Who’s who? The 8 Character Archetypes

You know how they say that you can no longer create a completely original story? I consider that to be a true statement. If you pare down most books to their very skeletons, you’ll find that there area lot of similarities. Characters, for example, may vary, but their role in the story often falls into one or more character archetype.

When researching Character Archetypes, I found eight that can be found on a hero’s journey story, but I think they can apply to most epic fantasies in general.

Who's Who

1. The Hero

I think it’s safe to say that the hero is, quite often, the protagonist of the story. Note I said often and not always. The reason protagonists are often considered heroes is because the story is told from their point of view, and everyone thinks they’re the hero of their own story. Either way… some examples are in order. Frodo Baggins, from Lord of the Rings, is willing to brave the dangers of Sauron to help destroy the ring. In Harry Potter, obviously, Harry is the hero. And in Fire by Kristin Cashore, main character Fire eventually agrees to use her powers to help keep the Dells safe.

2. The Shadow

Also known as the antagonist, this is the character (or any force in general that generates conflict) that the hero must pit him/herself against. In Lord of the Rings, Sauron is the most obvious choice for this character archetype, though Sarumon is another choice. In Harry Potter, Voldemort takes this title.  In Fire, we also have several shadow figures: Lord Mydogg and Lord Gentian, as well as young Leck.

3. The Mentor

The Mentor is also called ‘the wise man.’ The mentor teaches the hero how to survive in this new world. They also help push the hero into starting their journey. In Lord of the Rings, Gandalf would be considered the Mentor. In Harry Potter, Dumbledore is the character who is always there to help Harry when he needs it. In Fire, I would probably consider Brocker to be the mentor.

4. The Herald

The herald is a person or event that acts as a call to action. They act as a catalyst, sometimes singling out the hero. In Lord of the Rings, though a person could argue that the events prior to meeting Elrond could count as the herald, I think that Elrond, at the council meeting, acts as the herald. Frodo sees the damage that is caused by the Ring, and agrees to take it to Mordor. Before that point, his intentions had been to get the ring to the elves, and then go back home. In Harry Potter, Hagrid is the herald because he’s the one who finally comes to fetch Harry from the Dursleys, taking him to Hogwarts. In Fire, Brigan is the herald, because he is the one who convinces her to accompany him to King’s City.

5. The Guardian

The threshold guardian is the character/force that acts as a roadblock for the hero. The guardian offers the hero a chance to prove their worth and/or strengthen their resolve. In Lord of the Rings, one such guardian is the Balrog, who literally tries to block the fellowship from escaping Moria. In Harry Potter, Fluffy is the guardian. He guards the trap door where the Sorcerer’s/Philosopher’s stone is being kept. In Fire, Fire’s own fears (and the memory of her father) act as the threshold guardian. She doesn’t want to use her abilities to take advantage of people. Getting over this fear is the only way to save the kingdom.

6. The Shapeshifter

The shapeshifter is the two-faced character that the hero doesn’t know if s/he can trust. In Lord of the Rings, the best example of the shapeshifter is Gollum, especially since he had a duel personality. He tries to help Frodo, but he also desperately wants the Ring. In Harry Potter, Professor Snape is the shapeshifter, because Snape pretends to be in allegiance with Voldemort in order to aid Dumbledore, but so few members can actually tell he’s genuinely on Dumbledore’s side. In Fire, the shapeshifter would be King Nash, who is undoubtedly a good guy; it’s just, he let’s himself be swayed by Fire’s monster beauty, and this makes him unpredictable and clingy.

7. The Trickster

The trickster/joker is basically the comedic relief. His/her other job is to challenge the status quo or to urge the hero to change. Obviously, Merry and Pippin are ideal candidates for this role. Pippin, especially, seems to cause a lot of trouble accidentally. In Harry Potter, who takes the title? Yep, the Weasley Twins. They help out Harry a few times, and are so obviously different from the other characters. In Fire, young Hannah claims this title. She’s one of the main reasons Fire is eventually willing to trust and love Brigan, to help the royal family.

8. The Ally

Finally, the ally, otherwise known as the sidekick. This character is the hero’s most devoted friend. Lord of the Rings has an obvious choice for the all: Sam is willing to stick by Frodo through thick and thin. Frodo wouldn’t have succeeded in his task without him. Same goes for Harry Potter: Ron and Hermione (especially Hermione) help Harry defeat Voldemort. And, finally, Fire’s ally is Archer, who protects her right up until the end.

 

The most helpful source for this post was Mythcreants, with the link to their post here. While I knew the more obvious ones (hero, villain/shadow, mentor, and ally/sidekick), I wanted to find out some other archetypes. What I liked most about the Mythcreants post was that it said:

It’s unusual for stories to have exactly one character per archetype. Because archetypes are simply roles a character can take, Obi Won and Yoda can both be mentors, J can be a hero and a trickster, and Effie Trinket can be first a herald, then later an ally.

This article by thewritersjourney.com helped clear up any remaining confusion on the different archetypes.

If you’ve read any/all of these books, tell me: do you agree with what characters were assigned what roles? Are there any other books you’ve read where you can point out what characters fit what roles?

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