I think today I’m going to nerd out just a little bit–but I’ll try to keep my literary-ness to a minimum!
Have you ever read a book–perhaps a fantasy book–and thought, hmmm, this is similar to such-and-such book?
Well, if you’ve thought that, you haven’t been wrong. Especially in the world of fantasy. When I talked about the definition of fantasy, I mentioned archetypes. In the world of English, (aka–nerd world) an archetype is a term thrown around in literary criticism from the psychology of this guy named Carl Jung who talks about a “collective unconscious of the human race.” Basically, his idea is that we all think alike in some way. So as a literary term, archetype applies to “an image, a descriptive detail, a plot pattern, or a character type that occurs frequently in literature, myth, religion, or folklore…” There’s more to the definition, but it’s boring.
What I’m trying to say is that fantasy relies heavily on archetypes. For instance–think of Gandolf from Lord of the Rings, Dumbledore from Harry Potter, and Merlin from King Arthur legends. Do they seem similar to you? Perhaps–wizard-y, older, a wise mentor to a young boy on an adventurous quest? They’re pretty much one-and-the same sometimes. Essentially, these characters are archetypal characters or characters all based on the same type of qualities.
Now, not only does fantasy rely heavily on these similar, standard characters, but on plot lines as well. In particularly, two specific plotlines: The Hero Quest and the Growth of Maturity of the Female “Hero”. (If you want to be super nerdy, read Joseph Cambell’s The Hero with a Thousand Faces. He’s a theorist who explores how all myths share a fundamental structure–the hero journey.)
I’ve always found this journey/quest interesting because no matter what sort of story or myth I read, this pattern exists. At times it’s what makes stories great (think Harry Potter or Star Wars) but sometimes I just want something new. I had a professor tell me this year that she’s waiting for the day she reads a middle grade novel about a heroine who doesn’t follow this pattern–so that’s my new goal in book writing.
I’m about to reveal my nerdiness here in the breakdown of quests, so act excited with me…