If you are a movie buff or an avid reader, you’re hopefully going to like this article. Now answer this!
Apart from the plot or the storyline, what brings your movies or books to life? Yes, the characters in them!
As obvious, they act and perfectly convey the emotion. The emotion they display is a reflection of the general human experience that strikes a chord with you. So, it manages to keep you on the edge of your seats (or your bed, in case you are reading a book) since it is relatable.
How does it keep you hooked? Well, anything that is relatable does not need you to apply too much of your brain because your brain tends to automatically process it without putting in a lot of effort.
It captivates you because it grips your subconscious. And folks, that’s precisely how the movie-making and the novel-writing industries have managed to rake it in.
Honestly, they deserve it because they have nailed the art of identifying different character archetypes to creatively fit into their stories.
That leads us to decipher the meaning of the term “Archetype.”
What is an Archetype?
Let’s not make this too complicated to understand.
Imagine the character of Harry Potter (Just imagine even if you are not a Potterhead).
What comes to your mind when you see him in terms of the qualities he portrays?
He is the popular wizard at Hogwarts, known to be supremely selfless and loyal. He is brave as he is not afraid of fighting the bullies in order to defend his weak friends. Also, he has the guts to ward off the evil despite knowing that he is less strong than the evil itself.
So, the character of Harry Potter is essentially a superb amalgamation of all the good qualities a person must possess. He is courageous, loyal, smart, and empathetic, which makes him the best kid in Hogwarts as if he is born to win always! All of these qualities make Harry Potter the ultimate hero.
Hero, in this case, is an archetype who is the focal point. And someone that consistently appears across the entire span of the movie. This is similar to a uniform theme in literature that is predominantly seen across multiple scenarios in the storyline.
Common Character Archetypes in Literature
Literature and art are all about weaving together several different types of archetypes in a story to make it appealing to the human subconscious. Because it is largely inspired by day-to-day human behaviors.
Now, while you are at it, let me present to you the list of 8 common archetypes in literature.
As discussed before, the hero is the main character or the protagonist who portrays the best qualities that an ideal human being possesses. He is also the source of inspiration for several other good characters, such as his allies and supporters.
He is known to be the front runner or the main representative of people in distress. And he is revered in society for his incredible courage and achievements.
An archetypal hero is a person of good virtues who is expected to go out of the way to rise to the occasion with his ordinary abilities and overcome it to get extraordinary results.
The villain is the main antagonist of the story and the perfect opponent to the hero. He portrays a negative character that is so evil that the only aim in his life is to cause as much destruction in society as possible.
They are selfish, greedy, and strangely obsessed with vices, money, power, etc. The villains enjoy exercising supreme authority. So one of his biggest fears is loss of control or power over the different characters or elements in the story.
Some villains can also be charming psychopaths who can deceive other people into believing their lies. Manipulating people to get more power and control is one of the significant traits of this archetype in literature.
This archetype is known for qualities such as naivety and sincerity. They have a natural tendency to appreciate the good and have a very positive outlook on life.
Their vulnerability makes them insecure about committing wrongdoings, so they prefer playing safe and taking no risks at all. They are very optimistic characters, so they believe in a happy and peaceful existence. They not only strive to live a harmonious life but also constantly try to instill hope among others.
Another notable trait is that they are terrified of facing the consequences, so they are usually afraid of hurting other people. Most children depicted in movies or literature pieces are classic examples of the innocent archetype.
The mentor, also known as the sage, is the confidante of the hero or the protagonist. He guides and counsels him to steer him in the right direction. He is responsible for shaping the initial part of the hero’s life and is later seen sporadically throughout the piece of literature when his advice is needed the most.
He ensures that the hero is well-equipped to apply the wise lessons taught to him and motivates him to make the most of his innate thinking abilities and power to overcome obstacles or fearlessly take on challenging situations in the future.
A mentor is not the one who spoonfeeds but is the one who teaches the hero to make the best use of whatever resources he has. And encourages him to make good decisions with full confidence.
You could call this the art of the application of mind. This way, the hero would not have to be dependent on his mentor at all times and has been mentally trained to handle tough times on his own, pushing through bad times without any external help.
An ally is a constant companion and supporter of the hero or the protagonist. He is portrayed as someone who has immense faith and respect for the hero. He values his friendship with the protagonist and would always make sure the trust between them is never tampered with.
He provides his assistance and friendly advice to the protagonist whenever necessary. And the best part is he never tries running away from his responsibilities in case the protagonist needs help. So, a hero’s adventure is incomplete without his trusty ally.
Dr. Watson is an example of the ally archetype who sticks with Sherlock Holmes through thick and thin. Ron and Hermoine are allies and best friends of Harry Potter who stick together like a team and have each others’ backs at all times. In a way, the ally is a low-key savior of the protagonist.
The guardian is a complex archetype, and it does not mean what it sounds like. He is the primary custodian of the hero. But he is more of like a stringent supervisor who tries to protect the protagonist by keeping him from certain things and coming in the way of his goals.
For example, Harry Potter’s uncle Dursley – is a strict warden, hell-bent on making Harry’s life a living hell. He tries everything in his power to stop Harry Potter from having too much fun and always attempts to keep him in check. He is supposed to prevent him from fleeing to the whimsical, magical world of Hogwarts.
Another closest example for you to relate to is your parents. Uncompromising parents are known to expect their children to live within their fixed grid full of rules. They want their kids to follow these rules to do better in life because they think that if they do not, then they are setting themselves up for failure.
This might discourage children from following their hearts, doing things that they are passionate about, and eventually losing confidence as the inferiority complex sets in. Therefore guardians are imposing and can present major hurdles to the hero in the literature piece.
The jester believes in Carpe Diem and lives a carefree life. As a fictional character in literature, he is created to let people heave a sigh of relief because he brings in the element of comedy.
Although he is a funny character, a jester does not hesitate to speak the bitter truth upfront. This not only breaks the monotony but also helps the reader understand insights in a light-hearted manner.
For example, the court jester in King Lear is not scared of putting forth his honest opinions about the king. He has the ability to pinpoint the mistakes of the king without any fear.
He is your regular guy, the average common man who is relatable because he is like you. This character resembles your daily life wherein he goes about his day following his routine, executing his “boring” everyday chores, which are more or less fixed.
So, this means he is forever down to earth, takes everything with a pinch of salt as he does not have much, and has to tread cautiously. But is often not prepared for certain situations in the future and is very likely to get in trouble for no fault of his.
Imagine a normal person trying to just do what’s assigned and somehow get by or survive. He has no intentions whatsoever of being proactive or enthusiastically involved in anything unless he has been asked to do so.
He might have to face extraordinary struggles in life, and he wants nothing from life. So, he is not overly ambitious, and he does not have any fancy aspirations. Also, he prefers to be engrossed in his work, prefers work over people, and avoids being nosy or invading other people’s privacy, just like a regular, humble, ordinary guy.
I hope you enjoyed this list of common character archetypes in literature. Let us know your thoughts in the comments section.
If you could master these archetypes, you could write epic narratives!