Layered Archetypes

I said previously that, for the most part, it’s best to pick one archetype and stick with it as a focus because using multiple archetypes usually dilutes the character. There are a few exceptions where a character may represent multiple archetypes.

One is the Doctor on Doctor Who (someone asked me to analyze that characterization). He’s a big exception because he’s a unique character. I have only a passing knowledge of the entire history of the series, but my read on the character as he’s being portrayed now is that he’s kind of a cumulative character, drawing in bits and pieces from his entire very long life, all those experiences, and all the various incarnations he’s had, so he’s got a little of everything in him. He’s definitely got some trickster/Swashbuckler elements to him, there’s a lot of Warrior, he often has a Professor outlook on life, and with the Tenth incarnation the Lost Soul was in the forefront.

As for characters who aren’t more than 900 years old and who haven’t been played by eleven different actors so far, when I think of good examples of a truly layered archetype, where there are two archetypes at work that feed on and build on each other, the Lost Soul is always involved (until, of course, I think of an exception within five minutes of posting this declaration). I think that’s because, out of all the archetypes, the Lost Soul is most determined by life circumstances or events. While not everyone who goes through something difficult or tragic responds by becoming a Lost Soul, I think it’s pretty safe to say that all Lost Souls have been through something difficult or tragic. Someone who grows up in a safe, normal, healthy home and never has anything particularly bad happen to him is not going to be a Lost Soul character. If he acts that way, he’s either an annoying Emo type drama queen person or he’s a Charmer putting on the Lost Soul act because chicks dig it.

As a result, there may be cases where the character might have the Lost Soul layered on top of the archetype he would have been if the bad stuff never happened — especially, perhaps, if the bad stuff happened later in life after his essential personality was already formed. To really make this work in building the character, though, it can’t be just “He’s a Lost Soul — and a Swashbuckler!” We need to see how the different traits from the two types create internal conflict or drive each other.

One (actually two) of the best examples of this kind of layering comes in Firefly/Serenity with Mal and Simon. Those two are the same type, as I expound upon at length in the Serenity Found book (and one of the people who actually wrote for the show said mine was one of her favorite essays, so I must not be too far out in left field). Both of them are simultaneously Chiefs and Lost Souls.

We actually get to see Mal before he makes the transition to Lost Soul (come to think of it, we see that exact moment). He comes across as a born leader, someone who takes command easily, makes quick decisions in a crisis, and someone others are willing to follow. And then his world goes crashing down around him as he loses everything — including his faith and his belief in any kind of cause. Going forward, he’s still a Chief because he still has those character traits. He’s still a natural leader, he still doesn’t like answering to anyone else, and he’s still kind of a control freak. In fact, he acts out his Lost Soul tendencies in a Chief kind of way by creating his own little safe world where he’s in charge and running it as a kind of dictatorship, yet as a Lost Soul there’s a part of him that tries to turn it into a home and family while also trying to avoid getting emotionally attached to anyone or anything. The traits of the two archetypes reinforce each other while also creating a lot of internal conflict.

Then there’s Simon, who is also a take-charge kind of guy. We only see him as a child before he has his big Lost Soul transition, but we can see those leadership and control traits in the way he has a bad habit of stepping into a situation and taking charge or at least refusing to bow to anyone else’s command and leadership, which kind of gets him in trouble with Mal. He can be in federal custody with his hands chained behind his back, and yet he’s the one in total control of the room and the situation. We also see him in that mode as a doctor, someone who’s totally confident holding other people’s lives in his hands. He gets turned into a Lost Soul when he finds out what was happening to his sister and realizes that his parents put their social status above the welfare of their children, so that he’s left totally alone in the world in the quest to save his sister. Once he finds her, the Lost Soul and the Chief aspects of his nature build on each other. As a Lost Soul, he clings to River as the only thing he has left, but as a Chief he tries to control and manage the situation — and River, even after she’s grown more capable. As a Lost Soul, he’s wary of emotional involvement (because losing everything all over again is too much to think about right now) and keeps himself aloof, but as a Chief that can come across as snobbery and concern for status.

I think both of them may have evolved as of the end of Serenity (the movie) because they both had the symbolic death and resurrection part of the hero’s journey, but as we haven’t really seen what happens next (^%$$$%^#@) it’s hard to say what they may have evolved into, if they lost the Lost Soul and reverted back to being just Chiefs or if something else entirely happened.

Another example may be Dean on Supernatural. I still think he’s mostly a Swashbuckler because that kind of recklessness is his natural reaction to almost everything, but there seems to be a layering of Lost Soul, too. Of course, given his upbringing with a dead mother and a father more focused on the mission than on his kids, there’s bound to have been some effect on him, but Sam went through the same things and didn’t react the same way. There’s a sense that although the responsibility for his younger brother was something of a burden that forced him to go against his nature, Dean still needs his brother and is lost without him in a way that Sam isn’t. Sam was capable of moving on and forming other friendships and relationships, and I’m not sure Dean really is, not on a long-term basis. Without his brother in his life, he’s utterly lost, and that then feeds into his Swashbuckler nature with the absolutely insane risks he’ll take to protect Sam.