Monday, August 17, 2009

Archetypes in Fantasy

An archetype is a universal symbolic pattern. Examples of archetypal characters in mainstream fiction are easily recognizable such as the femme fatale, the trickster, the great mother and father, and, of course in fantasy, the wizard. There are archetypal stories as well. Examples are stories of great floods, paradise, the underworld, and even those of final apocalypse. True to their universal nature, archetypal characters and stories appear again and again in myths across many diverse cultures. It is this nature that makes them so recognizable and identifiable.

Archetypal myths explain the nature of the world and life. For example, many cultures throughout time have tales to explain the origins of places and objects: the city, the mountain, the temple, the tree and even the stone. Other archetypal myths serve to instruct. For example, the quest archetype is typically a journey where the hero or heroine must overcome their own faults and weaknesses in order to reemerge as a mature, productive member of their society.

There are numerous archetypes in the realm of fantasy. This will be the topic over the next several weeks. While this is but a partial list, these are some of the more humanoid types of characters typically found in epic fantasy.

Adept (Wizard): A practitioner of magic who lives a life of solitude. He is often found studying and experimenting with arcane energy. He is often perceived as a hermit - appearing in public once in a great while (usually to help save and/or destroy the world). Adepts have a high Intellect and often possess a custom set off formulae for creating spells and analyzing magic.

Alchemist (Wizard): A very intelligent practitioner of magic who devotes their attention to the creation and study of magic elixirs, potions, and formulae. Alchemists are especially interested in the magical properties of certain metals and have developed many method of synthesizing those metals in their laboratories. Typically, Alchemists require access to a laboratory in order to work their ‘magic’.

Animal Familiar (Specialized character): A highly intelligent animal that shares a special magical bond with a Wizard or a Witch. Animal Familiars often act as an extra pair of eyes for the Wizard with whom they share a bond most considered as pets or even friends. Sometimes these devoted Animal Familiars that have been attached to a Wizard for lengthy periods of time have been known to fight for their friends either in combat or when the lines of defense are drawn. Such examples of these are Merlin’s hawk, Trouble, in the TA Barron’s Merlin, The Early Years series which chronicle young Merlin’s life and Fawkes the phoenix was a familiar in JK Rowling’s Harry Potter.

Apprentice (Wizard): An apprentice is a novice practitioner of magic who has sworn an allegiance of service to a more experienced wizard in exchange for instruction, bed and board.

Assassin/Spy (Mortal): Possessed of high intellect and keen sense of adventure, Assassins and Spies are very dangerous people – living weapons that have been trained to blend in with their environment. They typically possess such talents as a chameleon-like ability to mimic others, disguise their appearance, and formal combat training with many different types of weapons. Also, most Assassins and Spies have mastered at least one martial art.

Barbarian (Sometimes mortal, may also be warriors of various fantasy clans such as giants, ogres, orcs): A pillar of physical strength, the Barbarian often has a chiseled physique and that has been honed by a savage life. Barbarians are skilled combatants well trained in the art of survival, They often possess great talents for swordplay, horsemanship, and drinking heartily. They despise armor, viewing it as a tool of the weak.

Bard (Human): Particularly in stories set with a more medieval backdrop, these are traveling minstrels that earn a living by entertaining others. With a high Intellect, the Bard is an accomplished orator, dancer, storyteller, and musician. The Bard who accompanies a group of adventurers may also have some (usually limited) skill with a small weapon, such as a dagger or a rapier.

Beast Master (Wizard): The Beast Master has a supernatural bond with animals, able to communicate with them via telepathy, able to command them, able to see through their eyes. These are typically immortal characters such as wizards and keepers. The Beast Master possesses a natural magic talent that few are born with. In addition to their magical talent, a Beast Master is also knows how to ride and care for numerous wild animals. The Beast Master is usually accompanied by one or more Animal Familiars.

Black Knight (Mortal): Unlike the traditional Noble Knight, the Black Knight is a vicious, cruel warrior. Skilled with both blade and lance, on foot or on horseback, the Black Knight is the loyal enforcer of a tyrannical ruler. Strong and brutal, Black Knights are feared wherever they go, routinely slaughtering Peasants for properly honor their Lord. These are henchmen for the protagonist.

Blacksmith (Mortal, however, can be Elvish or Dwarves): In a world set in medieval times or in a utilitarian realm, these are strong and burly master craftsmen, smelting raw ore and forging it into blades worthy of warriors. Both imaginative and intelligent, Blacksmiths have an understanding of metal that few other people in the world have - in the hands of a Blacksmith, metal is like putty, conforming to their will. Dwarves and Elves are renowned for their skills and craftsmanship. Elf made armor and weapons are notoriously well made, beautifully crafted, often ornate and light weight. Dwarf-made armor and weapons are some of the best to be found.

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Karen K Brees said...

Archetypes are helpful in all types of writing fiction. Chris Vogler's "The Writer's Journey" expands on Campbell's mythic structure and is really a helpful resource.

Elizabeth Spann Craig said...

Great list of archetypes, Nancy. Thanks so much for the in-depth look.

You won an award on my blog today. :)

Mystery Writing is Murder

N A Sharpe said...

Hi Karen and Elizabeth! Thank you so much for stopping by today. time has totally eluded me lately. I must get caught up and visit my blog friends and write, write, write!

Nancy, from Realms of Thought…

Beverly Stowe McClure said...

This is good stuff. I tweeted it. I am learning. :)


N A Sharpe said...

Hi Bev! There are soooo many characters and options in the fantasy realm. This listing isn't complete and I have about three postings worth - and these are just the humanoid characters :D

Just having some fun!

Thanks so much for stopping by.

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