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Hi all! We haven''t had a good archetypes thread in a long time, and I''ve been researching them lately, so... What do you know about archetypes? Have you heard of Jung''s archetype theory? Do you have a favorite archetype or two? What axes of clasification do you think would be most useful in making a ''periodic table of archetypes''? (my current project) What lists of archetypes have you encountered? (please list them here or link to an explanatory webpage) Can you think of any pairs or trios of archetypes that work particularly well together? Any archetypes that always go with a particular story role, e.g. hero, sidekick, minor villain, major villain? I want to hear what you guys have to say, then I''ll come back and share my accumulated research on the matter.

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How many distinct character archetypes would you guess there are? I tried calculating it a few different ways, and I got answers ranging from 16 to 96 to 288 to 1,200. o.O

The axes of classification I'm currently playing with are:

Social position (Leader, Follower, Switch, Loner)

Serotonin level (Optimist, Pessimist)

Testosterone level
- Male: Brute, Alpha, Normal, Mamma's boy, Poof
- Female: Butch, Alpha, Normal, Mothering, Fainting lady

Energy level (Hyper, Laid-back)

Acting ability (can't lie worth a darn, lies passably, professional actor/spy)

Self-Esteem level (High, Low)

Self-Discipline level (Hedonist, Ascetic)

Do you see any problems with these, or would you suggest any different/additional ones?

[edited by - sunandshadow on January 30, 2003 5:30:03 PM]

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lol. i like the way you broke those up.

i was thinking more along the traditional lines, but yours works pretty well too.

im going to add a good guy/bad guy one...
(hero, sidekick, minor villain, major villain?) would go here, i guess

and i guess most everything i was thinking of would fit under social positions.

[edited by - redeyegames on January 30, 2003 8:52:03 PM]

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IMO most characters can be good guys or bad guys depending entirely on whose pov the story is written from.

Here''s another little tidbit - my very favoritest archetype! ^_^

The Self-Defensive Sociopath Archetype
as exemplified by:
Grima Wormtongue from The Lord of the Rings,
Tomo aka Chuin from Fushigi Yuugi,
Severus Snape from Harry Potter, and
Saionji Kyoichi from Revolutionary Girl Utena,

by Sunandshadow

You either detest them or you drool over them; there is no middle ground. Well, unless of course you want to detest them and drool over them… ^_~

Many of the most argued-over characters in fandom belong to the archetype of the ‘Self-Defensive Sociopath’. These characters are generally minor villains who are maltreated both by the general public and by their masters, the major villains. Not naturally charismatic or athletic in childhood and thus unable to defend themselves with likeability or physical force, these characters suffer through their childhoods until they can develop various brain-over-brawn ways to defend themselves: e.g., sarcasm, cynicism, eloquent mesmerizing rhetoric, skill at theft or poisoning, seduction, torture, bribery, blackmail, and/or dark magic. Because of feeling unvalued during childhood, characters of this archetype often have major self-esteem issues, usually where they believe that they are not attractive or loveable but try to compensate by being super-competent at harming their enemies and being useful to their masters. Because they can’t stand to feel unattractive and unloveable, they hate those who won’t love them and bitterly envy those who are loveable. Because they feel that others are inferior in terms of skill and competence, they are contemptuous of others. So these characters end up disliking everyone and having no friends, which reinforces their feelings of social inadequacy. So, hating themselves and everyone else, these characters throw themselves into being skilled and loyal minions because this is the only thing they can feel proud of.

So, naturally, lots of fangirls find this a huge turn-on and drool all over the character in question. … Confused? If so, you’re not the only one. But looked at from the point of view of evolutionary psychology, this phenomenon really makes a great deal of sense. Evolutionary what? Evolutionary psychology is the idea of studying human behavior as being driven by evolutionary pressures, particularly sexual selection of the fittest mates. Women, including the fangirls mentioned above, respond reliably to certain traits in potential mates, and by extension fictional characters. And interestingly enough, some of these traits correspond directly with not only certain character archetypes, but also certain established flavors of fanfic such as hurt/comfort, BDSM, and MPREG. What traits? How do they correspond with what? Well, I’ll explain. ^_^

First of all, there are two main strategies in female mate selection, the high-testosterone strategy and the low-testosterone strategy. If you want a mate who can bring home big game (or big $$$), a mate who would kill to protect you and your children, then what you want is a high-testosterone male. These are the Doms in BDSM, the leaders or lone wolves, the major villains and stoic heroes who have excessive muscles and never smile. (It is statistically documented that high-testosterone males smile less than mid and low testosterone males.) This type of mate also has some downsides though – they may be abusive, and they tend to be unfaithful and unwilling to commit to helping raise your children because their surging hormones direct them to sleep around.

If, on the other, hand, you want a mate who’s good with kids (MPREG, anyone?), gentle, loyal, and eloquent, then you want a low-testosterone male. (Eloquent? Yes, it is statistically documented that low-testosterone men speak more overall and use more complex vocabulary and grammatical structures than high-testosterone men, even those of the same level of intelligence.) These are the subs, the sidekicks, the minions who give big speeches and prefer subtlety to brute force, the bishounen who have not-so-broad shoulders and softer curves. These are also the ones who are more likely to hide behind you than protect you, and the ones who have the potential to be obsessively jealous of their beloveds (whether or not their love is requited), so you can see that this choice has some down sides as well.

