driver of the Hero’s Journey, delegating the task of changing the world to their often younger, more naive and eager fellows. The Sage differs from the Creator in that they do not always use their knowledge to change the world, and very rarely do they desire to create something new––in this, the Sage might be closer to the Explorer. While the Explorer’s goals are outward, the Sage’s are inward.
As I have 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 we continue looking at the group known as the Soul types, which are defined by goals related to personal development, or agendas that serve to improve their spiritual, mental, or physical standing with the world. The Sage, driven by a need for knowledge, is next.
THE TWELVE ARCHETYPES
Also known as the scholar, expert, detective, thinker, teacher, mentor, savant, and philosopher, the Sage seeks to understand the world in analytical ways, processing reality with logic and the wisdom of their often long life.
The Sage seeks nothing but the truth. Whether that truth is uncomfortable or heart-rendering, it will be accepted, as the only meaningful path in life is one that pursues truth.
Personal truth based on falsehood is one of the great fears of the Sage, and so they are always questioning what they know to be true. This eagerness to find contradiction sometimes leads the Sage to be misled, or even manipulated by others who are aware of their weakness. In addition, the Sage can be addicted to learning, spending so much time pouring over books and information that they never actively engage in the threat facing their world. One of the most easily recognized representations of this fault is Morla, the giant turtle from the Neverending Story, who is so trapped by her knowledge that she will not even pull herself out of the mud she is in, even to help save her world.
The Sage, being one of the pillars the Hero can depend on, is not easily corruptible. Though the Sage can function in ignorance, when the wool is removed, they often more easily accept that change than the other archetypes. But a shadow Sage is not impossible. A Sage surrounded by profound ignorance may become fed up with such an unenlightened world, and would be happily engage in its political, religious, moral, and spiritual sabotage. A Sage can also become overly critical, impractical, or even unsympathetic to those not on their intellectual plane. Due to the nature of genius, a Sage may also become addicted to mind-numbing substances.
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It takes a great deal of finagling to get Yoda to come out of retirement and train Luke Skywalker, but Yoda is perhaps the most incorruptible of the Sages listed here. His wisdom and carriage suggest constant thought and patience as facts are deliberated. He is a mentor to many, but the peerlessness he faces also gives him an aura of profound loneliness.
Uncle Iroh, while certainly jolly, is the level head within the Fire Nation, guiding his nephew, and even the other side towards a revolution of peace. His wisdom is so sought after, in fact, that even after his death, he is sought out by the avatars for advice.
Morpheus, perhaps a Sage-in-Training, wants to free the world from untruths. His desire to see Neo succeed are in part tainted by his knowledge that only Neo will be imparted with some of the information he wishes to know about the world, and his paranoia about what is “real” and what is “not,” as well as the reality that he was ultimately misled, make Morpheus a tragic case of the Sage in Shadow.
What to do when you are simply too intelligent for this world? Cannibalism aside, Hannibal is a fascinating look at what happens to a genius who needs mental help. Hannibal is in the unique and terrifying position of being smarter than everyone in the room, but also desperately desiring to find someone with which he can relate, on the most base levels of communication. Hannibal is definitely the Sage in Shadow, unsympathetic, and even desiring, the world to burn.
When you think of the Cheshire Cat, you don’t really think of a Sage. But, factor in the laws of reality in Wonderland, and the Cheshire Cat is in fact the benevolent mentor to Alice, offering advice and wisdom on how to progress through the world and eventually return home. Even further than that, take into account Lewis Carroll’s designs in the structure of the novel, and the Cheshire Cat is the only voice of reason.
Advisor to the line of kings, Rafiki is a bit eccentric and at the best of times, not all that influential. His wisdom is overshadowed by the day-to-day struggles of the Sahara, but it is his eventual confrontation with Simba that sends the young lion back to save his pride.
