The Temptress Archetype

I wrote about “The Lover” archetype in June/July, but there is another type of lover who often pops up along the hero’s journey . . . one who is not nearly as wholesome or helpful.

The Temptress character does exactly what you’d expect: she tempts the hero to do something he should not (sorry for my sexist pronouns—you can reverse them if you wish). She is an obstacle he must avoid—he must “just say NO” and continue on his quest.

This does not have to be about lust or a temptation simply to abandon the quest for something (or someone) else. The Temptress could be a person presenting a differing opinion and offering advice. If this advice is bad, then the character is a distraction/obstacle; if the hero shouldn’t listen, then the person giving the bad advice serves as a kind of Temptress. This character may actually be on the hero’s side—also hoping for the best and honestly believing that what he/she proposes is the right answer.

Perhaps the most interesting temptations are more philosophical. That is to say “the Temptress” is not a person at all, but rather, a “dark call.” Consider those heroes who walk a fine line between good and bad: they want to remain true and good and yet it would be so easy to cross the line and seek revenge. The dark side is tempting because it is easy and it feeds on selfishness. The reason this type of temptress is so common, of course, is that we can all relate to selfish desires and we know that they can be destructive in the long run.

Lets look at some Temptresses in my usual stories:

  • In Major League, Dorn’s wife becomes a temptress when she sleeps with Vaughn (who didn’t know she was Dorn’s wife). Vaughn got played, but he also gave in to his temptation and it cost him. Dorn’s wife uses Vaughn’s weakness (women) against him and thereby gets revenge on her cheating husband, but in doing so, she serves as a distraction for two of the team’s best players right before a critical game.
  • Harry Potter has a few girlfriends in the series before realizing who is “one true love is” and I’m not sure any of the other girlfriends could be considered temptresses as they are all “good” and fight on his side. Now, Ron Weasley, on the other hand, is often distracted by other girls and therefore doesn’t recognize Hermione until late in the series (after Emma Watson grows up and then . . . Wow). So we could argue that Ron is tempted by all kinds of things. Of course, the real temptation in the series is for Harry to either give up or give in to his darker side and seek vengeance. In order to stay true to himself, Harry must resist these temptations.
  • Although the boys in Stand By Me second guess themselves and consider turning back, no one intrudes on their quest until the bullies toward the end—so any Temptress they faced would be some sort of internal one. Could “doubt” counts as a Temptress?
  • I suppose you could look at Michael’s Italian wife (Apollonia) in The Godfather as his Temptress since she “distracts him” from his true love (Kay), though I don’t. First of all, I’d like to think that Michael was truly in love with Apollonia. Even if he wasn’t, the problems he has with Kay upon his return to the states have nothing to do with Apollonia (who dies before Michael’s return). The problems come from Michael’s negative transformation. Michael’s brother Sonny has an affair, and while it hurts his wife, this is not a major point in the story (much more on this in the novel, by the way!).
  • In the film version of Lord of the Rings, Eowyn is (sort of) a temptress for Aragorn, but obviously, in this story the real Temptress is the ring itself! Frodo must resist the ring’s call or else all is doomed!
  • While Batman/Bruce Wayne has had many lovers and temptresses over the years, the one that stands out in both the comics and in The Dark Knight Trilogy is Talia al Ghul, the daughter of Ra’s al Ghul (one of Batman’s greatest foes and the master villain in Batman Begins). Talia shows up in the 3rd film, tricks Bruce into trusting her and even loving her, only to literally stab him in the back.
  • There aren’t enough women in Star Wars. Abrams? Help us out. Okay, so it is interesting to look at Anakin and Padme’s relationship as “Anakin’s evil temptation that leads to his downfall and so much misery” …but the heroes Luke and Leia are born from that temptation and it isn’t Padme’s fault Anakin is terrible. Anakin is the bad guy. Not her. The real temptress in Star Wars (and Harry Potter + Lord of the Rings) isn’t a person, but rather a thing or idea . . . the dark side of the self. In all three of these series, the main characters must resist “the dark side” which will lead to their ultimate doom.
  • James Bond movies are filled with Temptresses. Bond is, let’s face it, a ladies man who is easily distracted by beautiful women. Some of these women are “lovers” in that they help and aid him in his quest, but just as often, they stab him in the back and try to get in his way.

The Lover “when not a real Lover” Archetype

My brother Andy has correctly pointed out that the Lover doesn’t actually have to be a romantic love. There is evidence of this in the movies I generally use. The boys in Stand By Me form a strong bond with one another that makes them see each other and themselves in a new light. In Skyfall, we see Bond’s humanity after M’s death, so his compassion is revealed there—again, not a romantic love. And what about Han Solo in Star Wars: A New Hope? Sure, Han has the hots for Leia, but that’s not what gets him to turn around and fight the Death Star in the film’s final act. Han’s transformation was because he found a cause he believed in and a group of people he cared about. It was all of that, not just his interest in the Princess, that made him abandon his mercenary way of thinking.

