Wednesday, September 10, 2008

Archetypes: The Herald

It's funny how things in my life seem to parallel these posts. When I was talking about the Threshold Guardian, I spent a day dealing with AT&T Customer Disservice (very much a Threshold Guardian energy). And now it looks like we've got a hurricane heading our way, plus I've been thinking about change.

It must be time to talk about the Herald! This archetype is similar to the Threshold Guardian in that it tends to be one of those wooden cut-out figures that pops up to say, "You have a destiny to save the world!" before lying back down and disappearing.

Plot-wise, the main purpose of the Herald is usually to kick off the plot. In terms of the heroic journey, the Herald is usually the one to issue the Call to Adventure, the one who shows up and tells the hero he has a job to do. In mythology, Hermes was usually the Herald. In fairy tales, there was usually quite literally a herald sent out to spread the word through the kingdom that the king was offering his daughter's hand in marriage and half the kingdom to the person who successfully completed the quest.

The Herald can be a good guy, someone encouraging the Hero to go save the world. There's Hagrid in the Harry Potter books, who showed up to tell Harry he was a wizard and that he had a world of possibilities ahead of him. He can be a bad guy, challenging or threatening the Hero or the hero's community. The Terminator served as a kind of Herald in that movie. His actions in killing his way through the Sarah Connor listings in the phone book served as a signal to Sarah that her life was about to change and that she was in terrible danger. Or the Herald can be neutral, someone without a vested interest in the outcome who simply is carrying a message -- the person delivering the fateful telegram, the paper boy on the street corner shouting "Extra! Extra!" or the person who accidentally drops a piece of paper with a mysterious message on it.

Quite often at the beginning of the story, in the Ordinary World stage, the Hero is just going through the motions of life, doing okay, but not living up to his potential. He may not even be aware that things need to change. Then the Herald shows up and lets the Hero know of the need for change. Knowing this, the Hero has to make a choice to take action. Think of the "You could be more" moment in the Farscape pilot. Even if the hero is itching for adventure and wants a chance to be a hero, the arrival of the Herald can be a wake-up call as it forces the hero to put his money where his mouth is and do something instead of just dreaming about it. After all, if the hero really did have his act together and really believed he should be doing something, he'd have done it already. It takes the Herald to give him that final push.

Psychologically, the Herald is the inner realization that things need to change and that things can't go on the way they have been. The Herald signals that the world (or just the hero himself) is out of balance and needs to be set right. Once you're prepared for change, the universe will generally send someone to make that happen -- or else you'll be able to recognize that messenger when he shows up. Because of this, the Herald may be something inside the Hero, like a dream, a vision or that still, small voice of the divine (or those things may be what makes the Hero receptive to the Herald when he shows up). The Herald can also be a force rather than a person, like, say, a hurricane.

But I'm talking about character development here, so I'll focus on the Herald as a character. The main thing the Herald represents is change, which makes the Herald the opposite of the Threshold Guardian, who opposes change. In The Writer's Journey, Christopher Vogler mentions that the appearance of Darth Vader early in the original Star Wars film serves as a Herald because just the existence of something like Darth Vader is a signal that this universe is out of whack and needs a Hero to make things right. I think that the real Herald energy in terms of character is actually in R2-D2, who brings the plea for help to Luke and gets him involved in the adventure, and who then brings the Death Star plans to the Rebels.

Thinking about this made me realize that I missed a subtle Threshold Guardian from my Star Wars examples. C-3P0 was often in opposition to change, and when R2-D2 issued the Call to Adventure to Luke by playing the message from Princess Leia, C-3P0 told him it was probably a malfunction and nothing to worry about. That's a difficult kind of Threshold Guardian to overcome, since it's not exactly a challenge or conflict. Instead of saying "None shall pass!" so that the Hero knows he needs to get past, this kind says "Ah, it's nothing. Don't worry about it." That's harder to recognize as a test or as opposition.

The fun thing is that even though the actual plot role for C-3P0 as Threshold Guardian is limited to that one little bit, he carries that energy throughout the whole series, always being the one to say, "Oh, that's too dangerous, it's probably nothing, we shouldn't go there." Meanwhile, he's paired with R2-D2, the Herald, who also carries that energy through all the movies. He's the one who's often alerting the others to danger and heading off into the unknown. This is a character, even as a robot, who's all about shaking things up. That's something to think about in casting these plot roles in a story: Is this an overall attitude and way of thinking for these characters, if they exist in the story beyond that moment in the plot?

This is also an archetype that can double up. The Mentor may also be the Herald, as with Gandalf in The Lord of the Rings, showing up to give the information that something must be done, but then also giving advice, encouragement and any essential magical help to Frodo (likewise with Bilbo in The Hobbit). After issuing the Call to Adventure, the Herald can stick around as an ally. I guess the only archetype that can't also be a Herald is the Threshold Guardian, as it would be difficult to say both "You have to do something" and "You can't do that!"

You can still have a Herald in less quest-oriented stories. In romantic comedies, the Herald may be the friend who says, "You've got to start dating again!" or "You have to break up with that jerk!" Or the one who suggests taking a trip around the world or whatever else sets off the story. The Herald could also be the love interest if it's someone who disrupts the hero/heroine's life and suggests the possibility of change. Harry popping into Sally's life at pivotal moments to point out the flaws in the way she lives her life serves as a Herald in When Harry Met Sally.

As with the others, the key is to think beyond this role and consider why the Herald is issuing the challenge or sending the signal, where he stands on the challenge and at least a little about what his life is like away from this "job."

Next: The Shapeshifter.

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