Thursday, January 10, 2013

Hero, Trickster, Threshold Guardian

As I was saying…good story-telling follows the pattern of mythic structure, and will stay with us because our minds are literally, biochemically, wired for story.   And Story has a universal language. 

Archetypes, for example, are part of this universal language, and represent recurring patterns of human behavior.  Writers routinely make use of these archetypes—Hero, Villain, Shadow, Trickster, Wise Mentor, Threshold Guardian, Ally—to convey a lot of information quickly and craft a good story.  Leave too many out and the story weakens. 

I say ‘quickly’ because our brains are ‘narrative organs.’  They are literally configured biochemically (at least, according to current brain science, which is admittedly in its infancy) for story.  No wonder we love the fairy tales and films so much!

Our brains have categories of thinking already set up to “receive” these archetypes, when they appear in a story, and so a lot of information can quickly be transmitted, without need for a lot of explanation.  In “Lord of the Rings,” for example, we immediately know a lot about Frodo, Gandalf, and Sauron, as each one is introduced.  We’re not sure about the Ents, and we definitely don’t trust Gollum!  Why?  Because these are the tricksters, the shape shifters—archetypes designed to keep you on your toes as the plot moves along, wondering if, where, when and how these characters might swing from Ally to Opponent.    

Through Vogler I learned about mythic structure; through Tolkien, I had visuals.  When it came time to write the curriculum, mythic structure became the framework and Lord of the Rings the visual aids.  The scheme worked; my students ‘got it’—to the point of showing up in class in superhero costumes and presenting me with a Gandalf staff for my birthday! 

It was a stretch to write my material in this framework, without manipulating the material—a good writing challenge.  My poetic brain, which craves silence and reflection, long contemplative walks and staring out windows, has cramped up on a regular basis as I researched, structured, and wrote in prose.  I passed the gruelingly wonderful rough draft stage and am in first revisions.  At the end of the workday, I am only too happy to pour the cab, watch the sunset, and switch back to poetic brain.   

One more Tolkien story in next post, and then onto other happy news…

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