An archetype is a method for the analysis or writing of stories and mythology. Archetypal analysis claims that all mythologies have the same basic structure with respect to their characters, and their storyline, the most well-known combination being that of the Hero's Quest.

The storyline and all characters of Lost may be analyzed by these methods. The writers of Lost almost certainly are aware of archetypal analysis, as it is a common topic of study in learning the craft of writing.

Analysis examples[]

Three important examples of archetypal analysis come from Carl Jung, Christopher Vogler, and Joseph Campbell.


Jung claimed the existence of archetypes in the "collective unconsciousness" of the human race, as well as theorists on writing and mythology.[source needed]


Some of Vogler's major character archetypes, which is similar to the concept of a "stock character", include: Hero, Mentor, Threshold Guardian, Herald, Shapeshifter, Shadow, and Trickster.[1] [2]


Campbell's mythology of the storyline of a Hero's Quest describes the basic structure of [3] [4]

  1. Departure, consisting of:
    • the "call to adventure"
    • "refusal of the call"
    • "supernatural aid"
    • "crossing the first threshold"
    • "rebirth/belly of the whale"
  2. Initiation, consisting of:
    • "road of trials"
    • "meeting with the goddess"
    • "woman temptress"
    • "atonement with father"
    • "apotheosis" - awareness of new reality
    • "awareness of goal and its good"
  3. The Return, consisting of:
    • "refusing return"
    • "magic flight and pursuit"
    • "rescue"
    • "threshold of returning"
    • "master of two worlds" - the old world, and the new one discovered on the quest
    • "granting of the boon"

Campbell's mythological structure was confirmed by filmmaker George Lucas as the basis for his film Star Wars [5] [6]. Numerous comparisons have been made along Campbell's analysis, for example between Star Wars and Lord of the Rings [7] [8]

In Lost[]

An archetypal analysis of Lost follows below:



Jack and Sayid may often be interpreted as the Hero figure on the Island.


Mentor is the figure that Athena assumes in The Odyssey to guide Telemachus during his quest to find his father. It is important to note that while a mentor is a guide and often assists one or more of the protagonists, the role of a mentor can be played by anyone with the proper knowledge, irrespective of moral alignment.

In Season One, no clear mentor emerges, though it could be argued that John Locke serves as a mentor in both a pragmatic and faith-affirming capacity.

In Season Two, Desmond becomes a reluctant mentor simply by virtue of his knowing more about the Island than the Losties.

However, in Season Three, a clear mentor emerges who will continue to lead the Losties through the story to this point: Ben. Despite often serving his own secretive interests, and despite often being in opposition to the survivors of Oceanic Flight 815, he regularly provides them with directions and, more importantly, information that they need to accomplish their own quests.

The mentor is also known as the "Magician"

Magical negro[]

"Magical negro" is a minor subtype of the magician or mentor archetype that was popularized by Spike Lee to show how African-Americans are often depicted in fictional works. A magical negro has the following characteristics:

  1. Is African-American
  2. Only purpose is to help and give advice to the white protagonists
  3. Possesses what seems like magical abilities (sometimes the abilities are over-the-top such as John Coffee in The Green Mile, and sometimes the abilities are subtle such as with Bagger Vance in The Legend of Bagger Vance)
  4. Is wise, patient, and spiritually in touch.
  • Rose as the magical negro archetype

Rose insists to Jack that her husband is still alive

Early in the series, Rose Nadler seems to follow all the rules of a magical negro:

  • An African-American, and is most noticeably the only female African-American featured during season 1 (not counting background cast).
  • Sits alone with Jack, the (white) leader of the survivors, and tells him he is "a good soul, patient, caring", as if to boost his spirits. ("Walkabout")
  • Even though everyone else considers the tail-section occupants to all be dead, Rose insists to Jack "my husband is not dead." ("Walkabout")
  • Charlie (a white character) asks Rose for help. She helps him with words of advice, and a prayer. She also displays great faith when she insists to Charlie that she knows her husband is alive: "I just do. It's a fine line between denial and faith. It's much better on my side." ("Whatever the Case May Be")
  • Walt as the magical negro archetype
  • He helps people/gives advice, for example convincing Locke not to commit suicide because he has "work to do". ("Through the Looking Glass, Part 1")
  • He seems to have some sort of magical powers, e.g. some strange connection with the island and/or ability to manifest his will on reality.
  • However Walt also has traits that discourage the idea of his being magical negro. For example he is not specifically spiritual or inspirational, like Rose, and he feels the same way as Locke about leaving the island, making him not connected with the other castaways in order to help them, etc.
  • References:
  • Television without Pity - "It seems like the writers are not only making Rose the magical negro, they've taken a page from Survivor and added her as the token religious black lady on the island, as well." (see also [9])
  • The Programming Insider - "Rose was an idea for a Faith-based magical negro character."
  • LiveJournal - "Necessary archetypes for a heroic group of adventurers"
  • South Dakota Dark - "Mr. Eko, who is treated as this stereotype by all of the characters"
  • Horror Talk - "Lost has a magical negro, it's Walt."


