Archetypes of the Hero’s Journey Series #8: The Trickster

Archetypes The Trickster

Archetypes of the Hero’s Journey Series

#8 The Trickster

By Leigh Holland.

The Trickster is the archetype of change and chaos. Sometimes, the Trickster will also serve as an ally or sidekick. Tricksters can provide comic relief during a tense moment, or troublemaking antics that can hinder or assist the hero as needed. The Trickster, a ball of chaotic energy, often challenges the status quo, even if that happens to be your hero. Is your hero a bit too full of himself? Maybe it’s the antagonist who thinks too highly of himself. The Trickster can cleverly cut either of them down to size for you. Unsure how to get the hero out of a precarious situation? Tricksters are catalysts for change. Because of his (or her) unpredictability, readers accept it when the Trickster shows up out of the blue with the flying car he stole and save the hero and his sidekick from certain doom. Of course, that wasn’t what the Trickster was really doing out there in that flying car. It was just good luck that he happened upon them along the way. Don’t confuse the Trickster with the Shapeshifter. The Shapeshifter questions and at times, deceives. The Trickster disrupts, using a variety of tools, of which deceit if merely one.

Being true to his name, the Trickster can surpass the role of unpredictable comic relief and take on a more sinister, deceptive quality, deceiving friends and foes alike. And of course, the Trickster can easily occupy more than one role. In some tales, the Trickster, Hero, and even the Shadow are one and the same. One example that comes to mind is the main character from the film Atomic Blonde.

Here’s a series of clips showing the Trickster in LOTR: Gollum.

This is one of my favorite examples of a Trickster: End of the Line and Resisting Arrest.

Find other articles on the Hero’s Journey:

The Ally

The Shapeshifter

The Herald

The Threshold Guardian

The Mentor

The Hero

What is The Hero’s Journey?


Archetypes of the Hero’s Journey #7: The Ally

Archetypes of the Hero’s Journey #7: The Ally

By Leigh Holland.

As the hero sallies forth on his quest, he (or she) needs a traveling companion. Sure, the hero has a mentor to give wise advice and nifty trinkets. But the hero needs someone who can help him understand himself, maintain perspective, move forward with hope in his heart, and keep him on the straight and narrow. Every human being needs a friend. Sometimes the hero may need to do certain things on her own. But the ally does something consistently for the hero no other role does. The ally gives loyalty and admiration to the hero. The ally is entirely dependable.

That doesn’t mean the ally never challenges the hero. It’s hard to maintain perspective as the hero, especially when fame and fandom starts rolling in. As the hero’s best friend, the ally will knock him down a peg or two if he needs it. The ally also serves as the hero’s conscience when the hero strays from the righteous path. The ally can always be counted on to act in what he thinks is the hero’s best interests, the hero’s desires be damned.

This is a wonderful and ancient example of the ally who challenges the hero, being what he needs instead of what he wants. This animated version of the story includes threshold guardians, a mentor, a shapeshifter and a trickster.

Gilgamesh and Enkidu

The ally represents the unexamined pieces of the hero. The ally converses with, questions, and challenges the hero as the need arises, drawing forth the noblest qualities within him or her; and the worst-saving him from being consumed by his own darkness. Often, the ally asks the very questions the reader (or viewer) has about the hero. Often, the ally (or “sidekick”) rounds out the hero’s persona.

Holmes and Watson 1

Holmes and Watson 2

Here’s a fun fight scene showing the ally as work partner and brother-in-arms, with a nice cameo at the end by the Shapeshifter archetype of the series.

Batman and Robin Vs. Most Everyone

And the ally also provides amusement and comic relief for the reader in serious and tense situations.

Lone Ranger and Tonto

Most importantly, the hero trusts the ally. The ally has earned it. We can always identify with the ally, even if our relationship with the hero is on thin ice at certain points of the story. We can’t always be the hero. But we can always strive to be a good friend and neighbor, a good ally.

An Ode To Brotherhood: Sam and Dean

Hurricane Harvey Relief Effort in Intl. Business Times

And often, the best heroes to inspire a writer… are real.

Heroes of Hurricane Harvey

Happy writing!

Archetypes of the Hero’s Journey #6: The Shapeshifter

Archetypes of the Hero’s Journey #6: The Shapeshifter

In part six, we talk about the role of the Shapeshifter in the Hero’s Journey. The Shapeshifter role can be two-faced, changeable, and mysterious. This transformational power brings tension and doubt into the story. The transformation can be literal and physical. It can be spiritual or emotional. It can encompass both the seen and unseen nature of the Shapeshifter character. In romance and subplotting, the love interest of the hero often takes on this role. The femme fatale is an example of this role.

