What is a Fantasy Archetype? Defining Characters and Their Journeys

In the world of literature, archetypes are elemental figures or symbols that recur throughout stories, embodying universal patterns and themes that resonate deeply with audiences. These archetypes serve as fundamental building blocks, providing a framework for character development and narrative structure. Let’s dive into all you need to know about archetypes before you start. Definition…

fantasy archetypes including a knight, wizard, elg and others

In the world of literature, archetypes are elemental figures or symbols that recur throughout stories, embodying universal patterns and themes that resonate deeply with audiences. These archetypes serve as fundamental building blocks, providing a framework for character development and narrative structure. Let’s dive into all you need to know about archetypes before you start.

Definition of archetypes

What is an archetype? An archetypes definition can be thought of as universal symbols, characters or themes. In storytelling we see archetypes most commonly as characters and they act as foundational building blocks of storytelling, representing fundamental human experiences and emotions.

The concept of archetypes was popularised by psychologist Carl Jung, who identified them as part of the collective unconscious, shared elements of the human psyche that manifest in myths, dreams, and literature. In essence, these reflect the unconscious mind and key personality types as well as insight into the human condition.

Importance of archetypes in fantasy

In fantasy literature, archetypes are particularly prevalent, serving as the familiar templates upon which characters and narratives are built. They include roles such as the Hero, the Mentor, the Villain, and many others, each embodying distinct qualities and functions within the story. 

Types of Fantasy Archetypes

These archetypes are not just clichés but are deeply ingrained in our collective consciousness. Let’s break down the most common archetypes we find across fantasy subgenres

The Hero

The Hero stands at the heart of the narrative, representing the archetypal protagonist whose journey of transformation drives the story forward. This character is imbued with traits such as bravery, integrity, and a sense of justice. 

a fantasy hero standing with his sword infront of a castle

Often, the Hero’s journey is one of self-discovery, growth, and the pursuit of a noble goal, whether it be saving a kingdom, vanquishing evil, or restoring balance to a world in turmoil. The Hero’s arc is a fundamental component of the narrative, offering readers a figure to root for and relate to amidst fantastical settings.

The Mentor

The Mentor archetype meaning is typically a guiding force behind the hero. They provide wisdom, knowledge, and even at times magical assistance. This character is typically portrayed as older and more experienced, serving as a teacher and protector. The Mentor’s role is crucial in helping the Hero navigate the complexities of their quest, offering support that is both practical and moral. 

The Villain

A well-crafted Villain possesses depth and complexity, with motivations that can range from the desire for power to a personal vendetta against the Hero. The Villain’s actions catalyse the Hero’s journey, providing the necessary impetus for growth and change. The interplay between the Hero and the Villain is a dynamic that lies at the core of many fantasy narratives.

medieval villain as a fantasy archetype

The Sidekick

The Sidekick serves as the Hero’s steadfast companion, offering loyalty, support, and often a touch of humour. This archetype enhances the narrative by providing emotional depth and relational dynamics. 

The Sidekick’s role can vary from comic relief to crucial ally, helping to highlight the Hero’s strengths and weaknesses. Their presence enriches the story, making the Hero’s journey more relatable and engaging.

The Love Interest

The Love Interest introduces a layer of emotional complexity and interpersonal conflict to the narrative. This character can serve as a source of inspiration, motivation, or even distraction for the Hero. 

The relationship between the Hero and the Love Interest often plays a pivotal role in the story, influencing decisions and adding stakes to the Hero’s journey. 

The Anti-Hero

The Anti-Hero is a fascinating and complex archetype, challenging traditional notions of heroism. Unlike the conventional Hero, the Anti-Hero is marked by moral ambiguity, personal flaws, and unconventional methods. 

This character often operates in a grey area, driven by personal goals that may conflict with traditional heroic ideals. The Anti-Hero’s journey is one of internal conflict and redemption, offering a nuanced perspective on the nature of heroism and villainy.

