Universal Patterns
Literature and Myth
Why do we tell stories?
• To help us escape reality by entering a world
where the good guy wins, the forces of evil are
defeated, and love conquers all.
• To help define roles of “good” and “evil”;
hero’s and villains so that we can better
recognize those with similar morals and
motives in our real lives.
• Storytelling is essential for the survival of
humanity and provides hope.
• Stories connect us with our cultural and
spiritual past. They help us understand many
of our accepted traditions and rituals.
• They allow us to tell our own stories to others
and, using archetypes, help us better relate to
the stories of others.
The Archetypal Hero
What Do Luke Skywalker, Simba, King
Arthur, Moses, Wonder Woman,
William Wallace, & Optimus Prime
all have in common?
They are all Archetypal Heroes
But what is an Archetype?
And what does it have to do with Heroes?
What is an archetype?
And what does it have to do with Heroes?
A Simple Definition…
• According to the American Heritage Online
Dictionary…an archetype is an original model
or type which other similar things are
patterned after, in other words a prototype or
first model for all others.
Let’s start with the two guys who came
up with the concept:
Carl Jung
• Carl Jung first applied the term archetype to literature. He recognized that
there were universal patterns in all stories and mythologies regardless of
culture or historical period and hypothesized that part of the human mind
contained a collective unconscious shared by all members of the human
species, a sort of universal, primal memory.
• Joseph Campbell took Jung’s ideas and applied them to world
mythologies. In A Hero with a Thousand Faces, among other works, he
refined the concept of hero and the hero’s journey—George Lucas used
Campbell’s writings to formulate the Star Wars saga. Recognizing
archetypal patterns in literature brings patterns we all unconsciously
respond to in similar ways to a conscious level.
The term archetype can be applied to:
• An image
• An idea
• A theme
• A character type
• A symbol
• A plot pattern
Archetypes can be expressed in
• Myths
• Religions
• Dreams
• Fantasies
• Literature
• Folklore
Okay, so what exactly characterizes an
Archetypal Hero then?
• The Hero – In its simplest form, this character is the
one ultimately who may fulfill a necessary task and
who will restore fertility, harmony, and/or justice to a
community. The hero character is the one who
typically experiences an initiation, who goes the
community’s ritual (s), et cetera.
Heroic Archetypes
• Hero as Warrior
– A near god-like hero faces physical challenges and
external enemies
– Examples: Beowulf, Odysseus
• Transcendent Hero
– The hero of tragedy whose fatal flaw (hamartia)
brings about his downfall, but not without
achieving some kind of transforming realization of
– Examples: Greek and Shakespearean tragedies –
Oedipus, Hamlet, Macbeth, etc.
Heroic Archetypes, cont.
• Hero as Lover
– A pure love motivates the hero to
complete his quest
– Examples: Prince Charming, Romeo
• Romantic/Gothic Hero
– Hero/lover with a decidedly dark side
– Examples: Mr. Rochester in Jane Eyre
• Apocalyptic Hero
– Hero who faces the possible
destruction of society
Heroic Archetypes, cont.
• Proto-feminist Hero
– Female hero, which differs from a heroine
• A heroine usually exists as the object of a male quest
• The female hero has her own journey
– Overall movement is the same, but kinds of
challenges, confrontations, goals and ends may
– Often fight against society’s expectations of them
Heroic Archetypes, cont.
• Anti-Hero
– A non-hero, given the
vocation of failure,
frequently humorous
– Example: Homer Simpson
• Defiant Anti-Hero
– Opposer of society’s
definition of
– Example: Heart of
Heroic Archetypes, cont.
• Hero as Scapegoat
– Hero suffers for the sake of others
– Example: Jesus
• Unbalanced hero
– The protagonist who has (or must
pretend to have) mental or
emotional deficiencies
– Examples: Hamlet, McMurphy in
One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest
Heroic Archetypes, cont.