Haymitch, an alcoholic and survivor of the Hunger Games, is a reluctant Sage — he carries in him all of the knowledge and wisdom Katniss will need to survive her obstacles, but is hesitant to give them and act without being begged. He is a Sage purposefully being misled, because in this case, the truth is too hard to stomach.
Katniss is a good example of one archetype turning into another. While I mentioned her originally in my Outlaw post, by the end of her character arc, she is on track to become the Sage, a seeker of truth, and an almost violent exposer of hypocrisy and falsehood. Katniss’s arc is also interesting in that the Sage rarely makes an interesting main character, but the circumstances of her story propel the Sage’s motives into the realm of requirement for freedom.
Ask any long-time reader of the X-Men comic universe, and it makes sense why Professor X makes this list. While in general a humanitarian and benevolent figure, there are many cases of Professor X’s desire for knowledge and the to test the limits of his mind leading the world into chaos and destruction.
Wan Shi Tong, the great owl that keeps a library of all the world’s knowledge, is a simplistic character, following the archetype’s desires almost perfectly. In his simplicity he is also a powerful message, showing, like the Great Sphynx, that knowledge can also be a gilded cage to those who acquire it.
For Spock, logic and reason are the key to everything. His level-headedness keeps his fleet balanced with the heroic tendencies of Kirk, while his rational way of looking at the world is constantly challenged by the erratic and incomprehensible decisions made by the people he interacts with.
Athena, muse and benefactor to men, is the Sage in Action – defying her father, weedling the other gods to give the humans favor, and fighting herself when all else fails, Athena remains a strong example of this archetype in its perfect form: knowledge and wisdom, with the desire to actively do good with it.
Oracle, from the Matrix, like many other oracles and diviners across Earth’s cache of stories, is an example of the Sage Entrapped. Similar to Wan Shi Tong, oracles are nearly stereotyped by their forward-seeing knowledge; knowledge that they can not share with anyone even if they wanted to. To share would be to change, and to change would have far-reaching, unexpected effects. As a story device, oracles run the risk of being deus ex machina, providing only the information the author needs the character to know to progress the story further, without warning that same character of the consequences awaiting him or her.
Rufus is a Sage-as-Time-Traveler, a device that separates this Sage from Oracle–the time traveler’s knowledge is limited, and once the past begins to change, their future knowledge is no longer relevant. In general, whenever a person comes back from the future with the intent to educate key players in a way to change the future, they can be called a Sage.
While Gandalf later transforms himself into the Magician by becoming Gandalf the White, he very much starts as a Sage. Addicted to pipe weed and inconsequential knowledge, Gandalf languishes his talents in the Shire, and in general, putting others in danger before himself, and even doing so knowingly. Like many sages, he does not tell his younger cohorts the true motives behind his actions or theirs, to deadly consequence.
A reminder that I am still taking address for New Years postcards from Japan! If you’d like a New Years postcard from Japan with a personalized message, I’m offering postcards to anyone who signs up for newsletter at the following link. I will NOT use your mail address for anything else besides this event. My newsletter is merely a weekly bulletin letting you know if I’ve posted anything you might want to come back and read.
You only live once, and life’s not worth living without a little fun.
In fact, if you happen to be the Jester, present-minded joy is your first and primary concern. As a Jungian archetype, the Jester takes a break from the often romantic or courageous ideals of his cousins, displaying a masterful use of humor to reveal, heal – even hide – the deepest recesses of human trauma and subconscious.
As I have mentioned in prior posts of 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 dives into the last group of Archetypes, the Self Types, which are defined by goals related to independent desires for development, power, or life. The Jester, whose main desire it to stay fully, happily “in the moment,” is today’s selection.
THE TWELVE ARCHETYPES
Also known as the clown, trickster, comedian, practical joker or the fool, the Jester is an archetype that is at peace with the paradoxes of the world. He uses humor to illuminate hypocrisy, and also level the playing field between those of power and those without.