A herald announces new informations, plot elements, or new directions in storyline, that cause the main character (usually the hero) to act. Vincent often provides this role as herald, bring items of interest such as the Virgin Mary statue ("Three Minutes") or the mummified arm of Roger Linus from the DHARMA van ("Tricia Tanaka Is Dead"), or simply leading characters to new elements, as when Shannon was led to her death by the gun of Ana Lucia ("Abandoned"). However even extremely minor characters often perform this archetypal role in film and television, including in Lost. For example, the arrival of the poor man causes Jin to act, thereby losing his job at the hotel, and developing the core values of his character. ("...And Found")

Threshold Guardian[]

Desmond played the threshold guardian as the literal guardian of the Swan station. His role spent, he ran off out of the storyline until he could return later to the storyline as a different archetype, that of a hero, who undergoes the "apotheosis" of the archetypal "second chapter" by realizing the power of his flashes.

In Season 4, Ben suggests that the smoke monster is a threshold guardian, but does not reveal what is on the other side of the threshold.

Due to the interlocking plotlines of Lost, characters have often played threshold guardian to each other. Ben is Locke's threshold guardian for realizing his own "apotheosis" and true purpose. At the end of Season 3, Locke was Jack's threshold guardian for activating the satellite phone and getting off the island, mirroring a longer term rivalry of theirs.


The shapeshifter is a type of character whose allegiance or identity changes and is unclear, reminding the audience that the story may not be what it seems. Examples of shapeshifter characters include Juliet, Danielle Rousseau, and Locke. Shapeshifters often provide an unpredictable love interest of the opposite sex to the Hero, a role played by Juliet. Shapeshifting may also be a quality of other archetypes. For example Ben, although a "shadow", is also a shapeshifter whose words are manipulative riddles that nonetheless spur other characters to action, and whose ultimate goals are still unclear after the end of Season 3. A literal shapeshifter and an archetype shapsehifter is also The Man in Black.


The shadow is the opposing force to the hero, and provides the negative forces of danger or fear to the storyline. In Lost, the shadow is clearly represented by both Ben and the monster - and more recently Keamy and the team from the freighter and Radzinsky of DHARMA. On a larger scale, the Others, The Man in Black, Charles Widmore and the DHARMA Initiative fit this role.


The trickster provides humor and wit. Hurley fits this archetype well, as do the nicknames of Sawyer, and some of Charlie's interactions with Claire as well as Miles.


The storyline of myths may be generalized into a few basic archetypal "chapters". Most of the storyline of Lost up through the end of season 3 likely falls under the two chapter categories of "Departure", which is mostly Season 1 where the characters discover that there are issues and powers to be resolved, and "Initiation", where the characters begin to discover their true purpose within the storyline.

Chapter 1: Departure[]

The various dreams and visions experienced by the characters can often be seen as a "call to adventure". Sometimes this is explicit, such as Locke's vision in which Boone expressly told Locke to rescue Eko, before continuing on his quest. However in his earlier vision, when he saw the Drug smugglers' plane, is also a call to adventure.

Jack's leadership may also be considered a call to adventure. He followed his father's vision and found the Caves, where he led the survivors to.

Locke's first moment when he stood on the Island without use of the wheelchair may be viewed as the step of "supernatural aid". His discover of the hatch was his first major "threshold", and his entry into it at the end of Season 1 was the "crossing of the first threshold".

Chapter 2: Initiation[]

Locke's increasing discovery of his abilities, and faith in his convictions through the arc of Season 3 is his "apotheosis". Desmond's realization of his powers through his flashes, and the consequences of seeing these, is also an "apothesosis". These two are among the few still-living characters that have realized their special "meaning" or purpose on the island, and thus may be predicted to be important players in storyline of the "Return" arc of the Lost mythology, to occur in or after Season 4.

Chapter 3: Return[]

The flashforwards is one logical use of the "Return" theme. In Season 5, the Oceanic Six "Return" to the Island, and the closing images of the entire series feature Jack returning to the very spot he woke up in the very first episode.

See also[]

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