November 29, 2010

archetypes - ally

I hope everyone had an excellent Thanksgiving holiday. For me, it was a nice break from my quiet life. Today we delve back into my archetypes series with the Ally. You can also read my earlier posts about the Hero, Mentor, Threshold Guardian, Herald, Shapeshifter, and Shadow archetypes.

The Ally is just as recognizable as the hero. They are the hero’s companions, who fight at the hero’s side, help them, and sometimes challenge them. As a story mechanic, the Ally is useful to send on errands, carry messages, scout locations, or provide a confidant for the hero. The have the important function of humanizing the heroes, adding extra dimensions to their personalities, and challenging them to be better heroes.

My favorite Allies are those of (can you guess it?) Harry Potter, his best friends Ron Weasley and Hermione Granger. They both challenge Harry, grounding him in reality and sometimes keeping him from doing rash things. They question his methods but also stand by him when he needs them. They are as loyal and faithful as any friends a person could ask for, but they aren’t going to stand idly by and allow his famousness to swell his head.

Allies don’t always have to be friends of the hero. They are sometimes interfering characters fighting for the same goal as the hero. The enemy of my enemy is my friend, so they say.

On epic journeys, heroes can acquire dozens or hundreds of Allies, building up a team of adventurers, like you would in Dungeons & Dragons, though the entire party in D&D is usually considered a band of heroes rather than a single hero and his allies.

The Ally is often considered a window into the special or unfamiliar world of the narrative. Sometimes, it would be awkward for the hero to ask questions or explain the details of a world unfamiliar to the audience,  but where the hero is tight-lipped, the Ally can ask the questions we want answered and warrant the explanations out of other characters.

Sometimes Allies can be non-human entities. An Ally of this nature may be a spirit companion or protector, like a guardian angel or the spirit of the hero’s ancestor. Allies may also be animals, like a cowboy’s horse, or a hunter’s dog, an Ally that serves as a confidant but cannot exactly speak back.
Chewbacca, though he is not an animal by any means, only speaks in Shyriiwook, but he is a devoted friend and co-pilot to Han Solo. Mechanical Allies also exist, like C-3PO and R2D2 for Luke Skywalker.

Allies are important in fiction, serving as an outlet for everything not expressed in the hero of the story.

Read the next post about the Trickster.

[This interpretation of the archetypes comes from the Hero’s Journey, a universal structure found in mythology and organized by Joseph Campbell in The Hero with A Thousand Faces and Christopher Vogler in The Writer’s Journey: Mythic Structure for Writers.]