RR#2 C#4 Archetypes and Their Objects

Hello everyone, today I will be talking about archetypes and their objects.

Now, if you are confused by what I mean by this, I will explain.

In many stories we see different heroes and villains with objects that they are strongly tied to, whether it be an evil queen with their mirror or a prince charming and his sword; these objects appear again and again in multiple stories, but what is the symbolism behind these objects in their stories? Let's find out.

Before we start however, I would like to clarify something that I did not mention in my previous post.

The basis for archetypes and the definition we will be going with is, "expression of universal truth that exemplifies profound and significant insight however, does not need to have literally occurred".

Now we will be looking at 3 objects:

  • The sword
  • The mirror
  • The familiar


First off The Sword.

According to the University of Michigan (UMICH), the sword, "symbolizes power, protection, authority, strength, and courage; metaphysically, it represents discrimination and the penetrating power of the intellect. It is a symbol of knighthood and chivalry".

From this we can see why the sword is a popular choice as representation for the archetype "hero" character. The sword's symbolism embodies everything we want in our protagonist. Courage to face those that stand in their way, protection for those they care about, and strength to face whatever may come. A protagonist needs all of these characteristics in order to succeed in their quest. If they do not embody these traits at the start of their quest, then they certainly will at the end.

Next we have The Mirror.

The mirror is said to be, "a reflection of the soul; it does not lie, it is absolute truth. It is "man's knowledge of himself, the clear shining surface of divine truth, the gateway to the realm of inversion".

To put it bluntly, from this we see that the mirror is said to show what's truly in one's heart. The mirror is a popular form of truth detection in pop culture, the stories of the use of mirrors to reveal information span centuries. From stories such as Perseus or Narcissus, to that of the Evil Queen in Snow White; in these stories the truth about their person-hood is revealed. The queen changes herself to become the ugliness that was revealed in the mirror, Narcissus dies from his inability to look away from his own reflection, and Perseus uses the mirror to figure out the position of Medusa, looking at her without truly seeing her. 

All of these cases revealed something about the character: an inherent truth. Medusa, depending on the story, is not truly evil, simply given a form that the gods saw fit, despite the reasons leading up to the change. Narcissus was too vain for his own good and thus lead to his downfall as he saw what he truly loved most. 

This is why, when a character possesses a mirror, they are more inept to the world around them. It's often the case that the mirror's carrier will be a character that is either about truth and justice, or about vanity and beauty, as well as having the tendency to reveal information about people despite their protests. 

Finally The Familiar. 

Now this one is a bit tricky since the archetype connected to an animal is dependent on the animal in question. When dealing with timid animals/ animals of prey, the human they have a connection with would most likely be of a softer interior/kind-hearted personality with vulnerabilities, as well as a sense of innocence that has yet to be lost. Often times these characters are seen as the "Childish" archetype, or "The Scaredy-cat".

With predators/aggressive animals, they tend to reflect their human's brute or ruthless nature; their lack of care and their willingness to "go for the kill". Characters with these traits (and animals) are nearly always the villain.

Overall with this symbolism, animals are characterized as being an extension of their human and work almost akin to how the mirror does. Showing the true nature of the person further more, I believe this extends to all archetype items as they play a key role in the stories they appear in as indirect characterization. 


University of Michigan


Original Post

Hi Sophie,

Your research about archetypes is quite fascinating and has made me think more critically about legends and myths. It is very interesting how such little objects could have such an impact on characterisation and how these details are key. Subconsciously, most of us make these connections between objects and characteristics, but we do not think about it critically enough to realize that we make judgements based on them. This research was eyeopening and encouraged me to think carefully about these details next time.

I found an article about how objects that are used in a story can affect characterisation.


I hope that this helps and good luck with your research!

Add Reply