Oh, those Men :: the Hero Archetype, part 1

“One of the hardest things to do in writing is create characters that readers will care about, that will make them have to read on.”

~ Noah Lukeman

In the first two blogs of this year, we introduced the importance of archetype as well as its background.  We begin our survey with the all-important Hero Archetype.

Character Archetype is our opportunity to reveal our hero(ine)
in his/her untransformed life.

How do we know who our protagonist is?  As writers, the first step in developing protagonists may be basic description and what our character will be and do.  Our second step is to determine more deeply how our character will be and do.  The how of our Hero Archetype will drive our story.

Carl Jung listed 12 Archetypal Characters, all of whom serve will for developing our various characters in our book.  Here’s the list again:

Heroes of all Archetypes in The Walking Dead
  1. Innocent
  2. Orphan
  3. Warrior
  4. Protector (caregiver)
  5. Creator
  6. Destroyer (rebel)
  7. Seeker (explorer)
  8. Lover
  9. Ruler
  10. Sage
  11. Magician
  12. Fool (jester)

Something in us looks for the central lead to be taken by the Warrior or the Rebel or the Seeker.  Others are drawn to the Ruler or Protector or Sage.  Yet the true hero archetype can be any one of those 12.

I can run a description list for each of these characters.  Dry and boooooorrrrrrrinnnnnng.

Let’s try this:  The Walking Dead.

Yes, I am suggesting the cult phenomenon zombie TV series and comic book for character development and a complete-r understanding of the hero archetype.  

Other films can also give us clarity in understanding hero archetypes.

By the time we enter Season 2 of WDead, the writers have presented four different types of Heroic Men–Alpha, Beta, Gamma, and Delta, sometimes in two antithetical forms.

Alpha = the true leader

The Alpha hero archetype is divided into the True Alpha and the Alpha Dog.

Pure Alpha :: Aragorn in The Two Towers and Return of the King

In The Lord of the Rings trilogy, Aragorn doesn’t truly become an Alpha until The Two Towers.  Boromir, from the first book, is a great example of the Alpha Dog.

The Alpha~

  • Leads through encouragement, example, and explanation.
  • Helps people understand their job, the goal, and the reason for the goal.

The Alpha Dog~

  • Is dominant.
  • Seeks control of any situation.
  • Is rigid in seeking order from chaos.

Jung’s RULER has traits of the Alpha Dog who drives through intimidation, manipulation, and outright pain (physical, emotional, and intellectual).

In Walking Dead, this is the character of Shane, best friend of the protagonist Rick.  Because Shane wants Rick’s wife, he subsumes his Alpha traits to assist Rick.

Beta = the understated leader who doesn’t need to lead

The Beta hero archetype is willing (but not content) to follow a good Alpha, but he will lead a mutiny against an Alpha Dog (Tyrannical Ruler).

This Hero Archetype is divided into the basic Beta and the Yes-Man.

More angst develops from the Beta.  He doesn’t necessarily thrive in leadership roles unless no other leader is practicable.

Many British heroes in historical dramas and RomComs are Betas.

Beta British Heroes have more angst-potential.
  • Dan Stevens as Edward Ferrars in the 2008 miniseries Sense & Sensibility is an excellent example of a Beta who leads. He cannot be forced into a role;  he will choose duty and responsibility over personal happiness.  When leadership and responsibility fall in with his personal desires, then you have a truly happy man.
  • Darcy (Colin Firth) in Pride and Prejudice is another example of a British Beta hero.

Jung’s SEEKER has elements of the Beta hero.

  1. Independent
  2. Searches for what is better

    The Woman between the Two Friends: Beta on the left, Alpha on the Right: Notice the Stances of B and A Reflect their Archetypes
  3. Does not need support from others but often receives it when the goal is inspirational.

In WDead, the protagonist Rick is a Beta.  Much of his angst occurs because he recognizes his friend Shane is a better leader, but Shane won’t step up.

Shane won’t risk alienating Rick (or Lori, Rick’s wife).  He intuitively understands that Rick will mutiny if he thinks Shane is leading the survivors astray, and his desire for Lori forces him to remain close.