• The Other – The Denied Hero
– Protagonist whose status or essential otherness
makes heroism possible
– The outcast or member of a minority group
– Example: Drizzt Do’Urden (Dark Elf Series),
Invisible Man by Ralph Ellison
Heroic Archetypes, cont.
• The Superheroic
– Exaggerates the normal
proportions of humanity
– Frequently has divine or
supernatural origins. In some
sense, the superhero is one
apart, someone who does not
quite belong, but who is
nevertheless needed by
– Examples:
• Mythological heroes such as
– Hercules,
– Superman
Traits of the Archetypal Hero
• Unusual Circumstances of Birth
• Leaves Family and Lives With Others
• Traumatic Event Leads to Quest
• Special Weapon
• Supernatural Help
Unusual Birth
Often in danger or
born into royalty…
Leaves Family
Raised away from…
-or separated from home
Traumatic Event
The hero’s life is
changed forever…
Special Weapon
Only the hero can
wield it…
Supernatural Help
-The hero often has
spiritual guidance
More Heroic Traits…
• Proves self on Quest
• Journey and Unhealable Wound
• Atonement With Father
• Spiritual Apotheosis
Proves Him or Herself
The hero performs
heroic feats…
Journey & Unhealable Wound
Hero descends into a helllike area and suffers
wounding from an
encounter with evil
Atonement With Father
The hero either redeems father’s
evil deeds or reconciles with
father over wrongs done by
the hero
Hero is rewarded spiritually at
the end of his, or her life
Types of Archetypal Journeys
The quest for identity
The epic journey to find the promised land/to found the
good city
The quest for vengeance
The warrior’s journey to save his people
The search for love (to rescue the princess/damsel in
The journey in search of knowledge
The tragic quest: penance or self-denial
The fool’s errand
The quest to rid the land of danger
The grail quest (the quest for human perfection)
The Hero’s Journey
Stage 1 - Departure: The hero is called to adventure,
although he is reluctant to accept.
Stage 2 - Initiation: The hero crosses a threshold into a
new, more dangerous world, gaining a more mature
Stage 3 - The Road of Trials: The hero is given
supernatural aid, endures tests of strength,
resourcefulness, and endurance.
Stage 4 - The Innermost Cave: The hero descends into
the innermost cave, an underworld, or some other place
of great trial. Sometimes this place can be within the
hero’s own mind. Because of this trial, the hero is reborn
in some way—physically, emotionally, or spiritually.
Through this experience, the hero changes internally.
Stage 5 - Return and Reintegration with Society: The
hero uses his new wisdom to restore fertility and order
to the land
Characteristics of the Hero’s Journey
The hero is naïve and inexperienced
The hero meets monsters or monstrous men
The hero has a strange, wise being as a mentor
The hero years for the beautiful lady who is sometimes his guide or
The hero must go on a journey, learn a lesson, change in some way, and
return home
The hero often crosses a body of water or travels on a bridge.
The hero is born and raised in a rural setting away from cities
The origin of the hero is mysterious or the hero losses his/her parents at a
young age, being raised by animals or a wise guardian
Characteristics of the Hero’s Journey
The hero returns to the land of his/her birth in disguise or as an unknown
The hero is special, one of a kind. He/she might represent a whole nation or
The hero struggles for something valuable and important
The hero has help from divine or supernatural forces
The hero has a guide or guides
The hero goes through a rite of passage or initiation, an event that marks a change
from an immature to a more mature understanding of the world
The hero undergoes some type of ritual or ceremony after his/her initiation
The hero has a loyal band of companions
The hero makes a stirring speech to his/her companions
The hero engages in tests or contests of strength (physical and/or mental) and
shows pride in his/her excellence
The hero suffers an unhealable wound, sometimes an emotional or spiritual
wound from which the hero never completely recovers.
• Anti-Hero-is generally
considered to be a
protagonist whose
personality can be
perceived as being
villainous and heroic
together, or doesn’t
embody the more
noble characteristics of
an archetypal hero.
Other Archetype Characters
• Young Person from
the Provinces – This
hero is taken away as
an infant or youth
and raised by
strangers. He or she
later returns home
as a stranger and
able to recognize
new problems and
new solutions.