Now let us consider the self-defensive sociopath archetype. These characters are interestingly torn between the two usual categories. Clearly they started out as low-testosterone males, but in self-defense they build a more dominant personality to role-play. This is clearly demonstrated in the case of Tomo, who hides his shy inner self Chuin behind the mask of the Jing, a dominant warrior character from Chinese Opera. Many fanwriters also postulate that Severus Snape’s forceful and abrasive personality is part of his double-agent act, and his search for a leader to be loyal to and friends to be respected by is one of the things that tempted him into being a Death Eater. Similarly, Saionji is frustrated and loses his temper because he can’t take the place he wants as Touga’s sidekick and best friend. And then finally we have Grima called Wormtongue, who is detested by the girl he loves and decides to follow Saruman to take revenge on his whole country for never loving or appreciating him; Grima’s councilor-facade all the way down to his body language has clearly been crafted to help him gain the power and position he needs to carry out his revenge.

Another hormone can also be seen at work here. Men and women both seek mates according to their level of serotonin, the hormone that determines whether someone is a content optimist or a depressed pessimist. People generally seek a mate whose serotonin level is not the same as, but rather complementary to, their own. Thus you see our poor habitually miserable sociopaths followed around by hordes of happy bouncy fangirls. Why it’s beneficial to have a mate with a complementary serotonin level is still under debate, but some possibilities have been suggested. For one thing, optimists and pessimists evaluate problems and make decisions differently; if an optimist and a pessimist work together they have a larger array of strategies to use in attempting to fix problems. Also, both excessively high and excessively low serotonin levels can be disadvantageous – people with very high serotonin levels tend to blow off assignments (sometimes in favor of writing fanfic ) and not have a strong instinct to defend themselves, whereas people with very low serotonin levels are prone to various self-harming behaviors like cutting and suicide. So if your serotonin level is unbalanced in one direction, choosing a mate whose serotonin level is unbalanced in the other direction could result in offspring with a more average serotonin level, and therefore a higher chance of survival and reproductive success.

Hormones, schmormones, these characters are still evil! You can’t really like the villains, can you? Au contraire! While it might take a bit more imagination to be attracted to a villain than a hero, there are lots of reasons to like the characters of this archetype. Many controversial words have been written over the years about the nurturing instinct and whether it’s a wholly female prerogative or not, but no one can deny that the genre of hurt/comfort exists because some readers like to see characters get tortured, and some readers (possibly the same ones) want to rescue tortured characters, take them home, cuddle them, and give them hot chocolate. This pitiful/pitiable archetype makes a good target for both the wicked delight of the torturer and the benevolent empathy of the rescuer. And villains in general are flexible in their appeal because you can imagine your Mary Sue (or Marty Stu) committing villainy by his side, or redeeming him by winning him over to the side of the light! ^_^

Basically, whether you go for this archetype’s outer Dom or inner sub, whether you prefer to do the torturing of the rescuing, whether you like being the bad guy or the good guy, and especially if you like it all, this is one archetype that has a lot of dramatic potential with which to tempt fangirls.

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I used to spend a lot of time down at the Joseph Campbell archives in Summeland, toward the end of his career, he was working with ther primitive archetype, and that is of particular fascination to me, and it is the one that related to us individually, and is not an externalized representation of the thousand faces of the hero, in Jungian vernacular.

I think the player as archetype in our field as an area ripe for exploration, where the individual emerges as hero via their control over the interactivity in the gameworld. There''s a long way to go with this material, both in the storytelling sense and the emergine power of games as a form of self discovery and healing.

Any matrix you assemble of archetypes would have to one side of the matrix for yin, one for yang, and then include qualifying criteria for emotions (often the magnifier of the archetype in the mind of the perciever) and I would qualify it in a third strata against the wheel of life, often found in ancient babylonian mythology, but most classified and archetyped itself in the wheel of karma around the ordinary astrology chart.

A more subective criteria might be to filter by age, for most people over forty chould give a crud about being a hero, they''ve been there done that experientially in their own lives and challenges.

So perspective of both passive and agressive attitudes should be another filter for the matrix.

Commedia Del Arte has the most classically relied upon archetype collection just about in history: The joker, the juggler, the fat sweaty sergeant, the fool, the sneak, the gentle giant, they are hundreds of years old and make endless reappearance in many forms in many media.


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I see no problems with those (though I might add a few more options under each subgroup, such as realist under Sero and not self aware under self esteem. Trust me, both these things exist.

I also might add a category relating to general honesty/morality. Let''s face it, some people will do you in if they know they can get away with it and make a few bucks, while others simply have a code of behaviour that they refuse to violate.

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Original post by sunandshadow
How many distinct character archetypes would you guess there are? I tried calculating it a few different ways, and I got answers ranging from 16 to 96 to 288 to 1,200. o.O
Do you see any problems with these, or would you suggest any different/additional ones?

From a purely acidemically arguing point, I do see a problem. It''s really a minor one, but the first thing I remember about archetypes is, though the themes are universal, the archetypes also personal. Of course, this doesn''t really add anything to the discussion. Let me think about it a little bit and come up with a real answer.

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