Additionally, a character may switch roles throughout the narrative. A character may be the herald, then the mentor, then the shapeshifter, and finally reveal himself to be the shadow. There’s no rule against one character playing multiple roles in the journey.

The shapeshifter hides their true nature from the hero. The shapeshifter keeps the hero and reader wondering whose side they’re really on. Usually, the shapeshifter is on the shapeshifter’s side. Because the reader isn’t sure about the shapeshifter’s loyalties and motives, this character brings tension, frustration, and intrigue to the story.

According to Carl Jung, inside each human being there’s an alternate gender-force. For men this is the feminine side or “anima”, for women, we have the masculine side or “animus”. Society has taught women to hide masculine traits such as ambition, boldness, and power. It’s also taught men to shove down traits that are traditionally viewed as feminine, such as intuition and emotional sensitivity. In the shapeshifter, we see these traits of our own being. We impose this on the role and in this fashion, safely explore it. This isn’t just true of exploring in a romantic context; we also explore our wild side in the primal nature of the werewolf, our dark side in the cursed werewolf who can’t control his killing. Through the shapeshifter role, we are able to relate to hidden pieces of ourselves that we usually don’t explore from day to day. If we’re being honest with ourselves, we compartmentalize and wear masks around others every day. The shapeshifter role shows us masks; and at some point, reveals what’s behind them.

A wonderful example of projection of the anima occurs in the Hitchcock classic 1958 movie, Vertigo. (This also happens to be one of my favorite films!) In Vertigo, private detective Scottie Ferguson takes a job watching the suicidal wife of an old friend. He falls madly in love with her and tries to save her from a family curse, ultimately failing because of his vertigo. After he’s released from an institution six months later, he happens to see a woman-Judy- who bears a striking resemblance to his dear yet dead Madeleine. Obsessed, Scottie takes care of her, buys her things, and ultimately changes her appearance until she looks exactly like Madeleine. Here are a couple of videos that capture this transformation:


Runaway , a fan video

Madeleine’s final touch

Who is Judy? Why does she look like Madeleine? What’s scarier, the fact she looks exactly like her, or how far Scottie’s obsession drives him in transforming her? Can he trust his lover?

What happens when we can’t trust our lover? Will the shapeshifter betray us? Love us? Save us? Destroy us? Both? This tension brings vital suspense to the tale.

The femme fatale is a classic, if overused, example of the archetype. Who can forget Sharon Stone in Basic Instinct, or in Total Recall:

Total Recall Trailer

While some femme fatale try to murder the hero or lead him into fatal danger, this is not needed for the character to be a shapeshifter. Both the shapeshifter and femme fatale criteria can be met by confusing, distracting, or tempting the hero away from his true quest.

Shapeshifters don’t have to be femme fatale, or femme at all. Male characters can easily serve in this dramatic role. One example is Han Solo from Star Wars. When we first meet Han, we learn that Han is all about himself. He’s in it for Han. It’s only as the movies progress that Han’s character arc changes and he reveals that yes, he’s the shapeshifter, and man, can he ever change. He saves lives, both of friends and strangers, and starts to be in it for more than just Han. He cares and starts putting others first. I believe this rehabilitation of his shapeshifter nature is one of the reasons for the “Who shot first?” debate that rages on. (It wasn’t Greedo. Han wasn’t always the good guy we come to adore, he was a shapeshifter before he transformed).

Who Shot First?

And finally, here is a classic example of a literal shapeshifter. Powerful. Mysterious. Potentially deadly. Maybe friend, maybe foe, maybe our true love.

I love you, David.

The source for this material is Christopher Vogler’s  The Writer’s Journey: Mythic Structure for Writers, 3rd Edition.

If interested in purchasing any of these wonderful films, they can be found at:

Vertigo (on Bluray)

An American Werewolf In London (bluray)

Total Recall (classic)

Here are the articles in this series:

#1 The Hero

#2 The Journey

#3 The Mentor

#4 The Threshold Guardian

#5 The Herald

Archetypes of the Hero’s Journey Series #5: The Herald

Archetypes of the Hero’s Journey Series #5: The Herald

By Leigh Holland.

A Herald, or herald of arms, was a medieval messenger and diplomat sent between noblemen and kings. They also were responsible for recording the arms for each nobleman and monarch and managing tournaments in which only those of noble blood could participate. Heralds wore a tabard decorated with the coat of arms of the nobleman they served. Photo by Nicholas Jackson.


An example of a herald giving an introduction at a medieval tournament can be found, albeit modernized, in the excellent film “A Knight’s Tale”.

