Thursday, May 5, 2011

Heralds of a New Story

Following in my series on archetypes as started with Threshold Guardians and the Forbidden Door and continued with Those Tricky Twins and That Peevish Peeves, let's look at a storyline archetype that is usually a sign that change is near.

Heralds, quite literally, are messengers.  In a story, they usually bring news about impending change, challenges to overcome, and calls the heroine to adventure. As with most storyline archetypes, the character of the Herald can be presented positively or negatively, an ally of the heroine, or a tool of the antagonist. Or, the Herald role can be fulfilled by an inner call within the heroine and not take on the role of an outside person at all.

Although multiple Heralds can, and do, occur throughout the Harry Potter series, we’ll look at the first Herald in each book who brings the news of the initial challenge, or call to adventure, for that year.

  1. PS/SS--Hagrid serves in the first role of Herald, breaking down the door to bring Harry his letter from Hogwarts. He informs Harry that he is a wizard and is also the one who first tells Harry about Voldemort.
  2. CoS--Dobby arrives in Harry's home at the worst possible time, and in a rather odd manner foretells the doom which awaits Harry if he should return to Hogwarts
  3. PoA--Aunt Marge in her rude abuse of Harry serves as a Herald by forcing him to consider all he does not know about his parents, his identity--the prime theme of the story, and pushing him out of the house
  4. GoF--Mrs. Weasley, through her letter inviting Harry to the Quidditch World Cup, invites Harry to explore the Magical World more fully
  5. OotP--The Dementors, then the letters from the MoM; The Dementors force Harry into the action which precipitates the flurry of letters and his call to the hearing; we also learn later that the Dementors were envoys of Umbridge.
  6. HBP--Dumbledore, through his advance letter and then in person, Dumbledore arrives to take Harry to Slughorn and start him on his new quest to delve below the surface of important Slytherins, such as Slughorn, Voldemort, and even Snape.
  7. DH—I think there are two sets of early heralds in this last book. Both Daily Prophet biographies regarding Dumbledore serve to alert (and alarm) Harry to his need to reconsider his pedestaled opinion of Dumbledore. Then the arrival of the OotP guard, willing to risk their lives for him, call Harry to his need to accept the help of others in his quest to eliminate Voldemort.
Except for Aunt Marge, all these heralds have a recurring role throughout the series.  JKR does not give this role to a mere walk-on character.  Also, she uses a nice variety of heraldic devices -- letters, invitations, newspaper articles, magical manipulation (from Dobby), taunts, even the attempted sucking of souls.

Heralds don't have to always be someone arriving on your hero's doorstep with an invitation.  Be creative.  And if you do have the traditional herald with a message, at least make him fun and different -- like a giant arriving on an island with a magic pink umbrella and sausages in his pocket!

What heralds have you used lately?


    1. Excellent study. I've used different types of heralds but I've never thought of a giant arriving on an island with a magic pink umbrella and sausages in his pocket. Hahaha. Love it!

    2. I absolutely loved Hagrid's arrival. What a great post. Looking back, in my 2 current wips I've had the person of mystery in my story herald the call. For me that usually ends up being the inciting incident in the first chapter.

    3. What a great analysis! I have never even thought about this archetypal role, but now it is so clear. Hagrid has always been one of my favorite characters because of his loyalty and innocent way of revealing truths to Harry. ("I shouldn't have told you that") I wonder if Mrs. Figg could be considered a herald in OOTP too? She also reveals to Harry how much of his life has been in two worlds and how Dumbledore had protected him for so long.
      I do have a long-lost relative who shows up in Chap 1 to turn my MC's life around and later also sends a letter that begins the "quest" so I guess we somehow absorb these tropes without realizing it :)

    4. Langley and Laura -- Thanks so much for your feedback. And you've gotta love Hagrid, don't you? I worried for a while that JKR was going to use him in such a way to unwittingly betray Dumbledore because of Dumbledore's comment that he would trust Hagrid with his life. But thankfully, she didn't.

      Laura -- I love the way you've used the herald. Sounds like a great way to double duty your characters!

    5. Hi Janflora. Thanks for visiting! Didn't we tweet JKR on Oprah together?

      You're definitely right about Mrs. Figg. She's such a complex character to analyze. I think she's also a bit of a shapeshifter and perhaps a trickster. Personally, Mrs. Figg always reminded me of that Lily Tomlin character, the bag lady, from Laugh-In.

      And we definitely absorb the tropes. They're everywhere and have been used by writers for centuries, or longer!

    6. LoL the Lily Tomlin reference is perfect :) I remember when she reappeared in OotP how happy I was, as a mom. Just knowing that Harry had been left in her care by Aunt Petunia, even unwittingly, made me feel safer. That Dumbledore is a wise man :)

      I tweet for JKRfan too, so we see a lot of each other on the interwebs. I am sorry I don't get over here often enough because I love your analyses and really do learn so much more about the magic in Jo's literature.

    7. Ack! Janet! Thanks for making the connection. I know very well who you are, both IDs, on Twitter. It's your picture here that threw me, different from the one you use on your Twitter account. I'm old! I can only handle a few things in my head at once. :-)

      And I agree with you about Mrs. Figg. Was good knowing someone was watching over Harry. Thanks for your comments! :-)

    8. I'm so excited to see this post! Great point, and one I wouldn't have thought about. I doubt I will ever come up with anything quite as creative as "a giant arriving on an island with a magic pink umbrella and sausages in his pocket!"

    9. Aww, Lisa, I'm sorry I missed your comment earlier. And I know you've come up with wonderfully creative things. Your blog alone is bursting with inspiration for me. Loved the Young Frankenstein video and post the other day!