Today’s post will take a look at the herald as an archetype. Most stories include a character, being, or mechanism that serves as an announcer of things to come. In regards to the Hero’s Journey, the herald usually works as a “call to adventure” for the hero/heroine.
In non-fiction, heralds are an important part of history. They transcribed, orated, and tracked the various families, coats of arms, battles, and wars. When a war or conflict would break out, a herald would be called to court to give an oral dictation of the history of events and offer insights into current ones. In essence, the herald would reveal to the court the chessboard and describe all the pieces on it.
While one function of the herald was simply to catalog and pass information, they also acted to inspire action. Their accounts of current events were often laced with language designed to rouse fence-sitters from their perches and spur them to action. In this way, the herald did more than simply show everyone all the pieces in play, they offered insights as to what might happen if action was met by inaction, or indecision.
We also see heralds in mythology. Christopher Vogler, in his book, The Writer’s Journey, states, “Heralds are so necessary in mythology that the Greek god Hermes (Roman Mercury) is devoted to expressing this function. Hermes appears everywhere as the messenger or Herald of the gods, performing some errand or bearing a message from Zeus” (p. 70).
In fiction, the psychological function of the herald is to introduce change. We relate to this idea because heralds come to us in different forms and trigger thoughts of change. To some extent, events, stories, and people trigger in us the need to change our current path. This might be as simple as the doctor saying your blood pressure is high, and it might be as complex as someone very close to you passing away. These events remind us of potential futures.
The heralds’ message, once delivered, typically triggers a conflict (physical, emotional, or spiritual) for the characters involved. If you watch Game of Thrones (GoT), or read the books, the statement, “Winter is coming,” is a constant herald. While it serves multiple functions in that story, it is a non-stop reminder to the reader that change is coming.
I like the GoT example because it reveals the power of a herald to tie many individual stories together and highlight a greater conflict. GoT is an extremely complex story with many sub-plots running all at once. The idea that, “winter is coming,” works to tie all of these sub-plots together and unite them.
The website TV Tropes has a page devoted to heralds. Don’t let the name of the website fool you though, the source I have linked here, breaks heralds down into categories and offers basic examples from the following categories: anime, manga, comicbooks, literature, religion, and many more.
That’s it for today. I hope this brief introduction into heralds was useful to you. If character archetypes interest you, you can go to my archetypes category and see more examples. As usual, I’m curious as to how you all use heralds in your own work. I’m also curious about any examples of heralds you find interesting in stories. Until tomorrow, keep reading, keep writing, and as always – stay sharp!