The hero archetype is the protagonist who the audience identifies with and may be inspired by. Ultimately, they embody our ideals and values. The hero archetype often has to go on a journey to overcome obstacles and learn in order to achieve their goal. They may be willing or unwilling heroes, and deliberate or accidental.
The hero may be an epic hero (King Arthur), a superhero (Spiderman) or a tragic hero (Hamlet).
What are the traits of the hero archetype?
Here are some common traits of the hero archetype:
- Unusual circumstances of birth (born in danger, into royalty)
- Hero has a special weapon, which only the hero can wield
- A traumatic event changes the hero’s life and leads to their quest
- Hero journeys on a quest, separated from their family/home, to a new, unfamiliar and challenging world
- Hero endures separation and hardship in order to prove himself and obtain his goal (self-sacrifice)
- Hero is often aided by supernatural or spiritual guidance
- Hero finds atonement with their father figure (either redeems father’s evil deeds or reconciles with their father)
- Hero attains spiritual reward at death
Example 1: Lion King
Simba is born as the heir to Pride Rock. The death (murder) of Simba’s father Mufasa changes everything and Simba flees into desert. In the desert, Simba grows up, but eventually realises that he must return to Pride Rock to become king of Pride Rock. He is guided by Rafiki, the mystic mandrill. Simba battles Scar (the uncle who murdered Mufasa) and wins, avenging his father’s murder and restoring Pride Rock.
Example 2: Batman
Bruce Wayne is born into a wealthy family. His parents are murdered one night, inspiring Bruce to use his wealth and don the identity of Batman to fight crime in Gotham City. In doing so, he sacrifices parts of his personal life in order to live this dual identity.
Example 3: Buffy the Vampire Slayer
Buffy is chosen to be the Slayer and possesses superhuman strength to combat vampires and demons. Although she initially shirks her duties, her first Watcher (guide) is killed. As a result, she moves to Sunnydale and takes up the mantle as the Slayer. As the Slayer, she faces not only physical obstacles (demons etc), but also the sacrifice of a normal life (love, social life, career) in order to fulfill her destiny. Buffy is aided by Giles (her Watcher).
What are the function of the hero archetype?
- To inspire the audience with a particular message or action
- To embody and comment upon society’s core ideals/values (to reaffirm them or show how they have been lost)
- To remind society of both its strengths and weaknesses
- To explore the conflict between good and evil
- To explore the individual’s journey towards becoming a hero (hardship, sacrifice, growth, maturity)
Quotes about the archetype:
“…the implicit function of the hero is to redeem humanity, a process begun by Prometheus’s defiance of Zeus … by his half-divine nature, his glorious deeds, and his relentless pursuit of immortality, the hero uplifts humanity from its dismal condition and reminds us of our own godlike potential.”
“There is still an obvious need for heroes in contemporary culture. This need has been as much a part of our history as religion and politics. The pattern of the heroic epic remains intact and continues to be repeated every day. Human nature is such that we need to create a personification of our ideals and our failings. This is why we continue to create and destroy heroes. We exaggerate that which makes us ideal and that which makes us fail in our quest for perfection. Our popular culture is permeated with the heroic epic. We are fascinated by greatness and even more fascinated by flawed greatness. We have only to look at the glut of fantasy novels and movies to see that though we may be more scientifically knowledgeable, we still hold on to those ideals that Greek tradition personified so gloriously. We create heroes in our own image and exaggerate those characteristics we fantasize about. Whether it is courage, strength, humility, beauty, etc., we all see a hope for ourselves in our heroes. They become heroic even though they are flawed because they are human and share our weaknesses. If heroes are truly a projection of ourselves, then we all have the qualities of the hero.”