Fiction reveals truths that reality obscures.
~Jessamyn West (1957)
Story archetypes speak truths
I first stumbled upon the famous archetype of the hero’s journey in the early months of 2016, sitting in Psychology Professor Jordan Peterson’s class on Personality Psychology. I had enrolled in the class thinking I would learn more about the Big Five or the Myers-Briggs personality theories; I emerged with knowledge about the framework of the human psyche and how closely tied it really was to the fantasy we humans weave on a daily basis: the fantasy contained in those same films and books we think we are consuming to escape our present reality.
One thing was apparent to me even back then: Peterson has mastered the art of taking stories — whether from Disney or from the Bible — and matching them to what they represent about the reality of human behaviour.
He has a way of showing us that fantasy is not purely fantasy, but a reflection of our lives.
Peterson’s class was the first time I had heard of archetypes, and it blew my mind.
The way in which Peterson uses archetypes for persuasion is not unlike the way that creative writers use fiction to speak truths.
He essentially derives truth, meaning, and reality from stories, and ties them together through commonalities.
Peterson’s lectures are well worth a watch if you have the time. He has different series up on YouTube along with well-explained points about each of them.
Peterson takes examples from Disney movies
In his Maps of Meaning lecture on Marionettes & Individuals, Peterson reveals what the famous Disney movie Pinocchio has to say about the powerful role media and culture have to control and influence people in society.
Peterson takes examples from the Bible
In his Biblical Series lecture on Adam and Eve: Self-Consciousness, Evil, and Death, Peterson delves into the psychological significance of biblical stories.
You can also find excerpts from his lectures on YouTube; others have taken sections from his longer lectures and re-posted them as separate shorter videos.
Carl Jung and Analytical Psychology
These are not new ideas, although Peterson does translate them to us very well. The idea of archetypes go back to the time of Swiss psychiatrist Carl Jung, the founder of analytical or Jungian psychology.
Analytical or Jungian psychology is a school of psychotherapy which emphasizes the importance of the individual psyche and an individual’s personal quest for wholeness.
He called these archaic patterns archetypes.
Jung believed the existence of archetypes “can only be deduced indirectly by using story, art, myths, religions, or dreams”. In modern times, we use film and other media devices to translate and relay these archetypes to all those consuming the media.
Fantasy is not purely fantasy, but a reflection of our lives.
One such archetype is the orphan hero, showcased in films such as Harry Potter and the Lion King, among many others. (See Three Types of Orphan Protagonists and Why We Love Them on the different types of orphan heroes and their convenient plot roles).
I myself had unknowingly used this archetype in the first novel I had written back in high school; I made my main character an orphan from the start even before I knew about this popular character archetype.
The archetypes and us
All of us.
Because we will all undertake many journeys throughout our own lives, in our own realities. As Jung had originally proposed, these archetypes are not just limited to fictional and fantastical stories.
There is truth in fiction, truth in fantasy.
Our journeys shape our personalities, our characters, our habits, our actions, and ultimately, our behaviour. Everything is tied together.
I at first didn’t understand this. I sat confused in the third row of the crowded classroom, wondering what Harry Potter had to do with the MBTI (besides having a fun time typing the personalities of each movie character). But pretty soon I began to understand.
The fictional journeys of movie characters are a reflection of our own journeys as human beings.
The hero’s journey reflects our own journey.
The most memorable films and books are the ones we can connect with and derive truth from, no matter how outlandish and improbable the setting or plot may be.
The most impactful horror or suspense movies are the ones which have happened or can happen. Movies that accurately portray the horrific reality of addiction — such as Requiem for a Dream — are the perfect example of this.
The best movie quotes are ordinary lines that can be spoken by anyone at any time — they just happen to be uttered in the midst of a dramatic sequence, such as when dealing with a headless corpse in your car. Movies such as Pulp Fiction (or any Quentin Tarantino movie, really) reflect this well.
Words have no power to impress the mind without the exquisite horror of their reality.
~Edgar Allan Poe (1809 — 1849)
Whenever we watch a movie, we don’t just check out from the reality of our own lives; we enter into the reality of the characters, and we compare their reality to ours.
We are the hero in our own lives, and we have to derive our own meanings on our journeys.
With a little help from fiction and fantasy, we might be well on our way to doing so.
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