Hero Archetype

Learn all about the hero archetype, including definition, characteristics, examples and more.

The Hero archetype represents the process of overcoming obstacles to achieve specific goals, like finding treasure or saving a princess. Let’s take a closer look at this archetype.

Archetypes are literary tools that depict common aspects of human nature or life. Several cultures have used this literary device. It can refer to a character, an action, a theme, or even a symbol. Archetypes make readers feel more connected to the stories or works. The concepts used have a common motif of the human condition.

What is a hero archetype?

If you are looking for the hero archetype definition:

The hero is the oldest and most popular archetype used in our society. The hero is usually an expression of our collective unconscious. Heroes strive to maintain justice and fight against evil. The ability of the hero to stay true to themselves is ultimately what makes them heroic.

Hero archetype characteristics

There are some characteristics which are common to all hero archetypes:

  • The events leading up to, or of their births are unusual. Their parentage is sometimes a mystery. They could also be born as royalty or in danger.
  • There is a departure from their family or country, which causes them to stay with others and gain new experiences.
  • A turning point occurs, which is usually a traumatic event. This event forces the hero on a quest or adventure. The quest can be the search for an identity, vengeance, or to rid the land of danger.
  • The hero is introduced to a more dangerous world. This world exposes them to monsters or monstrous men. The hero gains a new and mature perspective.
  • Depending on the story, the hero is given supernatural help or gets access to a special weapon only they can wield.
  • The hero goes through ‘the great trial’ which sometimes isn’t physical. The hero ends up getting reborn in a way that changes the character, theme, or symbol.
  • The hero then completes his/her journey by returning to restore order or peace. This can sometimes lead to the hero’s death and the subsequent form of spiritual reward.

Hero archetype examples

Jon Snow from the Game of Thrones TV Series/Books

This story has elements with the hero as a warrior or a reluctant savior. This character checks all the boxes for the characteristics of the hero archetype listed above. The identity of his parents is a secret. His quest for identity led him to join the Night’s Watch since he is a bastard son with no title or claim. Throughout the course of his adventures, the audience sees him mature to become the Lord Commander of the Night’s Watch.

Katniss Everdeen from the Hunger Games series

This story has elements of the modern proto-feminist hero. It embraces qualities that are often seen as a weakness. Those qualities include beauty, vulnerability, and kindness. Stories like these prove those qualities can be the greatest strength of characters. The female heroes in the past have sometimes been mere copies of the male versions. Katniss is a character that trained and developed her skills out of necessity in order to feed her family. These heroes show they have the skills and abilities to survive without being made into a sexual object with skimpy clothes.

Other examples of the hero archetypes are:

  • The superhero archetype such as Superman and Wonder Woman.
  • The Harry Potter character from the Harry Potter book series.
  • Sir Gawain from Sir Gawain and the Green Knight.

The hero archetype is a fascinating topic and the twists each writer adds to their work makes it seem fresh and new. Hero archetypes need not be predictable and these changes can be observed the next time you watch a movie or read a novel.

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