Archetypes: Its Uses and Significance in Stories

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Harry Potter, Neo (or Mr. Anderson), and Luke Skywalker have a lot in common. By saying their names together you might already have guessed. To spell some out, They:

  1. Start the story with no clue about the story’s larger concept world.
  2. Generally fearless, or people with unwavering justice or conviction.
  3. Are subjected to a prophecy of being the “Chosen One”
What about Dumbledore, Morpheus, and Yoda? Immense mastery of skill and ambiguous wisdom?
Many stories that have remained strengthened through concepts that repeat on stories. Some may call it a cliche, but here, we will call them under a deeper level of analysis: an archetype.

“The collective unconscious consists of the sum of the instincts and their correlates, the archetypes. Just as everybody possesses instincts, so he also possesses a stock of archetypal images.” – Carl Jung, Instinct and the Unconscious

What are Archetypes?

Archetypes are representations of a certain character set that form a whole idea. This concept, however, lies deeper than storytelling. It is part of a psychological theory presented by Carl Jung, in his explanation of the human psyche. His theory expands the idea that our minds have a collection of roles/representations, from which we consciously base our interactions.

In association with storytelling, we tend to create identities that are realistic to us. These character types appear in many cultures, mythologies, and oral storytelling traditions. This leads that our perceptions are a collective one instinctively understanding the world in the same manner.

How are they significant to storytelling?

Imagine an archetype as a cookie cutter: basic, but with a unique form. You can make many plain but interesting sugar cookies with those, but that’s not exciting, isn’t it? Adding flavor and frosting decor will be dependent on the baker’s design (or in our case, the writer). It adds a lot more variety, and the same applies to stories. Archetypes determine character basis and become polished through a plot, direction, and individual traits.

Archetypes build from the character base and expand from there. Stereotypes take templates and run with the idea.

The former is more commonly used in personality tests as categories, but the concept lies deeper than that. With it, we understand the similarities and differences between characters. Many stories and narratives make it clear that archetypes serve to create rich and long-lasting tales.

Revenge Of Return Of The Jedi
Light versus Dark is also an archetypal theme. Sometimes used well, or sometimes used poorly. Photo by JD Hancock cc


What are some examples?

Archetypes determine behaviors, fate, or moral alignments of characters. Many articles online say there are a basic of 12 archetypes, but they not exclusive towards people. Archetypes can also appear in events, concepts or symbols. Our minds also associate archetypes with certain brands as we grow an emotional attachment to them. Other than the above which are usually dubbed as “the hero” and “the sage”. Below are some examples of archetypes recurring over time.

The Trickster

Sly, cunning or charming. Those are the usual characteristics of the trickster. This archetype does not specify if this person is a hero or an anti-hero. Loki is a fine example of a trickster. This Norse God outwits many people throughout his stories and is popular for his way with words and ambiguous alliance.


Almost all things come from water. Or at least, that’s how the story goes. In this video on Crash Course, water is one of the main elements common in many mythologies. It is seen as an essential life source from which plants and animals become nourished. But water can also bring demise. Storms and floods are very common symbolic representations of troubled times.

The Quest

This archetype dwells more on the story flow than an actual character. It depicts not only a journey which may be aimless but also a mission which must be performed to succeed. Quests can be outright, or not outright. Find the artifact, escape the house, or destroy the villain’s power source. Games contain this type structure as well, forming narrative and giving clear objectives to players. Sometimes, to their own success or fail, players have started to expect this format.

Nowadays people are aware of these archetypes and templates. Writers and screenwriters sometimes use that to their advantage, to the point of borderline meta. These are also the subject of many parodies ranging from released spoof movies to Youtube skit videos.

Quests are common in a lot of storytelling, usually the structure for the main plot to focus on.

It is without a doubt that archetypes are compelling to stand the test of time, and live fresh in our minds. They affect our life perspectives and interactions and more. Look out for more of these archetypes the next time you sit down for a movie, TV show or a book.

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