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Archetypes are recurring character types (and relationships), and/ or patterns of symbols or situations found in the mythology, religion, and stories of all cultures. For example:

  • The questing Heroes

  • Heralds who call them to adventure

  • Wise old men or women who give them advice and/or magical gifts

  • Threshold guardians who seem to block their way

  • Shapeshifting fellow travellers who confuse and dazzle them

  • Shadowy villains who try to destroy them

Carl Jung, while describing these common character types, symbols and relationships, used the term ‘archetypes’ to mean ancient patterns of personality that are the shared heritage of the human race.

Jung believed that just as an individual may possess a personal unconscious, a culture too has a collective unconscious. Fairy tales and myths are like the dreams of an entire culture, springing from the collective unconscious. Thus the same character types seem to occur on both the personal and collective scale.

The Function of Archetypes

Archetypes are constant throughout all times and cultures, in the dreams and personalities of individuals as well as in the shared mythic imagination of the world.

Archetypes act or serve as functions in a story. However, a character does not have to function as one archetype in a story, it can be two or more. In other words, a character in a story can have the qualities of more than one archetype. Archetypes can be thought of as masks, worn by the characters temporarily as they are needed to advance the story. A character may enter the story performing the function of the mentor, then switch masks to function as a shapeshifter or a shadow, etc. (e.g. the android in the first Alien movie).

Modern Archetypes

The Hero’s Journey has been translated to contemporary dramas, comedies, romances or action adventures through the substitution of the symbolic figures and props in the hero’s story with modern equivalents. Thus, the wise man or woman may be a real shaman or wizard, but may also be a kind of mentor or teacher, judge, doctor or therapist, a boss, a ‘tough but fair’ sergeant, a parent, a coach, a grandparent or a guiding helping figure.




  • How has the hero demonstrated their uniqueness and also their universality?

  • What are the key flaws in the hero and how are these portrayed visually?

  • What does the hero stand for in the story and how do they go about getting what they want?

The Hero's Description

The hero’s journey represents our search for identity and wholeness. In the process of becoming complete, integrated human beings, we are all heroes facing internal guardians, monsters and helpers.

The Hero is a source of identification for the audience. We see the world through his/her eyes. They have a combination of qualities - a mix of universal and unique characteristics, some of which we can recognise within ourselves.

They are propelled by universal drives that we can all understand: the desire to be loved/understood, to succeed, survive, be free, get revenge, right wrongs or seek self expression.

The Hero's Functions


Heroes have universal qualities, emotions and motivations that everyone has experienced at one time or another: revenge, anger, lust, competition, territoriality, patriotism, idealism, or cynicism and despair. But heroes must also be unique human beings and not just stereotypical creatures. They must have imperfections, flaws, unpredictable nature - i.e. they must be ‘real’ and not necessarily ‘ideal’ types. They should be like a real person with not just a single trait but a unique combination of many qualities and drives, some of them conflicting, e.g. love and duty, trust and suspicion, hope and despair. These make heroes more realistic and human.

The hero’s journey is about learning and growing up, overcoming obstacles and achieving goals, gaining new knowledge and wisdom.

The hero’s function is to act - to do, progress, move forward. The hero is usually the most active person in the story. Heroes must perform the decisive action of the story, take risks and responsibility.

The Hero's Qualities

The hero’s most important quality is self-sacrifice - his/her ability to give up something of value, or of him/herself on behalf of an ideal or group. He/she must confront death, or the threat of death, or danger, loss, failure. In a sense, they die (perhaps symbolically) and are reborn. The sacrifice may be a loved one, a friend, a personality trait, a way of life, etc.

Flaws and weaknesses humanise the character, e.g. inner doubts, errors in thinking, guilt from the past, fear of the future. Flaws give a character somewhere to go, to develop - a starting point for imperfection, incompleteness or deficiency.


  • What are the gifts this mentor can give and what price may be extracted from the hero?

  • At what point of the story will the mentor be used to motivate the hero?

  • How is the mentor 'cliché' avoided – how are they unique?

The Mentor's Description

A Mentor is usually a positive figure/archetype who aids/trains the hero. The mentor is usually a source of knowledge and inspiration for the hero.

In Mythology, this is usually a wise old man or woman but generally it can be those characters who teach and protect heroes and give them (special) gifts, e.g. God and Adam, Cinderella and the Fairy Godmother, Jiminy Cricket and Pinocchio, King Arthur and Merlin the Magician, Athena and Perseus, Hera and Jason (and the Argonauts).

