Oct 23, 2013

Archetype vs. Stereotype

I attended the recent Geek Girl Con in Seattle, this time taking my daughter as an excuse for enjoying a convention as an attendee (okay, she got some really cute moving cat ears that are both creepy and spectacular, and a reminder of why my daughter shall always be so much cooler than I will ever be. I cannot pull off the kitty ear thing, try as I may) - I go to so many conventions now for work that it's nice to just step back and remember why I go in the first place. It's officially getting to that point where I run into old friends and peers for the length of the floor, which I would qualify under the header "Problems I Always Wanted to Have." Day two was back to work - the other founders of Talaria Press and I gave a workshop on character creation, followed by a small signing, and it was one of the more cleanly inspiring hours I've had in a few months. Not to be underestimated. Aside from a few bad apples in the mix - there's always one or two, aren't there? - it was a solid and enjoyable weekend.

But now I'm looking down the barrel of another SteamCon, and before I get back into con prep mode, I wanted to wag my tongue about a topic that came up on the first day of GGC in a panel hosted by some of the directors of the EMP, along with writer Jane Espenson. The topic was about character archetypes, and much conversation was given to the evolution of the female archetypes over the years.

One question in particular took my notice: "What is the difference between an archetype and a stereotype?"

Everyone rattled off some answers and then they got side-tracked onto a different topic, as convention panels are wont to do. But the question hung over my head, and stayed with me long enough to, apparently, merit an entry on my blog, here.

The specific answers boiled down into the origins of the words themselves; into the marrow and substance, whereas "archetype" finds its roots in ancient Greek meaning "the original, best, or first, example." A stereotype is more of the "copy of a copy", wherein much detail is lost and the image resembles more like unto a caricature than a realistic image. Thus, a Hero would be represented by among the oldest and most established examples of such characters - Hercules, for example, as an archetype of the same; but those primary qualities of his, passed down through literature and the oral traditions of the time, still permit those heroic elements to carry forth in characters like Luke Skywalker and Superman. Eventually, those heroic elements become worn down and dulled, and the heroes become mere stereotypes of the ancient traditions.

Vladimir Propp whittled it all down into 7 broad character types - his "dramatis personae": the villain, the dispatcher, the helper, the princess (or prize), the donor, the hero, and the false hero. Jung broke it down into actual personality characteristics as archetypes for humanity - mother, father, child, devil, god, wise old man, wise old woman, the trickster, the hero, the shadow, the maiden, and so on. Even to a certain extent, tarot cards break down the types and facets of mankind through its use of imagery and metaphor in its major and minor arcana.

I'll confess, I've got a few of my favorites. I patterned my whole cast in the Reaper's Return series off various tarot cards, and shifted gears a bit in the latest series - everyone's going through at least two cards through the course of the books - but I do like to flip the cards over and see where they land, so to speak.

For example, the Tower card isn't so bad (author's note: okay, it looks pretty frightening in the deck, I admit). I used the tower metaphor frequently in the Reaper series. Rom's favorite place was a clock tower in the middle of Oldtown - and it's a statement about how she came to grips with the passage of time, of the evolution of life, and, specifically to her, how she as a Reaper had to manage life itself in a very tangible and literal way. In the tarot deck, it is a card to be taken quite seriously - a portent of dramatic change - but I wanted to write it into the books in a way of drawing back the fear and anxiety about change, and show that it's, like so much of life, something to be learned from and appreciated.

But what about you? What's your favorite archetype? What's your favorite stereotype - or your least favorite one that you feel could use a refreshing? I'd love to hear from you!