The Jester is a fun-loving character who seeks the now, inviting others to partake in creating a self-depreciating form of satire. The Jester is also almost always male, though this may be more from the cultural gendering of humor more than a limitation on the archetype itself. The Jester excels at projecting infectious joy, letting go, and banishing depression or aggression from their friends and enemies. They strive for light-heartedness and carefree living.
A moot life is a Jester’s worst nightmare. In some cases, a Jester can also have a second “dragon,” which takes the form as humor being raised as a shield to deflect inquiries about personal trauma. Since fun and humor are requirements for a Jester’s lifestyle, periods of time where humor might be inappropriate make them uncomfortable, and maybe even willfully insensitive.
The Jester does not seek to solve the story’s problem. His main purpose on the journey is the journey itself. The outcome rarely matters to him, and in some cases, he may even be a bit of a devil’s advocate in the interest of spicing things up. The Jester does not reminisce, or plan for the future. In his darker, shadow form, the Jester may be prone to constant inebriation, or drug abuse. These vices could also manifest as a pervert, or any other negative trait defined by a lack of impulse control.
Unlike some of the other archetypes, there is also a secondary, split framework for this archetype in fiction. The Jester is sometimes cast as the comic relief (often the best friend to the lead character). The main difference between the Jester-as-Jungian and Jester-as-Comic-Relief is that the latter does not know he is the Jester. Comic reliefs are built as humorous foils for the audience, yet still often show the same characteristics of the classic Jungian archetype.
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Fat Amy is a fascinating character in that she flips the stereotype of fat = insecure on its head, while laughingly pointing out the often hypocritical standards of the acapella culture she takes part in. However, her humor becomes a barbed shield to those who try to get closer to her (such as the rival acapella group leader).
There are a lot of serious, heavy things going on in Kamala Khan’s life, like getting into arguments with her family, alienating her friends, and, oh yeah, super powers, but it’s hard to find a single frame where Kamala isn’t issuing a wisecrack. Aware of her humor being a defense mechanism, but still unable to help herself, that humor, in the end, aids her in gaining new allies and soothing strained relationships.
It’s hard to make a list of Jesters and not include Beetlejuice. Beetlejuice takes the Jester archetype to the extreme — as he is already dead and is willing to do anything to get back with the living, Beetlejuice adopts a cavalier, often perverted, and definitely inebriated approach to seeking “aliveness” once more.
Austin Powers is a good example of a Jester used in the secondary capacity. Austin believes himself sexy and suave, but of course the audience knows better. As a main character, you can see how goal-related plots might be ill-suited; Austin is often distracted, and the strength of the story comes solely from its satire.
Talk about a devil’s advocate! Leslie Chow is a gangster, and delights in creating chaos for those that consider him a friend. Not above leaving those “friends” out high and dry, Leslie often observes from afar the havoc his actions have wrought, yet shows no remorse, or even a sense of wrong-doing. For Leslie, it is all about the now, now, now.
While Disney has its fair share of jesters (Goofy, Mushu and Lumiere, to name a few), the most memorable of them all has probably got to be Genie, from the Aladdin trilogy and TV show. “Infinite, cosmic power…. and an itty bitty living space” remains one of the first film’s most memorable, and concise conflicts, and Genie’s humor, as well as his guidance toward Aladdin, showing the street rat how to live in the now with what he has, VS what he may never receive, eventually earn him his freedom.
You wouldn’t know tornadoes were a deadly force with the way Dusty goes on about them. While Dusty shows human emotion (particularly fear) towards the end of the film, it remains that the “ride” was what it was always about. That and Aunt May’s cooking.
Taking a long trip into deep space for a long shot at rescuing humanity is no easy thing, and for the crew in Interstellar, mental breakdowns are a very real concern. TARS, one of the robot interfaces designed to assist the human pilots, is programmed with a snarky sense of humor, no doubt a crucial element to the crew’s actual psychological health.