Andy also brought up the War movie genre in which the soldiers, having gone through hell together, become so close that they will die for one another, thereby demonstrating incredible acts of courage and love. And now that I’m thinking about it, what about guys like Jesus or Gandhi? The love they demonstrated wasn’t romantic—it was universal, and their love was certainly transformative. Heck. Their love was revolutionary!

So Andy’s point is very true.

What matters isn’t whether or not the Lover is romantic. What matters is that the heroes experience some kind of love that is transformative. Love, in any form, causes change, new perspectives, new values, new understanding, new compassion—all of which is essential for any hero.

 

The Lover Archetype

Believe it or not, the Love Interest is vital to any Hero’s Journey and is an essential Archetypal character. While we’re all used to lovers appearing in stories for the sole sake of having a romance element, the Lover does help the hero grow as part of his/her transformation (the most important part of any journey).

So here’s the deal: the Lover helps the hero better understand other people/humanity. By falling in love, the hero is made whole and his/her experience and knowledge base is made more complete. Of course, having a Lover will also give the hero something or someone to fight for (which is why the Lover is often taken hostage or at least the stakes of the quest are connected to the Lover’s future).

In a good story, the Lover does not exist simply to satisfy those members of the audience/readers who like romance. The Lover exists to show the hero new perspectives, open his/her eyes, add to his/her understanding of the world, give him/her someone worth fighting for, and give him/her the promise of a life worth living AFTER the journey is over.

The Lover may only appear in a few scenes. He/she doesn’t have to be a main character.

Before examining the Lovers in my normal movie list, lets consider a hero who does NOT get a lover and what happens as a result: Rambo. In the 1980s, David Morrell created John Rambo in a novel called First Blood  (the character was famously portrayed by Sly Stallone in several films). Rambo is a Vietnam War Veteran who is trained to kill and then released back into the population where he is shunned and lost. Nobody loves him. As a result, he remains a broken killing machine. He never achieves peace or happiness—even when he defeats the bad guys. Now, if Rambo fell in love and someone truly accepted him, helping him get back in touch with his own humanity . . . he might have turned out very differently and would not be nearly as tragic a figure.

  • Major League: Lynn Wells becomes Taylor’s love interest and helps him mature (which is important for him to do). While she gives him motivation to succeed, she also helps him transform into a more mature guy who will be able to find happiness after his baseball career ends.
  • Stand By Me: None of the young boys has a lover. Maybe next year, kids.
  • Harry Potter: Harry’s growing affection for Ginny Weasley serves a few functions. She helps Harry stay focused on what is important (saving the world). She is put in danger giving added motive for Harry to defeat the bad guys. In the end (spoiler alert!), we see that she and Harry marry, have children, and lead happy lives together. While Harry and Ginny spend significant time apart, their relationship is vital to Harry’s growth and eventual happiness.
  • The Godfather: Kay tries to keep Michael on the side of light. Though Michael marries her, he also rejects her values and consequently falls into darkness. If he just listened to his wife. . . .
  • Batman: In Batman Begins, Rachel Dawes is the one who shows Bruce the depth of Gotham’s problems. In a way, she is the Herald for his journey to becoming the city’s savior. It is important to note that Bruce looks forward to the time when Gotham doesn’t need Batman anymore and when he and Rachel can be together. Bruce knows that his life is incomplete without her. This is why her death hits so hard and why he spends eight years in mourning.
  • Lord of the Rings: Aragorn is pretty centered due to his love for Arwen, but he retains a lot of doubt (until the final book/film). She has confidence in him and helps him see and accept his path. Without her strength, he never would have been able to become the King the world needed. In the end, they marry and live happily ever after.
  • Star Wars: Poor Luke. He thought he had a love interest . . . but it was really his sister, so . . . yeah. The love plot goes to Han Solo. Leia certainly helps Han analyze his own character and encourages him to be a true hero rather than a mercenary. Han has to accept his true self (hero) and this never would have happened if not for Leia.
  • Skyfall (James Bond): Bond is the closest hero in my list to Rambo because although he has plenty of lady friends, few are meaningful. Bond uses women and doesn’t let the too close (he got pretty burned in Casino Royale). Generally speaking, the Bond Girls are there for fun and games. In Skyfall, he really has no true love interest though he manages to find a few girls here and there. Instead, we see his love for M (who has become a surrogate mother to him). When M dies, Bond cries, and we see a rare glimpse of his humanity.

Thresholds & Guardians

It is probably impossible for any hero’s journey to avoid thresholds and people/monsters/obstacles that serve as guardians of these milestones.

