Character Development

Source: Janel Piersma
Source: Janel Piersma

Carl Jung’s (and later Joseph Campbell’s) monomyth theory holds that all human stories—across all ages and cultures—experience the same basic journey.

And over the course of that life story, the “hero” (or main character) encounters this cast of characters:

  • Mentor
  • Threshold Guardian
  • Herald
  • Henchmen
  • Shape Shifter
  • Hero’s Shadow (Villain)
  • Trickster
The Wonderful Wizard of Oz by L. Frank Baum George M. Hill Company, 1900
The Wonderful Wizard of Oz by L. Frank Baum George M. Hill Company, 1900

Take The Wizard of Oz, for instance:

  • Hero: Dorothy
  • Mentor: Glinda
  • Threshold Guardian: Emerald City Guard
  • Herald: Munchkins
  • Henchman: Flying Monkeys
  • Shapeshifter: Wizard
  • Hero’s Shadow (Villain): Wicked Witch
  • Trickster: Toto

Admittedly, this is open to interpretation, and sometimes multiple characters play the same role or wear different “masks” at different points in the course of the story. But the core of the idea is this: All of these characters build the hero’s complete psychological profile.

Similarly, according to monomyth theory, the people who come into and out of our personal lives serve the same roles.

So I pose these question:

If you’re the hero, who has filled those other roles in your life?

If your kid is the hero, which role(s) do you fill? Who fills the others?

Interesting questions to ponder, aren’t they?

If you’re open to sharing, please do so in the comments below. Or try it with a favorite movie or book, and see how it matches up.

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