Word of the Month: Archetype

David Zapatka

While reading about the hero’s journey, a theme that occurs in nearly all movie scripts, the word ”archetype” was presented as an aspect of movie characters. This so-called hidden DNA of storytelling was recognized in the 1800’s by Max Muller when he noticed similarities between ancient epic stories and wrote about them in his classic Comparative Mythology published in Oxford Essays. In 1949 Joseph Campbell published The Hero with a Thousand Faces which drew heavily on the legendary work of Dr. Carl Jung. Dr. Jung spoke of common ongoing themes of archetypes in human beings. George Lucas credits Joseph Campbell with the inspiration that helped consolidate the world he built for Star Wars. He is quoted as saying this about Joseph Campbell’s book, “…it is wonderful to read; as illumination into the human condition, it is a revelation.”

Archetype – noun ar·che·type ‘är-ki-,t¯ıp

1. The original pattern or model of which all things of the same type are representations or copies: a perfect example

2. An inherited idea or mode of thought in the psychology of C. G. Jung that is derived from the experience of the race and is present in the unconscious of the individual

Archetype – Medical Definition

1. A primitive generalized plan of structure deduced from the characters of a natural group of plants or animals and assumed to be the characteristic of the ancestor from which they are all descended

2. The original ancestor of a group of plants or animals

Archetype derives via Latin from the Greek adjective archetypos (“archetypal”), formed from the verb “archein” (“to begin” or “to rule”) and the noun “typos” (“type”). (“Archein” also gave us the prefix arch-, meaning “principal” or “extreme” and used to form such words as “archenemy,” “archduke,” and “archconservative.”) “Archetype” has specific uses in the fields of philosophy and psychology. Plato believed all things have ideal forms (aka archetypes) of which real things are merely shadows or copies. And in the psychology of C. G. Jung, “archetype” refers to an inherited idea or mode of thought that is present in the unconscious of the individual. In everyday prose, however, “archetype” is most commonly used to mean “a perfect example of something.”

Archetype used in a sentence:

1. He was the archetype of the individual man, the lone venturer, who against the odds makes out.

2. This archetype differs in many respects from the form in which it was republished by the editor of the entire work.

“Archetype” and “prototype” are often used interchangeably but are very different. An archetype is a perfect and unchanging form that existing things or people can approach but never duplicate. A prototype is an early, usually unrefined version of something that later versions reflect but may depart from.

Please submit any archetypal thoughts you may have, any thoughts you may have on this month’s column or any word you may like to share with our readers along with your insights and comments to dzapatka@wbhsi.net.