Monday, 14 February 2011



Anyone who is a student of the human mind cannot fail to examine the concept of ARCHETYPES, for they enable us to form an idea how the Human Mind is constructed and how it expresses itself. What might come as a surprise is that FAIRY TALES also play a part in understanding the Human Psyche.

Without more ado let us see why both ARCHETYPES and FAIRY TALES are important. So, of course, are many other things, but we do not have space to discuss other manifestations of the Human Mind.

First, what do we mean by ARCHETYPES? In an earlier Post, concerning the work of Jung, I gave some ideas; perhaps we can broaden them out here. For a start, Jung believed that there is ‘out there’ what he called the COLLECTIVE UNCONSCIOUS, and ARCHETYPES are part of it.

What then is THE COLLECTIVE UNCONSCIOUS?  Roughly, according to Jung It is like a vast Storehouse of Myths, Legends and Symbols and EVERY Human Mind is somehow ‘plugged’ into it. Jung arrived at this idea by studying the dreams of his patients. In so doing he discovered that with entirely different patients the same or similar symbols occurred again and again. In fact his clients were completely unfamiliar with the symbols that were appearing in their dreams. They certainly did not understand them.
Yes, ARCHETYPES (or SYMBOLS) creep into dreams, as this engraving shows. Tom Paine was a Revolutionary Pamphleteer (1737-1809). In this engraving Tom Paine’s nightmare shows the trouble he got into because of his radical views.


So, ARCHETYPES pop up everywhere.
However, Jung was a deep student of World Cultures and noticed that the symbols appearing in the dreams of his patients were similar to COMMON symbols in various parts of the world. In fact, he came to realise that not only were the symbols linked throughout the world but so were THE ELEMENTS OF WORLD MYTHS AND FOLKLORE. It was as if WORLD CULTURE was dipping into a COMMON POOL of ideas and themes. HE CALLED THIS PHENOMENEN THE COLLECTIVE UNCONSCIOUS.
What are some of the patterns that THE COLLECTIVE UNCONSCIOUS deposits in World Cultures?
Well for a start, even amongst cultures that have had no connection with each other are to be found MYTHS CONCERNING THE HERO; they use the SYMBOL OF THE CIRCLE to represent completeness; THE SKY to denote supremacy or some other realm or entity higher than human experience; the EARTH to signify a nurturing element or some sort of security. Then there are RELIGIOUS MYTHS that contain similar ideas throughout the world. For example the idea of a PARADISE STATE existing in the pre-historic past; a God who undergoes DEATH AND RESURRECTION; many myths contain the idea of a GLOBAL FLOOD.

OK enough on that. I trust you have the idea that somehow ALL humans have ACCESS to this vast Psychic Pool – whether they wish to or not.

Now, at last to ARCHETYPES; these seem to be part of the Collective Unconscious; they are a sort of an INHERITED FRAMEWORK common to all mankind. Lying BEHIND the Archetypes are the SYMBOLS and PATTERNS that we have mentioned. So from the standpoint of this Post, BEHIND THE FAIRY TALES LIE THE ARCHETYPES. Consequently, if we search the Fairy Tale from different parts of the world, we can uncover COMMON ARCHETYPES. So what?

Uncovering the Archetypes in a Fairy Tale could well mean UNCOVERING THE DOMINANT ARCHETYPES IN OURSELVES. In short, the Fairy Tale might have more TO SAY TO YOU than you perhaps realize.

Rather than give a long list of ARCHETYPES and ARCHETYPAL THEMES I shall point them out as we proceed through our discussion. What we can say, right at the start, that SIMILAR Fairy Tales exist throughout the world. At rock bottom they seem to contain the same elements:

1. Often start with ‘Once upon a time.’
2. The events take place in the distant past
3. Involve fantasy and make-believe as if such events could never happen in reality
4. Clearly defined Good and Bad, or Evil characters
5. Royalty is often present in the form of a King, Queen, Handsome Prince or Beautiful Princess


6. Magic involving Giants, Elves, Animals that speak, Witches, Fairies, Wizards

7. A definite task to be performed or a problem to be solved
8. It usually takes Three Attempts to solve the problem
9. Almost always have Happy Endings
10. Usually contain a Lesson to be learned, such as you reap what you sow, evil deeds come back at one who practices them
11. Rewards for Good Deeds

Why have I outlined this?

Quite simply to show that thousands of Fairy Tales scattered throughout hundreds of countries with different cultures, have a DEFINITE LINK between them. Like Jung I believe that this link is due to the UNIVERSAL CONNECTION that each member of the Human Race makes with the COLLECTIVE UNCONSCIOUS. As a result, out pop common Fairy Tales containing COMMON ARCHETYPES.

Without more ado, let us plunge into TOM THUMB. We shall have a look at the story then explore one or two ARCHETYPES within it. As it is a long story I can only comment on sections after I have given a brief outline. There are many variations of this story but I have used Project Gutenberg's ‘The History of Tom Thumb, and Others,’ written by Anonymous: The Editor is Henry Altemus. Although this is a somewhat shortened version it is sufficient for our purposes. You can access it FREE on Line.

