Character Archetypes Series: #7 The Shadow

Character Archetypes Series: #7 The Shadow

In the eighth article of Character Archetypes Series, we talk about Shadow.

We have arrived at the “Supreme Ordeal“, the moment in which the Hero wages battle against his enemy, The Shadow.

Character Archetypes Series: #7 Shadow - Hero's journey - 
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Illustration by Valentina Forni @cloudandcowfish

This is the most powerful of the archetypes we encounter on the Hero’s journey. He is the hero’s antagonist, his enemy but also his alter ego. In Disney fairy tales and cartoons, it is represented as the villain, in the form of a dragon or monster.

This character got overwhelmed by the negative and dark side of his character and became a Shadow.

What can a Hero do to not give in to this archetype and turn into something dark?

He can learn to recognize this negative side, dominate it and counter it in order not to give in.

We’re used to thinking that the antagonist, the Shadow, is a flesh-and-blood character, a monster, but that’s not always the case. In some cases, The Shadow may be our fear. Let’s think about our daily life.

Have you ever had to do something that scares you, in order to achieve a goal or a loved one? Have you ever, for example, taken the plane to reach your sweetheart, despite the fear of the plane? Many romantic films show The Shadow in the guise of these inner fears.

What is the role of the Shadow?

Within the Hero’s Journey, the Shadow hinders the protagonist during his exploits and creates difficulties for him. To continue on his path, the Hero is forced to overcome them all and thus reach the end of his path.

The purpose of the Shadow is always opposite to that of the Hero. For this reason, the protagonist of the Journey has no choice but to face it.

In some narratives, the Shadow has the appearance of a demon, a general threat. In others, it is represented by a man, an ex-Hero who has succumbed to bad feelings.

Let’s go back to the example of Star Wars that followed us during this imaginary journey through Campbell‘s archetypes. Darth Vader is the dark side of Anakin Skywalker, Hero of his Journey but who has succumbed to the dark side of the force. His goal is totally different from that of Luke, Obi-Wan Kenobi and their allies. For this reason, Darth Vader hinders Luke Skywalker on several occasions and clashes with the Hero of this new Journey.

We also think of Voldemort, Harry Potter‘s enemy with whom he has an indissoluble bond. So powerful that one of the two will have to die in order not to let the other survive. In The Lord of the Rings, Sauron is a fighter who has been attracted by the dark power of the ring. He fights against Frodo who he wants to eliminate to achieve his goal.

How a character turns into The Shadow.

What makes the narrative interesting is the explanation of how a character turns into The Shadow.

All these characters succumbed to the dark side of their personality and lost touch with their human side.

Another important example of this transformation is shown to us in the film “Maleficent”.

We find that Maleficent, the evil witch, has not always been evil. She became a villain when she suffered a great disappointment of love and succumbed to anger and revenge.

The fight against the Shadow

The Heroes of these narratives, like Luke Skywalker, Harry Potter, Frodo and the Fellowship of the Ring, face the various difficulties set up by the antagonist. They try to reach the end of the path and return home victorious.

Not in all situations, there is a single hero facing obstacles. As already said, the Hero can count on the Allies, the Mentor and other figures who help him along this path.

Think of the movie Armageddon: a team of NASA-trained drillers goes to space to fight against the huge asteroid that is about to hit the Earth, Dottie, and saves humanity. Each of the team members plays an important role in this narrative.

The Supreme Ordeal 

This is the moment of greatest tension. The Hero must emerge victorious to conclude the Journey but seriously risk death.

On some occasions, it dies only to be reborn, with a new awareness. A reversal of the situation creates suspense, and it seems that luck no longer assists the Hero. The Hero, therefore, faces his deepest fears, the fear of failure.

This step is very important because it is here that the Hero changes and becomes different.

Usually, the action of this point takes place in a hidden place such as inside a forest. Think of the scene in Harry Potter, when he is hit by the spell “Avada Kedavra” and then escorted to Hogwarts in Hagrid’s arms. Moreover, on a mountain, or inside a cave as happens to Frodo at the foot of the volcano, during the fight with Gollum.

Use bibisco novel writing software to create your Shadow

Without the Shadow there would be no narrative. There would be no reason to start the Hero’s Journey.

For this reason, it is fundamental to create a believable character, who knows how to hinder the Hero in his path. In addition, it has to arouse a sense of fear even in the reader.

The Shadow must represent something dark and unknown. Each of us hides a part of the dark ego in himself. Thanks to bibisco’s innovative feature, the interview mode, you can create the archetype you have in mind and make the reader fall in love with your narration.

Character Archetypes Series: #7 Shadow - bibisco interview mode
bibisco blog | useful resources by your novel writing software
bibisco interview mode


After the Hero also surpasses the Supreme Ordeal, he can enjoy victory.

However, he will find himself changed and will no longer be the same Hero who started the Journey.

This moment is the deepest meaning of the Hero’s Journey: facing one’s fears, the enemies, and the Shadow. This is the inner part that represents the dark part of the ego.

We are almost at the end of the Hero’s Journey. Before moving on towards the conclusion of the Journey, in our next articles we will introduce two more last archetypes, very important for the narrative.

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