Rick’s additional angst relates to the Jungian’s Seeker’s attempt to find the perfect solution, and the WDead writers have placed him in a situation that has no perfect solution.

Coming Next

Our next blog is Feb. 10 and will discuss the Gamma and the Delta, the two other types of leaders.  For WDead fans, this is Daryl (Jung’s Destroyer / Rebel) and Dale (Jung’s Caregiver without the strong Protector element).

Join us as we take a Part 2 look at “Oh, Men!”

~~M. A. Lee

“The art of writing cannot be taught, but the craft of writing can.  No one can teach you how to tap inspiration, how to gain vision and sensibility but you can be taught to write lucidly.”

~~ Noah Lukeman, The First Five Pages

Archetypes invaded the writing world decades ago, but new writers–and experienced ones needing a refresher–should add these building blocks to their tool kits, just as an artist has tubes of oil in the paint satchel and a chef has ingredients in the pantry.

Explorers will find multiple versions of archetype charts on Pinterest as well as numerous blogs.  All of that information is bequeathed to us by four men.

Most Recent & Most Accessible Work on Archetype

Christopher Vogler and The Writer’s Journey:  Mythic Structure for Writers found here.

Vogler, for those who have never heard of him, once wrote a very famous memo to a Disney executive that changed the film industry’s view of story.  This book is still available and is a fast read.  Vogler lectures on story structure, so notes and video clips are all over the internet.

This book stays on my reference shelf while others have come and gone.  It is clear and concise, so basic that I must admit it is incomplete.  However, it remains a good starting point.  It is Vogler’s work, simplified, that we will work from.

Vogler is working off the ideas of our second man:

Powerful & Blissfully Erudite on Archetypes

Joseph Campbell’s monomyth, first presented in his book The Hero with a 1,000 Faces found here.

Campbell’s Keys

Campbell has no PhD attached to his name;  he is the perfect example of brilliance not

needing a degree of title.

In a simple little chapter called “The Keys”, he sets forth the workings of his archetypal journey.

Campbell’s fully developed monomyth (a single pattern = archetype) presents 17 Stages for the Hero which Vogler reduces to 12 Stages of the Archetypal Journey.

This is very much like those Pinterest boards pointing out 15 (or 17) steps of the protagonist in resolving the trials of Harry Potter or Tolkien’s heroes and so on.

Campbell benefitted from the pivotal work of two men:

The Giant Mind that Developed Archetypes

Without Carl Jung, we would not have archetypes.  While he began as a student of Sigmund Freud, he disagreed with the emphasis on libido as a driving force.

(Even Freud eventually and most famously said, “Sometimes a cigar is just a cigar.”) 

Jung’s work crosses over several volumes.  One of them is Man and his Symbols found here.

The Seminal Text that Came before Archetypes

Both Campbell and Jung had to know the 1890 work of Sir James George Frazer The Golden Bough (which once I tried to read.  He will be the least accessible of these four minds.).

The Bough compares as it compiles myths and religious stories from across all cultures.  Such a wide gathering of information allows the patterns that are archetypes to be recognized.  The Bough can be found here.

This work must have enabled Campbell to find the commonalities that led to his ground-breaking theory of the monomyth.  

The Hero and his Journey

Alfred Smedburg’s 1912 “Bland tomtar och troll”

The hero’s (and heroine’s) journey creates an individual that is separate from the group identity.  As Jung states in Psychological Types, “the development of the psychological individual [is] a being distinct from the general, collective psychological”.

Through archetype, our protagonist becomes strong as 1] s/he stands away from the group and 2] determines a personal desire and path to achieve it.  3] He must face monsters, both external and 4] internal, and 5] overcome the darkness to reach his desire–6] which may have changed as he matured on his path.

So, how do we separate our protagonist—and other primary characters—from the group?

Next Blog, Jan. 20: 4 Types of Men Leaders :: Oh, Those Men!

I’m looking forward to this one–not dry at all!

~~M. A. Lee