The Jester 

The Jester, also known as the Trickster, brings levity and wit to the narrative, often challenging the status quo and deflating the seriousness of other characters. This archetype uses humour, cleverness, and sometimes deception to navigate the story, providing critical commentary and unexpected solutions. The Jester’s antics can serve as a coping mechanism in dire situations, offering relief and perspective. 

jester in medieval setting as fantasy archetype

In fantasy, the jester isn’t always just symbolism. In series like In All Jest, we see a secret society of jesters at work to keep the peace as long kept secrets begin to unravel. Check out the series starting with A Fool’s Errand and book two, Fool me twice

Evolution of Fantasy Archetypes

Fantasy literature has evolved significantly over time, reflecting changes in cultural norms, societal values, and literary trends. The archetypes that once dominated classic fantasy have undergone transformation, giving rise to modern interpretations.

Traditional archetypes in classic fantasy

Classic fantasy literature is steeped in traditional archetypes that have become iconic over the years. Characters such as the noble Hero, the wise Mentor, the malevolent Villain, the loyal Sidekick, the enchanting Love Interest, and the morally ambiguous Anti-Hero form the bedrock of these stories. These archetypes were often straightforward and embodied clear moral distinctions. For instance, the Hero was invariably brave and righteous, while the Villain was unmistakably evil.

In classic works like J.R.R. Tolkien’s “The Lord of the Rings,” these archetypes are vividly portrayed. Frodo Baggins epitomises the reluctant Hero, embarking on a perilous journey to destroy the One Ring. Gandalf, the quintessential Mentor, provides wisdom and guidance, while Sauron, the dark lord, exemplifies the ultimate Villain.

Modern interpretations and subversions

Contemporary fantasy literature often reinterprets and subverts these traditional archetypes, adding layers of complexity and nuance. One notable trend is the rise of the flawed Hero. Modern Heroes may struggle with personal demons, moral dilemmas, or societal pressures, making them more relatable and human. 

Villains, too, have evolved beyond mere embodiments of evil. Contemporary Villains often have sympathetic backstories, making their motivations understandable, if not justifiable. 

Creating Your Own Fantasy Archetypes

Crafting compelling fantasy characters involves more than simply replicating existing archetypes. It requires blending traditional elements with unique traits, avoiding clichés, and ensuring that characters undergo meaningful development throughout the story. 

Blending archetypes for unique characters

One of the most effective ways to create original characters is by blending multiple archetypes. Rather than sticking strictly to a single archetype, consider combining traits from several to create more nuanced and multifaceted characters. This blending allows for more complex and intriguing characters, making them feel fresh and dynamic.

Avoiding clichés while maintaining familiarity

While archetypes provide a familiar foundation, it’s crucial to avoid falling into the trap of clichés. Readers appreciate characters who feel both relatable and original. To achieve this balance, consider subverting expectations and adding depth to traditional roles. For instance, instead of a Mentor who is often a wise old man with an infallible past, create one who has made significant mistakes in their past and is seeking redemption.

The importance of character arcs

Character arcs are essential for engaging and memorable storytelling. A well-crafted character arc shows the transformation of a character over the course of the story, reflecting their growth, learning, and changes in perspective. This evolution not only adds depth to the character but also drives the plot forward and resonates emotionally with readers.

To create effective character arcs, think about your characters’ goals, conflicts, and the lessons they need to learn. Ensure that their experiences lead to meaningful changes in their beliefs, attitudes, or behaviours. This progression should feel natural and integral to the overall narrative, providing a satisfying resolution to their journey.


Archetypes represent universal patterns, from the valiant Hero to the cunning Trickster, each archetype brings depth, resonance, and instinctive patterns to the narratives we love. By understanding the evolution of major archetypes from classic to modern interpretations, writers can create truly unforgettable characters and narratives. With the innate human knowledge passed on with these archetypes, we can better understand characters and often see parts of ourselves reflected in the pages of the books we read.

But the journey doesn’t end here with Jungian psychology and familiar archetypes. If you’re hungry for more epic adventures and immersive worlds, why not dive deeper into the realm of epic fantasy? What Is Epic Fantasy? Epic fantasy offers a vast landscape of imagination, where heroes rise, villains fall, and the fate of entire worlds hangs in the balance.

Whether you’re a seasoned fantasy aficionado or a curious newcomer, take the next step into the realm of epic fantasy and let your imagination run wild.