Right! Off we go!

In this tale there are over forty characters characters. These include Merlin, a Poor  Ploughman and his wife, the Queen of the Fairies, unnumbered Fairies, Tom Thumb, Tom’s unnamed Friends, A poor Tinker, Grumbo the Giant, The King’s Cook, King Arthur, King Arthur’s Queen, Various Courtiers, The Miller, Six unnamed Doctors and twenty unnamed Learned Men, King Thunstone, Queen Thunstone.

So there are a lot of Archetypal characters one can explore here. I will take only two or three, but I would certainly encourage you to look into as many others as take your fancy. Remember these ARCHETYPES will appear repeatedly in other Fairy Tales, even in other types of Literature. Furthermore, you might see features, which apply to yourself or will enhance your reading of other literature. For a start, ‘Jane Eyre’ and ‘A Strange Story’, which I examined in other Posts from the point of the PARANORMAL are crammed with ARCHETYPES. Should you study these novels, or any other Victorian Novels from the standpoint of ARCHETYPES, then ANOTHER LAYER will lift.

Even ANIMALS appear in ARCHETYPAL FORMS in this tale and other literature. Here are the Animals that appear in ‘Tom Thumb’. The FAMILY COW appears in two guises; A RAVEN; A Great FISH;  HORSES; Several MICE; Two CATS (Maybe the SHADOW ARCHETYPE being played out). Finally, a SPIDER, which kills our hero.

I will not have the space to discuss more than one or two. Nevertheless, I would invite you to explore the HORSE (or THE ASS) in another context. In ‘’Tom Thumb’  the HORSE appears mainly as a means of transport, carrying the King (and Tom in the King’s pocket) from place to place. In the Sanskrit text of ‘The Bhagavad Gita’ (500-200BC) this ARCHETYPE serves the same purpose. It carries the warrior Prince Arjuna into battle.



However, In ‘The Bible’  (Numbers 22-24) we have a talking ASS. This ARCHETYPE speaks to warn its passenger, Balaam the prophet, of danger.



So, in the above two examples, ARCHETYPES appeared long before our story, ‘Tom Thumb’ was written in one form or another in the 16th century.

I shall isolate one or two ANIMAL ARCHETYPES  and show how the ARCHETYPAL FORMS are worked out in the story.

Looking at another aspect I shall isolate three MAIN ARCHETYPAL THEMES. They are 1. Rags to Riches  2. Voyage and Return. 3. Death and Rebirth. I must mention that there are generally considered to be only about SEVEN ARCHETYPAL THEMES throughout all literature. When we examine ‘Jack and the Beanstalk’ in a later post I shall isolate others.

When we turn to the HUMAN ARCHETYPES I shall dwell on these in more detail. Out of the dozens of Archetypes that scholars believe exist within the Human Consciousness and that manifest in  literature, I shall deal with 1.The HERO 2.The MOTHER 3.SUPERNATURAL HELPERS 4. The WISE OLD MAN 5. The TRICKSTER and perhaps the MOST IMPORTANT of all  6. THE SHADOW.

Just a final preliminary comment regarding the LAYOUT of the story. There are some thirty eight scenes that carry the plot. I am not going to isolate these. I want to simply state WHAT THE STORY IS ABOUT and then pick it up at various points to bring out my main focus, THE ARCHETYPES IN FAIRY STORIES.

The PLOT is quite simple. It begins in the year 516 AD at the time of King Arthur. The story concerns a poor childless couple who are kind to the Wizard Merlin. As a reward they have a child TOM THUMB, whose name springs from the fact that he is no bigger than his father’s thumb.  The tale then deals with Tom’s adventures and the perils of his small size. Tom finds himself in a variety of situations including inside the mouth of a cow, a giant, a large fish and as a prisoner in a mousetrap. He arrives in a Giant’s castle and the Court of King Arthur. Then, after a visit to Fairyland he is taken to the Court of Arthur’s successor King Thunston. Eventually, he is killed by a Spider.

This is a tale packed with adventure and one, which exhibits a range of EMOTIONS. We shall also look out for the SUPERSTITION of the day that creeps into the narrative. Keep your mind fixed on the SHADOW ARCHETYPE as this manifests itself in various situations. 

I think that  is enough for one to digest for the moment.

I shall pick up the main theme of ARCHETYPES and how they feature in this story in the next Posting.

Hopefully, you have seen the value of investigating ARCHETYPES in this preliminary discussion.

Until the Next Post


Any Comments

Picture Credits Wikimedia Commons

1 comment:

  1. A man named Christopher Vogler out in Hollywood once distilled Joseph Campbell's collection of archetypes into a guidebook for writers called "The Writer's Journey." It touches on many of the points you raised but assembles archetypes and tasks with an eye on the three-act structure common in many screenplays.

    Never a dull moment here.