Hunting Group of Companions
Hunting Group of Companions – These
loyal companions are willing to face any
number of perils in order to be together.
Loyal Retainers
These individuals are like the noble sidekicks to the hero. Their duty is to
protect the hero. Often the retainer reflects the hero’s nobility.
• The Initiates – These are young heroes who, prior to
the quest, must endure some training and ritual.
They are usually innocent at this stage.
• Mentors – These individuals serve as teachers or
counselors to the initiates. Sometimes they work as
role models and often serve asas father or mother
figure. They teach by example the skills necessary to
survive the journey and quest.
• The Scapegoat – An animal or more
usually a human whose death, often in a
public ceremony, excuses some traitor sin
that has been visited upon the community.
This death often makes theme more
powerful force to the hero.
• The Outcast – This figure is banished from
a community for some crime (real or
imagined). The outcast is usually destined
to become a wanderer.
• The Devil Figure – This character represents evil incarnate. He
or she may offer worldly goods, fame, or knowledge to the
protagonist in exchange for possession of the soul or integrity.
This figure’s main aim is to oppose the hero
in his or her quest.
(Other than Heroines, of course)
– The Temptress – Characterized by
sensuous beauty, she is one whose
physical attraction may bring about the
hero’s downfall.
The Damsel in Distress –
This vulnerable woman must
be rescued by the hero. She
also may be used as a trap,by
an evil figure, to ensnare the
The Platonic Ideal – This
source of inspiration often
is a physical and spiritual
ideal for whom the hero
has an
intellectual rather than
physical attraction.
The Earth Mother – This
character is symbolic of fulfillment,
abundance, and fertility; offers
spiritual andemotional nourishment
to those who she contacts; often
depicted in earth colors.
Star-Crossed lovers
young man and woman enter
an ill-fated love affair which
ends tragically in the death of
either or both of the lovers
– Friendly Beast –These animals assist
the hero and reflect that nature is on
the hero’s side.
The Creature of Nightmare – This
monster, physical or abstract, is
summoned from the deepest, darkest
parts of the human psyche to threaten
the lives of the hero/heroine. Often it is
a perversion or desecration of the
human body.
The Evil Figure with the Ultimately Good
Heart – This redeemable devil figure (or
servant to the devil figure)
is saved by the hero’s nobility or good heart.
Colors as Symbolic Archetypes
• Black (darkness) – chaos, mystery, the unknown, before
existence, death, the unconscious, evil
• Red – blood, sacrifice, violent passion, disorder, sunrise,
birth, fire, emotion, wounds, sentiment, mother, Mars,
anger, excitement, heat
• Green – hope, growth, envy, Earth, fertility, sensation,
vegetation, nature, greed.
• White (light) – purity, peace, innocence, goodness,
Spirit, morality, creative force, the direction East,
spiritual thought.
• Orange – fire, pride, ambition, egoism, Venus
• Blue – clear sky, the day, the sea, height,
depth, heaven, religious feeling, devotion,
innocence, truth, spirituality.
• Violet – Royality, nostalgia, memory, advanced
spirituality, Neptune.
• Gold – Majesty, sun, wealth,
Other Common archetypes:
Meals together tend to be acts of communion/community or isolation.
Ghosts, vampires, monsters, and nasty people and sometimes simply the antagonists
are not about supernatural brew-ha-ha; they tend to depict some sort of exploitation.
There’s only one story. Look for allusions and archetypes.
Weather matters.
Violence and be both literal and figurative.
Symbols can be objects, images, events, and actions.
Sometimes a story is meant to change us, the readers, and through us change society.
Flying tends to represent freedom. What do you think falling represents?
Geography tends to be a metaphor for the psyche. (deserts, cliffs, oceans, etc.)
Seasons tend to be traditional symbols.
Disabilities, Scars, and Deformities show character and theme.
Heart disease tends to represent problems with character and society. So do illness and
Read with your imagination.
Irony trumps everything!