The word ‘mentor’ comes from Homer’s Odyssey. He is the character who guides Odysseus’s son, Telemachus, on his hero’s journey to find his father. The character mentor in this story is, in fact, the goddess Athena (Goddess of Wisdom!) in disguise.

Mentors can be like a conscience for the hero (e.g. Jiminy Cricket and Pinocchio in the Disney version of the story). Mentors embody the hero’s highest aspirations - they were once heroes themselves, they are now passing on their wisdom. Mentors usually play the role of parent - particularly when an adequate parent role is absent in the hero’s life.

The Mentor's Functions

Mentors have several Functions:

They teach the hero - prepare him/her for the adventure ahead.

They give the hero special gifts - this could be a magic weapon, an important key or clue, magical medicine or food, advice. (However, this gift or help of the mentor is usually earned, by the hero’s learning, sacrifice or commitment).

Some mentors make or invent their gifts - these ‘gifts’ may be designs, devices, inventions, e.g. Daedalus designs the labyrinth, invents wings to escape from Minos, etc.

A mentor motivates hero - helps him overcome his fear. Thus, the mentor’s gift can simply be reassurance and motivation.

Some mentors deliberately plant information in the way of the hero which he/she can use on the journey, e.g. ‘Q’ does this for 007 at the beginning of every Bond movie.

The Mentor Type

  1. Dark mentors: In some stories, the mask of mentor can be used by the villain to lure the hero into danger. Some mentors can also be Threshold Guardians (e.g. Professor Marvel in The Wizard of Oz) when trying to stop the hero from beginning the adventure/journey (they do this by warning the hero of danger and casting doubt in the hero’s mind). This type of mentor can become an obstacle in hero’s path. To progress, the hero must, in a sense, outgrow or overcome the energy of his/her best teacher to move to the next stage of development.

  2. Fallen Mentors: Some mentors are still on their own journey. They are dealing with a crisis of faith. These mentors must pull themselves together before they can aid the hero.
  3. Continuing Mentors: Some mentors initiate the adventures for the hero by giving them assignments. These mentors set ‘serial’ stories in motion, e.g. ‘M’ in the Bond movies. They are recurring mentors and can appear at the start of a number of adventures/serials.

  4. Multiple Mentors: A number of mentors may appear in a story to teach a hero different skills - they may have different functions, e.g. in the Bond movies, M gives 007 the assignments, advice and warning but it is Q who gives the special gifts, i.e. the weapons and gadgets. Emotional support, advice and information is also provided by Ms. Moneypenny.



  • What values does the shadow represent that oppose the heroic values?

  • How are they seen to be a worthy opposition to the hero?

  • How does the shadow stop the hero from achieving their goals?

The Shadow's Description

The Shadow is the character who represents the energy of the dark side, the unexpected, the unrealised or the rejected.

 In stories or films, the Shadow is referred to as the villain, the antagonist or the enemy. They are usually dedicated to the death, destruction or defeat of the hero. Some however are not so hostile - they may be characters who are simply in competition with the hero, i.e. who are after the same goal but who disagree with the hero’s tactics.

The Shadow's Function

The main dramatic function of the Shadow is to challenge the hero and give him/her a worthy opponent in the struggle. They create conflict and bring out the best in the hero by putting him/her in a life threatening situation.

 A shadow may be a character or force external to the hero or it may be a deeply repressed part of the hero, e.g. Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde.

 In some stories, the Shadow (or enemy) is not represented by a single or group of characters or by elements outside the hero. Instead, the Shadow could be negative qualities within the hero - that stop him/her from developing. For some heroes, it can take the form of fear, doubt, pride, hate, greed. If not overcome, these negative qualities that exist within the hero can act as a (self) destructive force.

 The Shadow can embody the things we hate about ourselves - the things that the hero hates about him or herself.

External shadows must be destroyed by the hero. Shadows of the internal kind may be disempowered.

Shadows can also be Shapeshifters or Mentors e.g. 'Hannibal the Cannibal' in Silence of the Lambs.

Some shadows may even be redeemed and turned into positive forces (e.g. Darth Vader in Return of the Jedi).


  • What test are these guardians setting the hero?

  • How can the guardians be defeated or made into allies?

  • What form does the guardian take and how does this stop the hero?