Yes, Joker from the same franchise probably should have made my list, but I personally find Harley more compelling, and her motivations are more in line with this archetype (over Joker’s more “Outlaw” leanings). Harley has lived a hard life, and her relationship with Joker is an abusive one – yet, Harley keeps a smile and joke on her lips like war paint, never letting her guard down, perhaps in fear of her own weakness. For Harley, it is easier to strive to be in the moment than to reflect on the vicious cause and effect cycle she has allowed herself to fall into.
The Weasley Twins hardly need an introduction from me. Their shenanigans are known in our world as well as they are in the world of Harry Potter. And they embody this archetype to a ‘T.’ Fred and George refuse to live a normal day, creating mischief, infectious joy, and light-heartedness wherever they go.
You have to feel pretty sorry for C3P0; designed as no more than a translator droid, C3P0 becomes the brunt of every joke in every language throughout the arcs of the series he is a part of. Definitely more “fool” than “jester,” C3P0 illuminates the bizarre behaviors of people and aliens alike, and we all love him for it.
Meriadock Brandybuck and Peregrin “Fool” Took are about as lighthearted as you can get. Their journey with Frodo is more about being with Frodo than destroying the ring ––and
Roger Zelazny’s classic metaphysical science fiction universe has its fair share of archetypes, but perhaps the most curious twist is Jester as Ruler. (SPOILERS) There is a theme in premodern uses of the archetype (in royal court stories, for example) to cast the Jester as the wisest character, a foil to the foolish king. Random is no exception, and in the arms race to the throne, his attitude of ‘I’ve got no chance so I might as well enjoy myself’ allows him to surpass all of his siblings.
A man with a horribly dark past, Gambit (aka Remy LeBeau) would rather not think about the Thieves Guild, his ex-wife Belladonna, or the fact that he unwittingly took part in the Mutant Massacre as lead man. So, humor is his coat of armor, disarming friend and foe alike to not look that much deeper. (Also notice the motif of the Jester as Ruler in this image).
Nothing takes you further from living than being a skeleton in a catacomb. Skeleton is so desperate to feel the warmth of life again that he can be tricked by a magician into believing air is wine. Though once a king, he is very clearly now a Jester, forcing those who wish to enter the door he guards to play riddle games with him.
I’m one of those people that really enjoy naming characters. A lot of names that I use were chosen for their sound, more than their meaning (which means that a lot of my names are actually gibberish).
I think the longest name I have ever used for a character is “Akashiseizaborou”. At the time, I was specifically looking for the longest Japanese name I could find for a serious, frowny-pants archangel. Something that also happened a lot with my characters that were created in my teens is the use of Japanese names (see above, and several names below).
As I was saying, a lot of my characters from this period had names of words that I was trying to learn at the time. For instance, I have a set of triplets that students of nihongo might get a kick out of. Their names were Migi, Chushin, and Hidari. These names literally mean right, center, and left, respectively. I also had elementally locked characters named Zetsumei and Owari. (“Death” and “End”.)
In any case, had to stop doing that eventually, because 1) I branched out to different regions in my writing besides those that were inspired by Asia, and 2) I realized a lot of the names I was growing attached to wouldn’t work very well if I attempted to publish.
My penchant for naming people after regular, every day words didn’t really go away, as I now have a bunch of characters named things like Guillotine, Pussywillow, Slate, Otter, Holly, Fable, Narcissus, and Peony, among others.
When a name doesn’t automatically present itself as a word, I next try fun alliterations or syllable duos, like Yendi, Arcus, Jana, Ergon, Ryldur, and so on.
Of course, sometimes even that fails, and I take myself to the net, where I scour down names for regionally similar places to the ones I am writing (using a lot of Hindu and Turkish names right now). The problem with that is that sometimes I end up with a great name––but something far too similar to it is already in use for a bestseller.
For instance, in my current WIP, I am in love with the name “Katerine” (Kat-er-EEN). However, I also just went and watched The Hunger Games, and d’oh, can’t use it anymore! Back to the drawing board…
How do you name your characters? Have you ever fell in love with a name you can’t use anymore, for whatever reason?