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  • Andrew Scott

Archetypal Stories


One of the areas I want to think more about is archetypal stories. I suspect that there are many of these - that is stories that are widely believed by many people. The most obvious one to me, possibly because I recognise it in myself, is Imposter Syndrome. My own version of that is the story I call ‘One day they will find out.’

I am not sure, yet, what the other archetypes may be. I am looking over my shoulder, as it were, at the seven basic plots described by Christopher Booker (whom I had the pleasure of hearing talk on them at the Words on the Water festival in Keswick, back in 2006).


He describes them as:

Overcoming the Monster

The protagonist sets out to defeat an antagonistic force (often evil) which threatens the protagonist and/or protagonist's homeland.

Rags to Riches

The poor protagonist acquires things such as power, wealth, and a mate, before losing it all and gaining it back upon growing as a person.

The Quest

The protagonist and some companions set out to acquire an important object or to get to a location, facing many obstacles and temptations along the way.

Voyage and Return

The protagonist goes to a strange land and, after overcoming the threats it poses to him or her, returns with nothing but experience.


Light and humorous character with a happy or cheerful ending; a dramatic work in which the central motif is the triumph over adverse circumstance, resulting in a successful or happy conclusion.


The protagonist is a hero with one major character flaw or great mistake which is ultimately their undoing. Their unfortunate end evokes pity at their folly and the fall of a fundamentally 'good' character.


During the course of the story, an important event forces the main character to change their ways, often making them a better person.

Whilst I recognise Booker’s analysis with regards to fiction and drama (though I am less convinced by his Jungian interpretations), I do not (or not yet) see these as archetypes of the kind of unconscious stories that people carry about in their heads. But perhaps that is not surprising, as I am not thinking of archetypes in the Jungian sense; merely in the sense of commonly-held stories, with some sort of universality.


But as ever, I am interested in others’ perceptions and experiences of this. So do add a comment to this post!

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