The Threshold Guardians’ Description

All heroes encounter obstacles on the road to adventure. At each ‘gateway’ or new stage of the new world, the hero is confronted with Threshold Guardians, placed to keep the unworthy from entering.

They usually present a menacing face to the hero - but if properly understood, they can be overcome, bypassed and in some cases, turned into allies.

Threshold Guardians are not the main villain but can be connected to them. They are usually lieutenants of villains, lesser things, mercenaries hired to guard the main headquarters or secret helpers to test the hero’s willingness or skill.

Threshold Guardians usually serve/work with or protect the main villain from the hero. They warn of the hero’s approach.

These characters function to limit the development of the hero’s experience, they hold back the growth and progress of the hero. They test whether the hero is really determined to accept the challenge of change.

The Threshold Guardians’ Function

The dramatic function of Threshold Guardians is mainly to test the hero. When a hero confronts one of these figures, they must solve a puzzle or pass a test. Thus, Threshold Guardians challenge and test heroes on the path.

A popular way of getting by Threshold Guardians is by getting into their skins, i.e. the hero may get by the Threshold Guardians by disguising himself as one of them. The hero must temporarily become the enemy.

 Ideally, Threshold Guardians are not to be defeated but incorporated, made allies. Heroes can learn the guardian’s tricks, absorb them and go on.

In stories, Threshold Guardians take on a fantastic array of forms. They may be border guards, sentinels, night watchmen, lookouts, bodyguards, bandidos, editors, doormen, bouncers, entrance examiners, or anyone whose function is to temporarily block the way of the hero and test his/her powers. The Threshold Guardian doesn’t have to be a person, it can be a prop, architectural feature, animal or force of nature that blocks and tests the hero. Learning how to deal with Threshold Guardians is one of the major tests of the hero’s journey.



  • How does the appearance and behaviour of the shapeshifter change through the story?

  • What are the values of the shapeshifter & how do they mislead the hero?

  • What is the relationship between the hero and the shapeshifter?

The Shapeshifter's Description

The Shapeshifter is one of the most flexible archetypes and serves a variety of functions in a modern story. The appearance and behaviour of these characters changes to meet the needs of the story.

These characters shift or are unstable in appearance/nature/mood

Heroes frequently encounter figures, often of the opposite sex, whose primary characteristic is that they appear to change from the hero’s or audience’s point of view. They are hard to pin down.

For example, in the film Fatal Attraction, the hero is confronted with a shapeshifting woman who changes from the passionate lover to an insane murderess harpy.

Shapeshifters mislead the hero or keep him/her guessing - their loyalty and sincerity is often in question. Wizards, witches and ogres are traditional shapeshifters in fairy tales.

The Shapeshifter's Function

Shapeshifters may be positive or negative figures. They may be helpful to the hero or destructive to him. In some stories it’s the task of the hero to figure out which side, positive or negative, he is dealing with.

The dramatic function of the shapeshifters is that they bring doubt and suspense into a story.

Femme fatales are a common type of shapeshifter: the woman as a temptress or destroyer.

They often only dazzle and confuse the hero, rather than trying to kill him/her. 

Heroes, (e.g. Luke Skywalker), Mentors, (e.g. Merlin, the Goddess Athena), Threshold Guardians or a Shadow (e.g. the Wicked Queen in Snow White assumes the form of an old woman to trick the hero into eating the poisoned apple) can also become Shapeshifters. Sometimes, a hero must become a Shapeshifter in order to escape a trap or to get past a Threshold Guardian

: files -> 2011
2011 -> Story Form Have a story to share with the York community? Want to promote an upcoming event? Highlight your current research? Tell us about an exciting university-community initiative or an outstanding alumnus/or student?
2011 -> Arizona Academic Standards in the Arts: Articulated for First Grade
2011 -> Year 9 Writing Task – Horror Story Genre
2011 -> Books Pig Boy by Gerald McDermott Hina and the Sea of Stars by Michael Nordenstrom The Shark God by Rafe Martin Punia and the King of Sharks by Lee Wardlaw
2011 -> Product Quality Risk Perceptions and Decisions: Contaminated Pet Food and Lead-Painted Toys Tianjun Feng
2011 -> Math in Fashion: Sample Related End-of-Course (eoc) Questions
2011 -> The Minister’s Black Veil Allegory
2011 -> Curriculum vitae
2011 -> Contacts: Ashley Berke Lauren Saul
2011 -> 21 January 2011, as XLV (2011)


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