Introductions: A Knight’s Tale

In Greek myth, messengers were so important that a deity, Hermes, was assigned to fulfill this function among the gods. In The Odyssey, Zeus sends Hermes to deliver the proclamation to Calypso that Odysseus must be released so he may head home.

In Disney’s Mulan, the Herald is the message that the Fa family must provide one male to fight in the war for China.

Fa-Zhou Call to War

Mulan responds to the Herald’s Call to Action

Far from merely issuing orders, messages, and reciting introductory lineages, the Herald can serve a myriad of functions in a tale. The Herald can serve as a call to action and motivate the hero onward to the next leg of his journey. While the Herald can overlap with other roles in the story, such as ally or love interest, he can also be a servant or messenger of the story’s villain. The Herald is not always a positive role. An example of a Herald who works for the villain can be found in Shakespeare’s Henry V.

The Ball’s In Your Court

Furthermore, the Herald doesn’t even have to be a person. It can be an object, such as a found treasure map, or an event, such as a phone call or telegram. The Herald functions in the story to bring about a transition. Once the Herald appears on the scene, the hero must make a choice and take action, spurring on the adventure.

Based on information found in The Writer’s Journey: Mythic Structure for Writers, 3rd Edition by Christopher Vogler, which can be purchased at The Writer’s Journey 3rd Edition.

Check out the other articles in this series:

#1 The Hero

#3 The Mentor

#2 What is the Hero’s Journey?

#4 The Threshold Guardian


Archetypes of the Hero’s Journey Series #4: The Threshold Guardian

Archetypes of the Hero’s Journey Series #4: The Threshold Guardian

By Leigh Holland

 The Threshold Guardian is a character who functions as a minor antagonist. The purpose of this character is to provide conflict and obstacles to the hero along the way. We identify with the misfortune the hero faces when encountering these obstacles, because we believe that if anything can go wrong, it probably will. This holds true for us, so it should hold true for the hero, too. This character can additionally let important information slip, leave clues behind in error, or through his death provide the impetus for the antagonist to raise the stakes for our hero.

The Threshold Guardian(s) are at times lower ranking associates of the primary antagonist (The Shadow), his ‘thugs’. But this is not always the case. For instance, in “Romeo and Juliet”, Mercutio’s death sets all manner of complications in motion for Romeo, and Mercutio is his best friend. Mercutio’s death sends Romeo into a mad revenge spiral in which he kills Tybalt, the cousin of his true love, Juliet. I suggest that both Mercutio and Tybalt are Threshold Guardians because these deaths lead us from one part of the tale over the threshold into another- from families snubbing each other at public events into the savage world of out-and-out warfare. Had Romeo handled things differently, the story could have been about the enduring power of love instead of the wasteful, tragic death of two star-crossed teens.

Mercutio’s death

A Plague On Both Your Houses!

Another example of an unconventional Threshold Guardian is that of the character sent to test the hero’s mettle. The guardian is often sent by a mentor, a king, or a deity. Sometimes the guardian is just doing his job, a sort of bridge keeper. An example of the ‘just doing my job’ guardian is the delightful scene with the bridge guardian in the film “Monty Python and the Holy Grail”. To cross the bridge each knight must answer three questions. Some are super easy while others are impossible to answer. In the end, Arthur beats the guardian at his own game by tricking him into not being able to answer a follow up question to his original question.

The Bridge of Death

The Black Knight

When using multiple guardians, make sure they build in level of challenge for the hero and that the results raise the stakes in the tale. An example of this is found in the myth of the twelve labors of Hercules. Each labor or test becomes increasingly incredible and impressive once Hercules succeeds. At the same time, as the tension builds, the recipient of the myth wonders if Hercules can survive the trials. A fun representation is found in the Disney film “Hercules” when Herc tries to defeat the hydra, only to discover strength alone won’t solve this test.

Hercules Battles the Hydra

Mythical Creatures Bested by Hercules

Check out “The Writer’s Journey: Mythic Structure for Writers”, 3rd Edition, by Christopher Vogler at Amazon.

Archetypes of the Hero’s Journey Series # 3: The Mentor

Archetypes of the Hero’s Journey Series # 3: The Mentor

by Leigh Holland

The word mentor is defined as “an experienced or trusted adviser”; “to advise or train someone, often someone lesser in age or experience”. The first mentor figure is found in The Odyssey, the epic tale of the nostos, the homecoming, of Odysseus. Odysseus has been away from home fighting at Troy for over ten years. Things aren’t going well in his prolonged absence, to say the least. In many ways, the tale of Odysseus’ journey is a basic blueprint for the Hero’s Journey.

