This post is part of a series exploring the Hero’s Journey. Joseph Campbell studied hundreds of world-wide myths, finding patterns to virtually any story. This basic framework gives the stories we tell a universal, timeless appeal and resonate deeply with our audiences. This series is not about a “five steps to perfect stories” method, nor does it claim a best way to tell stories.  Today, we chat about major archetypes.

Check out the rest of the series and a compare different versions of the Hero’s Journey

At its most basic, a story has three elements: Character, Plot, and Setting. A person (not necessarily human) doing stuff in a place and time. We have already touched on plot. Today, we begin tackling character.

Characters Along the Road

So, why are characters so important? Simply, we need characters to do the stuff in the story. They are as necessary to stories as hydrogen is to water. But what else? Characters allow storytellers to explore how different people react to different situations. Even deeper than all that, though: Characters are what the audience identify with.

Archetypes are powerful characters because most anyone can identify with most any archetype at some point in their life. Archetypes are broad types that we all encountered in life, and (whether we like to admit it or not) have portrayed at some point. Each of us has been a Mentor. We”™ve all felt like the Hero going the road alone. We”™ve even been the Shadow trying to hinder another, though we never think of ourselves as evil. Even with minor archetypes, this is true. I”™ve been a trickster, a shape shifter, an ally and (yes) the wicked-step-mother.

In this way, archetypes are psychological functions. They are templates, not rigid, expressions of character.

Archetypes in a Hero’s Journey have a relationship to the hero. The Mentor guides the hero. The Shadow tries to stop the hero. The Trickster feigns assistance while setting them back.

If we see these archetypes as functions, then one character could be all of these types. The Trickster can act as a Mentor, while unwittingly guiding the hero along, but eventually becomes a Shadow. We can also view archetypes as reflections of the Hero. The hero interacts with each character and absorbs, tests out, or reacts against the core trait of that archetype. And the Hero grows.

Major Archetypes

There are too many archetypes to count. However, in the Hero’s Journey, there are a number of archetypal functions that are crucial. There need not be a separate character for each of these major archetypes, but all of these functions will be filled in some way or another.


The Hero is the willful character whose world is upset by some event and sets out into the special world to bring everything into balance again. It is this character’s choices that make the most dramatic changes to the plot. The hero also grows because of the journey and ultimately faces the Shadow.


Joseph Campbell called the Mentor the Wise Old Man or Woman. This is the figure that guides the Hero through the unknown. The Mentor is a source of answered questions, important gifts, and a prodding along that the Hero occasionally needs to keep going.


The Shadow can be either a character or a force of antagonism. Whatever its form, the Shadow is what stands between the Hero and his Object of Desire.


The Herald is the force or character who delivers the call to adventure to the hero. This may be done by bringing news, initiating a challenge, or the fate-like force behind a chance meeting. The herald may even be an inner stirring of the hero.

Other Archetypes

In the next installment, we will look at minor archetypes that may not be crucial to the plot, but add to the richness of a story.

Feel free to comment below.


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Chris Michaels

Storyteller. Researcher. Coder. Innovator. I seek to push the boundaries of storytelling and education.
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