The Character Archetypes and Major Players of a Great Story

by James Bonnet

Individual consciousness passes through the same archetypal stages of development that marked the history of human consciousness as a whole. The stages begin and end with the symbol of the Uroboros, or tail-eating serpent;  the intermediary stages are projected in the universal myths of the World Creation, the Great Mother, the Separation of the World Parents, the Birth of the Hero, the Slaying of the Dragon, the Rescue of the Captive, and the Transformation and Deification of the Hero.  The hero throughout this sequence is the evolving ego consciousness.” Erich Neumann, The Origins and History of Consciousness

In the previous story course article, I talked about the real cause of the problem. I also talked about two story patterns that can deliver a significant emotional impact to your audience as they reveal the relationship between our conscious andcreative unconscious selves.

In this new sequence of articles, we will venture further insideThe Golden Paradigm, and I will introduce you to the archetypal characters and major players in great stories who are motivating and influencing the threat to take the actions that create the problems. I will also show you how these same archetypes are operating in our own psychology and in the real world as the different roles that we play in society and why this is the source of the enormous power possessed by the most memorable and enduring characters of the ancient myths and legends – and also our greatest novels and story films.

Continuing our story, then, the next set of patterns (or hidden structures) will reveal the archetypes that describe the different dimensions of our conscious and creative unconscious selves.

The male and female heroes and antiheroes are the metaphors that personify the archetypes of the conscious self, and all of the other characters in the story are the metaphors that personify the different archetypes of the creative unconscious self –  namely, the physicalemotionalmental and spiritualarchetypes (aka the body, the heart, the mind and the soul) plus the anima/animus, the trickster, and the threshold guardian.

Each of these major sets of archetypes has a male and a female aspect which can be either positive or negative. By positive I mean favoring the creative goals and aspirations of the higher, spiritual self, and by negative I mean favoring the basic instincts and drives of the lower, primordial physical self.

We experience these character archetypes in four ways. We experience them in story and dreams but we also experience them psychologically and in real life. Psychologically, we experience them as feelings, thoughts, physical sensations, desires, fantasies, mental images, and so on. In real life, we experience them as the different roles we’re called upon to play.

Together, these seven creative unconscious archetypes (with their four variations – male and female, positive and negative) make up a complete set of the archetypes necessary to help the conscious archetypes make the journey to higher stages of being. And this is what the great characters in extraordinary stories are telling us about ourselves – namely, that the creative unconscious self is potential consciousness and the seven creative unconscious archetypes are the stewards that can guide our conscious selves through the passages that will transform the physical, emotional, mental and spiritual potential energies we possess into higher states of consciousness.

Archetype, by the way, means first type or basic underlying form. If, for example, you profile the qualities that all of the different positive mother figures in great stories have in common, you will discover the characteristics of the positive female emotional archetype – i.e., feeding, caring, nurturing, protecting, supporting, loving, etc.

The Conscious Archetypes

As I indicated earlier, the male and female heroes and antiheroes are the metaphors that personify the conscious archetypes. The conscious mind is the pilot in our heads who monitors the real world through our five senses and makes the choices and decisions that plot the actions that will govern the course of our day. As such, it is the CEO, the captain, the king and the hero of our personal selves. It is also the part of us that, by the actions it chooses to take, helps to create the problems that bring about states of misfortune but that can also, by its actions, create the solutions that can restore satisfying states of good fortune. For example: I’m not feeling well today. Is it a bug of some kind? Was it the food I ate? Did I forget to wash my hands? Then perhaps it’s something I brought on myself. How can I restore my body back to good health? Should I stay in bed? Take an aspirin? See a doctor? or ignore it and do what I have to do regardless of how I feel? The conscious mind has to figure all of that out, make decisions and take action.

In a great story, when the antihero creates a problem and the hero, or other central characters, takes on the responsibility for solving that problem, they assume the roles of the positive and negative aspects of our conscious selves and become personifications (metaphors) of the conscious archetypes in action. Saruman in The Lord of the Rings and Voldemort inHarry Potter are motivated by the lower self and are personifications of the negative conscious self. They are the threats that make the choices and decisions, and take the actions that create the problems that bring about states of misfortune. In The Lord of the Rings, Frodo takes on the responsibility of destroying Sauron by destroying the Ring of Power. In The Silence of the Lambs, Clarisse (Jody Foster) takes on the responsibility of dealing with Hannibal Lecter and hunting down the serial killer, Buffalo Bill. They are personifications of the positive conscious archetypes. They make the choices and decisions, and take the actions that bring about the solutions to the problem.

In the real world, it can be the conscious minds of extraordinary threats like Hitler or Osama Bin Laden or it can be the conscious minds of real heroes like Lech Walesa in Poland, Gustav Havel in Czechoslovakia, Mahatma Gandhi in India, or Martin Luther King in the U.S. when they risk everything and sacrifice everything to bring about positive, meaningful change in their societies.

We identify with the male or female heroes, and these heroes draw us into the experience and guide us through the upside of the passage. The truer the hero is to the positive conscious archetype, the stronger our identification. And, if the hero is a role model, someone we want to be like, then the story can have a powerful influence on our lives. If at the same time, we reject the choices and behavior of the male and female antiheroes, it can have an equally profound and beneficial effect on our lives and on the society in which we live.

And why is all of this important to writers and filmmakers? Because, if your heroes and antiheroes become personifications of the positive and negative conscious archetypes, which all of the truly great characters have accomplished, your characters will become charismatic. They will make a significant psychological connection and possess considerable power. The truer they are to the underlying archetypes, the more powerful they will become; and the more powerful they become, the more powerful and transformative the emotions stirred in the hearts of your audience and experienced by them as entertainment.

In the next several story course articles, we will take a closer look at “The Marvelous and Terrible Elements,” the powers the hero and the antihero need to complete their passages, and the creative unconscious archetypes which, in a great story, are the forces of assistance and resistance – the allies or enemies that confront and surround the conscious archetypes and act as antagonists, mentors, helpers or guides. They are the metaphors that personify the feelings and impulses that motivate and influence the choices and behavior of the conscious archetypes – and they are the forces that personify the feelings and impulses that motivate and influence our own choices and behavior.

We will also begin sharing ideas about how to create them.

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