Odysseus angered the gods and is having a perilous journey home, fraught with danger and delay after delay. However, this isn’t just the tale of Odysseus returning home. It’s also the story of his son Telemachus’ quest to discover who and what his father is and thereby learn who he is. Telemachus is aided in his quest by Athena, the goddess of mental prowess, of wisdom. She is the daughter of Zeus and the Titan goddess Metis, sprung fully grown from her father’s head. Her mother’s name is related to the noun Metis, meaning intelligence. Odysseus’ nickname is “polumetis”, or “intelligent in multiple ways”.

To aid Telemachus, Athena takes the form of Mentes, a father-like hero. Later, she assumes the form of another wise hero and ally called Mentor. Both names come from the word menos, which means power, or strength, and the word metis, meaning mind, intelligence. Therefore, we learn the role of the mentor is primarily the force of intelligence and wisdom that advises, trains, or aids the hero in his journey.

Note also that because a goddess speaks directly to the young hero Telemachus through the form of his Mentor, the role of the Mentor is often one of the voice of the divine speaking to the hero. On a deeper note, the mentor is our super-ego, our divine connection to all things and people, our desire to do the right thing, even if it’s not the traditionally heroic thing. The Mentor does not take up the journey himself. That is for the hero to do. The Mentor guides the hero down the path of wisdom. The mentor initiates the hero’s journey and motivates the hero.

Often, the mentor will give the hero more than training or advice. The mentor may give gifts to the hero to aid him on his journey. The hero must prove worthy of these gifts in some way. They must be earned. If the hero has doubts or begins down a wicked or foolish path, a mentor figure should intervene, acting as a conscience and planting wisdom in the hero to prevent future pitfalls of a similar nature.

For more information on the role of mentor, I recommend “The Writer’s Journey” by Christopher Vogel and “The Ancient Greek Hero in 24 Hours” by Gregory Nagy.

Check out other articles in this series:

#1 The Hero

#2 What is the Hero’s Journey?

#3 The Mentor

#4 The Threshold Guardian

#5 The Herald

Archetypes of the Hero’s Journey Series #2: What is the Hero’s Journey?

Archetypes of the Hero’s Journey Series #2: What is the Hero’s Journey?

by Leigh Holland

Based on information from “The Writer’s Journey” by Christopher Vogler and “The Ancient Greek Hero in 24 Hours” by Gregory Nagy.

In the last installment, we learned that the Hero’s Journey is a method of structuring a story modeled after the heroic journeys in ancient Greek literature. We discussed the most integral character archetype for this journey: the Hero. Before moving on to the other 7 basic archetypes, let’s take a moment to examine the structure laid out by Christopher Vogler for the Hero’s Journey. I’m going to compare it to the 5 act plot pyramid structure.

% & Pages


Dramatic Section


Hero’s Journey

5% or 20 pages

Plot Hook



Ordinary World

15% or 40 pages




Call to Adventure

25% or 100 pages

Key Event

Trigger to Act


Refusal of Call; Encouragement by Mentor

30% or 120 pages

First Major Plot Point

New Situation


Crossing the Threshold

40% or 160 pages

First Pinch Point

Rising Stakes


Tests, Allies, and Enemies

50% or 200 pages

Second Major Plot Point



Approach to the Innermost Cave; The Ordeal

65% or 240 pages

Second Pinch Point



The Reward

75% or 300 pages

Third Major Plot Point

Transition to Critical Choice


The Road Back

90% or 360 pages


Critical Choice



90-100% or 400 pages




Return with the Elixir

In the Ordinary World, the hero goes about his normal life, whatever ‘normal’ may be for him and those around him. In this section of the story, we try to get the reader to care about the hero and have an understanding of the hero’s ordinary pre-adventure life. This should provide some contrast to the life of the hero once she accepts her role in the adventure.

The Call to Adventure presents a challenge for the hero. Has the king called for every able bodied man to seek the Holy Grail or the land dies? Does a tall, alluring blonde ask the detective to spy on her cheating husband? Has the murder of a child moved a retired psychic to try to return and offer her help? This would be the event that sparks the call.

In the Refusal of the Call, our hero makes excuses why he or she will not undertake the adventure. Perhaps the retired psychic was ridiculed? The detective gets a bad feeling about the job the seductress offers? An insane Mordred kills anyone seeking the Grail? By the end of the refusal, the hero either refuses or expresses reluctance before undertaking the challenge.

The hero receives Encouragement by the Mentor. This can be in the form of wisdom, nifty toys, a pep talk, or anything that provides encouragement to our hero. For example, the Mentor can provide gifts from the gods to aid the hero on his or her quest.