A threshold can be any dividing line between one point and another. Anything: a doorway, a fence, a river, a way off planet—any barrier is a threshold. The hero will go through several throughout his journey and each one is important because each means he has “made it” to the next phase of his journey.

Often the hero will have to bypass or defeat a person or thing that makes getting through the threshold rather difficult. These beings or obstacles are called “Threshold Guardians”—their purpose: to stop the hero in his tracks.

The most important threshold in any story is most likely the first one: the one that divides the hero’s ordinary world from the sacred world (see my post on “The Call”), but there will be many, and probably an obvious one before the climactic end scene.

While I will have several examples of thresholds and their guardians in my normal film list below, it would be silly not to mention the most plainly magnificent threshold guardian of all time: The Black Knight in Monty Python and the Holy Grail. The Black Knight guards a bridge over a creek no wider than a few feet, but simply stands there and repeats, “None shall pass,” so that King Arthur has to defeat him in combat (except, does he really? Why not just walk a few feet away and hop over the gully?). The Black Knight’s sole purpose is to be a threshold guardian. It is ridiculous and awesome. Please watch the scene even if you don’t have time for the entire film. I’m sure you can find it on Youtube.

EXAMPLES:
Major League: During spring training, the coaches are threshold guardians who will decide whether or not the individual players make it into the major leagues. After that, the coaches become true mentors while each team they face can be seen as a threshold guardian trying to prevent the Indians from winning and making it to the playoffs.
Stand By Me: When the boys first step onto the tracks, they pause at the bridge—an obvious threshold separating their hometown from the unknown. Minutes later, they encounter the threshold guardian: Chopper—the dog in the junkyard. Of course, when they try crossing the big river, the approaching train becomes a threshold guardian that very nearly kills them.
• Harry Potter: Wow. Where to begin? Harry’s stepparents are threshold guardians, trying to prevent Harry from entering the sacred world of wizardry. Then there’s getting into Diagon Alley, the train station and platform 9 ¾, and a billion special thresholds within Hogwarts. Many of these have obstacles making it difficult for normal people to get through. Toward the end, Fluffy (a giant three headed puppy) guards an entrance just as Cerberus guards the land of the dead in Greek mythology. Really, there are probably a hundred thresholds in each book in the series.
The Godfather: While there are many thresholds and guardians in this story, including Michaels’ own family members who do not want him to get involved in the family business because they want something better for him, some of the most obvious thresholds are the doorways in the restaurant scene with Michael kills Sollozzo (an act that irrevocably makes him part of the sacred world and leads to his crossing the ocean and hiding for several years). My favorite threshold, however, is in the final scene—the final shot, when Michael tells his wife, Kay, never to ask about his business and then, as she stands in the hallway, looking into Michael’s office, the door (threshold) slowly closes and she is left on the outside.
• Batman: In Batman Begins, Bruce Wayne has to get out of prison (an obvious threshold) only to climb a mountain (another) and then survive his training before returning to Gotham City (yet another). His journey began when he left Gotham (threshold) and went to China. You’ll be able to find many more throughout The Dark Knight Trilogy—though the 3rd film certainly has more than its share once Bruce is left in a seemingly inescapable pit (which he does escape) and returns from around the world to Gotham (never mind that he is actually penniless at that time and the entire city is sealed off—he’s Batman, so he can make it).
Lord of the Rings: The thresholds and their guardians are obvious and ubiquitous in this story, so I’ll just mention one of the more subtle examples: when Frodo and Sam are leaving the Shire. The two Hobbits have been walking for a long while, when Sam suddenly stops where a line of wheat turns a different color. He tells Frodo that if he takes another step that “[He’ll] be farther from home than [he’s] ever been.” He pauses because, though it is just a line of wheat, it a huge step for him. Sam is crossing into the world of the unknown. I also really like that there is a scarecrow there—a silent guardian who gives Sam additional reason to pause and that serves as a warning of what is to come.
Star Wars: As with Lord of the Rings and Harry Potter, I could make a long list of thresholds and guardians, but if we look at Episode IV (the original, original film), Luke’s Uncle Owen is a threshold guardian who doesn’t want Luke getting involved with the adventure plot. After Owen has been barbequed, Luke is free to do as he pleases, but still has to find a way off his home planet of Tatooine. Some Imperial Stormtroopers (who are repeatedly used as threshold guardians) question Luke and co., but Jedi Master Ben Kenobi is able to use a Jedi Mind Trick on the weak minded soldiers and get past them. Even when the heroes board the ship that will take them to the stars, they are attacked by Stormtroopers who wish to stop them.
Skyfall (James Bond): Bond always faces a number of henchmen, each of whom can be seen as a threshold guardian who seeks to stop Bond from continuing on his quest/mission. In Skyfall, we also see Bond having to pass a number of tests to get back on the active duty list. In this case, his superiors are the threshold guardians who will decide whether or not he can continue.