The eight archetypes of story can help us with the complex structure that is found in ‘epic’ stories. In epics, there are several different stories being told simultaneously around a central theme story … with each of these stories having their own set of characters, some of which perform functions (sometimes the same and sometimes different) in the other story lines. This is what makes dissecting or, for that matter, building an epic story somewhat complicated … which can best be clarified through archetypes.
Let’s take a look at the Lord of the Rings. The four central through lines may be stated as follows:
Objective Journey: The struggle of the West against the aggression of Sauron and his determination to obtain the Ring of Power. (One Ring)
Main Character Journey: This is the journey of Frodo… his struggle against the One Ring with his will … a struggle which he fails.
Impact Character Journey: Who impacts Frodo the most? Gollum or Sméagol if you prefer. He haunts Frodo from the beginning. (Yes, I wanted to put Samwise in here, too)
Subjective Journey: The journey of Frodo and Sméagol … their story of overcoming the One Ring … where Sméagol unwittingly succeeds.
So, the first story of the Lord of the Rings looks like this (click on any image to enlarge):
It is interesting to note that in the main story, Sauruman and the Ring share the position of Contagonist … but that Sauruman starts the epic as very powerful while the ring itself feels weak. As the story progresses, we see Sauruman’s power fade as the power of the ring gets stronger … reflecting their prominence in the Contagonist position shifting from one to the other.
However, this leaves out a LOT of characters from the Lord of the Rings. What about Theoden and all those Rohirim? Well, that is the SECOND story of the Lord of the Rings.
If you think about it, this story really IS a complete story on its own … with its own through lines and characters, although it also uses characters from the main story of the epic. Then, too, there is the whole question of Gondor and the White City. THAT, too, is a complete story on its own perhaps best told with the following characters.
This is the story of the Stewards of Gondor … with Faramir being the actual hero. That Denetor, his troubled father, is the impact character is very strong in their story. Note, again, that other characters from other through lines appear here as well in different roles.
And what about Arwen? Well, here is the fourth, far more personal story.
This is the story of Aragorn and his duty to the world as well as himself. Again, it deals with characters from other story through lines but in different ways.
What do you think about these structures? What does this tell you about the Lord of the Rings and epic story structures?