Our hero is able to engage in Crossing the Threshold. He leaves the ordinary world behind and enters the world of the adventure. No matter how difficult, he will face the consequences of the challenge and deal with them.

Along the hero’s journey, he makes allies, enemies, and encounters new and dangerous challenges that Test him. He Approaches the Innermost Cave, where he undergoes The Ordeal. This is the biggest test at the most dangerous place in the special world of his adventure. Here he could die, he could flee in the face of his greatest fears. This is a tense and dramatic moment of reckoning. Should the hero succeed, he receives The Reward.

The reward is also called “Seizing the Sword”. However, the hero doesn’t necessarily obtain an object. Maybe the hero resolves her issues with her mother. Perhaps his reward is learning the truth about an event. The reward, no matter which form it takes, should have a profound impact on the hero.

The hero dealt with the darker forces at play in The Ordeal. However, he must now deal with the fallout from that ordeal. On The Road Back, our hero may meet up with vengeful or angry forces. Regardless of the fallout from the Ordeal, this marks the transition back to entering the Ordinary World.

During Resurrection, the hero faces a mini-death once more, or at the very least, high stakes. Facing death literally or symbolically yet again, we see whether or not the hero is better equipped to handle this. Once he survives this intact, the hero is ready to Return with the Elixir. The hero must return to the ordinary world and bring back something of benefit to it.

Archetypes of the Hero’s Journey Series: #1: The Hero

Archetypes of the Hero’s Journey Series: #1: The Hero

by Leigh Holland

Based on information from “The Writer’s Journey” by Christopher Vogler and “The Ancient Greek Hero In 24 Hours” by Professor Gregory Nagy.

When following a Mythic Plot structure, there are 8 basic archetypes indispensable to the storyteller. These are:



Threshold Guardian






In this series, we’re going to talk a little bit about each one. In today’s installment, we’re discussing the Hero.

Our earliest concept of the Hero comes from Greek epics such as The Iliad. In The Iliad, Achilles- the son of a goddess, yet not entirely ‘perfect’ due to his weakness in his tendon- is the “hero”. A prophecy tells Achilles that he can choose one of two fates: to sail home, survive, live long and prosper, have a family, grow old, and die in his warm bed yet forgotten down the centuries; or he can die here in Troy, but his name will live forever. He will have an eternal “kleos”, or glory, but only if he is willing to give up his life in battle. He chooses to be forever remembered in epic entertainment. Millennia later, Brad Pitt plays him in the movie Troy. He chooses to die at Troy but be remembered for as long as men have tongues to tell tales.

In fact, “hero” is a Greek word. The English word ‘hour’ comes from the Greek word “hora” meaning “season”. The goddess of the seasons and timing of events is Hera, whose name is related to this root word. Indeed, the greatest of the Greek heroes is Herakles, his name meaning “The glory of Hera”. What does Hera have to do with heroes? Timing. It is the timing, this critical convergence of events, the moment of the sacrifice of the hero, that immortalizes them as our ‘heroes’. Indeed, if Hera hadn’t placed complications and dangerous challenges in Herakles’ life, how could he have ever grown into the famous hero of legend?

Heroes are the ego, the self searching for identity, being tested to know where ‘the self’ stands. This is why heroes must be relatable. We must bond with the hero early on. We have to care about the hero, because the hero is part of us. We want the hero to be the sort of person who can share in our struggles and understand us, so it reasons we would be willing to share their journey with them, and through it, learn something about ourselves and who we are in the process. Every hero must have his achilles’ heel, his kryptonite. The Hero may be what’s best in us, but he or she must still be flawed and at times, vulnerable, because we are, too.

A hero is someone who is willing to sacrifice himself or risk sacrificing himself. Heroes face death, either literally or symbolically, along the mythic journey. If the hero doesn’t meet the moment of his death, he must encounter it symbolically in the form of an adventure where the stakes are high. Sometimes the hero experiences a loss, such as a friend or lover, along the way. Only through trials can the hero know who he is and can we discover more about who we are.

But the hero doesn’t have to strictly follow a self-sacrificing personality prototype. Our hero can be willing, or not. He can be tragic, crying out at the gods instead of working for them. He can be part of a larger group of heroes or a loner who takes on allies only reluctantly. She can refuse to change, becoming more resolute in her ways and beliefs, but change those around her. And of course, he can be a guy with some redeemable traits who does morally questionable things.

As the Hera to your Herakles, what challenges will you place in his way? Every story needs its hero. Who will your hero be?