by Carolyn Kaufman
Part I of the Archetypes Series
A lot of modern theory on what makes a good story is based on the work of Carl Jung and Joseph Campbell, both of whom were fascinated with mythology and religion. Several writing books have capitalized the Jung/Campbell concepts, most notably Chris Vogler's The Writer's Journey: Mythic Structure for Writers. Others include Victoria Lynn Schmidt's 45 Master Characters: Mythic Models for Creating Original Characters and The Complete Writer's Guide to Heroes and Heroines by Tami D. Cowden, Caro LaFever, and Sue Viders.
Jung was Sigmund Freud's protege, but when Freud, who was Jewish, fled to London after the Nazi occupation, Jung realized that he didn't agree with a lot of what Freud had taught him. While Freud was obsessed with sexual development and fantasies, Jung was noticing that people around the world told stories about the same kinds of heroes fighting the same kinds of battles with the same kinds of villains.
In an attempt to understand what could possibly link societies that had had no contact for thousands and more likely millions of years, Jung developed the concept of the collective unconscious.
The collective unconscious is like psychic DNA: it contains "inherited" psychic material that links us not only to other humans in the present but also to our ancestors from the past. According to Jung's theory, though each of us appears to function independently, in actuality we're all tapped into the same global mind.
Part of what makes the idea so intriguing is that other people have come up with similar concepts, albeit from different perspectives. For example, neurologist Karl Pribram and Manhattan Project physicist David Bohm's holonomic brain theory is rooted in quantum physics.
Essentially, if a holographic image is cut up into pieces, each of the pieces still holds the whole hologram. (So if you had a hologram of an apple and cut it into pieces, you'd just have a bunch of smaller apples. Information about the image is in all different parts of the hologram.)
Empirical research has demonstrated that the brain is the same way: memories aren't localized (stored in one place); rather, they're spread across the associative areas of the brain. Associative areas aren't set aside for particular functions like speech production, language comprehension, and memory encoding; instead, they're responsible for all "miscellaneous" tasks.
If you cut out a piece of the brain (don't try this at home, even if your name is Hannibal), say because you're removing a tumor, the patient never forgets Aunt Cindy but remembers Uncle Dave. The patient may temporarily or permanently lose certain functions, since some functions are dependent on a particular part of the brain, but assuming you don't remove the entire cerebral cortex (the gray stuff most people think of as the brain), knowledge can't be cut out. Each associative area seems to contain echoes of all of the information.
So if your brain acts like a self-contained hologram, the reasoning goes, then isn't it possible your consciousness is actually a piece of a much larger hologram of overall human consciousness; that is, of the collective unconscious?
Jung believed that the way to learn what was in the collective unconscious was to watch for the appearance of archetypes: patterns that spontaneously appear over and over around the world.
The most obvious place to find archetypes is in stories. The righteous warrior, the smart-cracking sidekick, the villain who must be overcome, and the love interest are all archetypes. Plot patterns can also be archetypal—the humble birth and prophesied journey of the hero, for example.
Each archetype is referred to by the purpose it serves. Though there are many, we'll talk here about some of the most familiar.
In the original Star Wars films the Wise Old Man archetype was represented by both Yoda and Obi-wan. In Disney fairy tales this is the Fairy Godmother, like the one who gets Cinderella ready for the ball. In the Lord of the Rings saga it's Gandalf, in the Matrix it's the Oracle, and in Harry Potter it's Dumbledore. In dramas like Good Will Hunting or Finding Forrester, the wise mentor would be Robin Williams' Sean Maguire or Sean Connery's Mr. Forrester, respectively.
In other words, the anima or animus represents the qualities of the opposite sex: sensitivity in men, for example, or power in women. (Yes, it's sexist, but as Jung died in 1961, he never quite made it to the feminist revolution.) The concept is nearly identical to that of the yin-yang in Taoism—an equal and opposite harmonious balance.
Usually the anima or animus is represented by a love interest. Old romantic paintings like those of the pre-Raphaelite period are great examples. In them, nymphs and sirens seduce soldiers and sailors to enviable deaths, and knights in shining armor rescue beautiful damsels. The knights are the damsels' animuses; the damsels are the knights' animas.
In modern fiction, Harry Potter's Hermione is an anima, and Princess Leia and Padme are animas in Star Wars. Though Elizabeth Swann is Will Turner's anima in the Pirates of the Caribbean movies, and he her animus, there's some muddying of the concept, since he's a more sensitive modern hero, and she a more active modern heroine.
The whole anima/animus idea gets tough when characters break type, something that's happening more and more in modern storytelling. For example, in the Lord of the Rings films, Sam is Frodo's anima, even though they're both males. Sam is the sensitive, concerned caretaker to Frodo's determined hero. Lara Croft's love interests are her animas, because she doesn't need an animus—she's already plenty tough! Farscape's Crichton and Aeryn are a nice example of the liquidity of the anima/animus, because she starts as his animus and he her anima, but as the series progresses he gets harder and she softer, they switch into more traditional roles.
Famous villains that nicely personify shadow include Darth Vader (Star Wars), Agent Smith (the Matrix), Voldemort and the deatheaters (Harry Potter), and most wicked witches, like Maleficent in Disney's Sleeping Beauty. Antiheroes include the Crow and, arguably, Batman.
In truly great fiction, the villain is actually the dark side or shadow of the hero. This ups the stakes considerably, because the hero's weaknesses become the villain's strengths. The villain is what the hero could become if he fails in his quest, or worse, the qualities that could destroy the hero if he lets them.
Since George Lucas relied heavily on Campbell's work in the creation of the original Star Wars movies, the Luke/Vader dichotomy is a nice example. Like the two sides of a coin, they're irrevocably connected opposites.
The Crichton/Scorpius dichotomy in Farscape is another great example, since both characters reach a point where they can't really function without each other. Likewise, Gollum represents what Frodo could become if he falls prey to the lure of the Ring, and the excitement of the Harry Potter saga must end when he reaches the final showdown with his own shadow: Voldemort. The Evil Queen in Snow White is corrupted by the Shadow quality of envy, placing her in stark contrast to Snow White's purity and beauty, while Cinderella's Wicked Stepmother and Stepsisters could be said to represent greed and an abuse of power in contrast to Cinderella’s gentle kindness and ability to take joy in small things.
Though in stories the archetypes are always fragmented into individual characters, in real life each of us carries qualities of each archetype. (If we didn't, we wouldn't be able to relate to characters who represent the archetypes we were missing.) You have an anima or animus, just like you have a shadow and a wise part that knows the best answer, if only you can learn to listen to it.