The New Archetypes

Professor Snape – the ultimate anti-hero

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A blog buddy of mine, Pat Wood, listed a number of character archetypes a few weeks ago and I have been thinking about whether in 21st century fiction we have some new character types to explore. I’ve given it some thought and these are what I have come up with:

Anti-hero(ine): (S)He’s a good guy/girl who sometimes crosses the line into the dubious. He doesn’t always do the right thing and when he does, sometimes his motives aren’t entirely noble. Sometimes he might appear to do the bad thing and you are convinced they have crossed the line but ultimately, they are the good guys. You hate them – or want to hate them – for being right. They will kill for the greater good, they will do things that the hero is unable or unwilling to do and they give readers much pleasure. Examples include Professor Snape from Harry Potter, Avon from Blake’s 7 and the titular character in the series Dexter.

Anti-villain(ess): I came up with the concept a few years ago to use for villains that you would feel a certain amount of sympathy for and I was annoyed to see that somebody beat me to it! The anti-villain is bad but they are not entirely unsympathetic; you understand their reasons for being the way they are. Perhaps nature or nurture has put them on one side of the coin. Sometimes you desperately want them to wake up because in some ways, there is an element of the noble about them – they are a man/woman of their word and have been wronged. It isn’t enough for them to be charismatic or likeable, hell, I would even say that it isn’t necessary but sympathy and empathy are important in drawing this line. Good examples include Boomer from the new BSG and Scorpius from Farscape and… perhaps… maybe even Darth Vader

I’m undecided whether HDM’s Mrs Coulter is straight villain, anti-hero or anti-villain.

Magic Negro: This one is not actually my invention; film director Spike Lee came up with it as a criticism of pandering to ethnic minorities. Rather than giving black people core roles and treating them as any other character where their skin colour is irrelevant to the plot, there was a tendency to put prominent black characters into supporting positions. In this postion they are the backbone of the white protagonist(s) but they have an invaluable gift; they are either deeply spiritual and impart words of wisdom (and end up being right) to the true protagonists or have a special power that becomes invaluable. Exampels include Mother Abigail from Stephen King’s The Stand and Mister Hallorann from the film version of The Shining

The Enslaved One (opposite of The Trickster): Usually on the side of the villain by virtue of the fact that the primary villain has a hold over him/her. Not actually a bad person, The Enslaved is usually the one carrying out the most heinous acts… but does so unwillingly. Their role is usually to engage the trust of the protagonist and then betray it in the worst ways imaginable. Sometimes they are liberated, sometimes they meet a tragic end. Good examples of The Enslaved are: Doctor Yueh from Dune, most of the characters in Needful Things, but especially Brian Rusk. Finally, we could include Lando Calrissian from Star Wars: The Empire Strikes Back perhaps…?

These for are my contribution and no doubt we can think of many examples of each of these types. Does anybody have any other types that do not fit either Pat’s or my list?

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2 thoughts on “The New Archetypes

  1. Wow – I guess I don’t think in terms of archtypes. At least, not on purpose. I guess I am aware of them, but – obviously – not as much as I should be. Guess I better go read up on these! 🙂

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