A-Z Day 20: Thief Archetype

I started the Archetype Series with a discussion on archetypes and Characters, and the archetype most commonly seen in media:

The Hero Archetype

I also explored the following archetypes:

The Bully Archetype

The Mentor Archetype

And now it’s time for another edition of the Archetype Series!


*NOTE: Expect this introduction at every archetype spotlight article. It’s a great way of reminding us what we can gain when we study archetypes.

Just to refresh your memory, let me define archetypes again. An archetype is an original model of a person, ideal example, or a prototype after which others are copied, patterned, or emulated; a symbol universally recognized by all.

Archetypes are scattered everywhere in media. Many writers use archetypes because they provide a guide for the readers to understand the storyline better. As writers, it’s important that we understand the many archetypes out there. Why? Because when we understand the definition and function of an archetype, we may:

  1. tweak the definition to suit our storyline
  2. break the rules of what a particular archetype is supposed to do to spice up our story
  3. apply a particular perspective to the archetype according to the message of our story. For instance, we may have an anarchist Mentor, a feminist Knight or a Freudian Hero

(If you are so inclined and have time at your disposal, might I suggest that you read or re-read my article on Archetypes and Characters?)

Now that you have a good idea of how archetypes can help us writers, let’s get to know the Archetype in today’s spotlight.

The Thief

Here is what archetype guru Caroline Myss has to say about The Thief Archetype:

Thief (Swindler, Con Artist, Pickpocket, Burglar, Robin Hood)

The Thief is thought of as a nocturnal, hooded figure who slips silently into places and takes what he wants. In the hierarchy of thievery, the most respected is the Jewel Thief, associated with glamour, class, and sophistication.

Caroline Myss also lists down where the Thief Archetype appears in myth and religion, as well as where this archetype appears in modern day films.

Religion/Myth: Raven (Among Northwestern Indians, a helpful thief who stole the moon and sun from the Sky Chief and placed them in the sky); Prometheus (in Greek myth, hero who stole the sacred fire from Zeus and the gods); Autolycus (grandfather of Odysseus renowned as a thief who stole the cattle of Eurytus); the Good Thief (in the New Testament, one of two men who were crucified with Jesus, repented, and asked for forgiveness).

Films: James Caan in Thief; Vittorio Gassman and Marcello Mastroiani in Big Deal on Madonna Street; Jean-Paul Belmondo in The Thief of Paris; Sabu in The Thief of Baghdad (1940); Steven Bauer in Thief of Hearts (shadow); Kevin Costner in Robin Hood: Prince of Thieves; Angelica Huston in The Grifters (shadow).

Thief Functions

The great thing about Caroline Myss, is that she not only defines what the Thief Archetype is, but she also goes on to explain what this archetype’s function is, in its deepest level:

Symbolically, theft can take many forms, including plagiarism, stealing ideas and even affection. Taking what is not yours because you lack the ability to provide for yourself implies the need to learn self-respect. This archetype prods you to learn to generate power from within. As with so many archetypes that initially strike you as completely unrelated to who you are, this archetype should be evaluated from its symbolic meaning. You may never have stolen one thing at the physical level, but you also need to take into consideration your emotional and intellectual arenas.

Thief Types

Caroline Myss also lists down several types of thieves, as they appear in history, and as they are portrayed in the media:

The Good Thief

The Good Thief steals on behalf of others, as in the case of Robin Hood, and appears to be relieved of all wrongdoing because of his benevolent motive to be of service to others, but often that is just a rationalization.

The Bank Thief

The Bank Thief maintains a degree of respect because the target is corporate and impersonal and the implication is that the thief has an intelligent and strategic mind.

Bonnie & Clyde

Ocean’s Twelve

The Italian Job

The Street Thief and the Pickpocket

The Street Thief and Pickpocket, on the other hand, rank lowest because they rob ordinary individuals and their methods yield small gain.

Street Thief


I would like to add another particular Thief type that I’ve seen in the media.

The Art Thief

If I were to define this type, I would say that the Art Thief is similar to the Bank Thief, in that his target is also corporate, and he possesses an intelligent mind capable of  cunning strategy. I think, however, that the difference ends there. While the Bank Thief steals for practical, financial reasons, the Art Thief steals for purely impractical and metaphysical reasons. They steal not out of want, but because they crave the mental challenge, and appreciate beauty.

The Thomas Crown Affair


Thief of Mine

In my own book, I make use of this archetype as well.  One of my characters, is a “Bank Thief” of sorts. Only, instead of stealing into banks and grabbing cash and jewelry, she steals into a particular bookstore to “borrow” books.  And since I’m thinking of turning this book into a series, maybe she’ll eventually steal something more valuable to her than books—perhaps the protagonist’s heart? Or maybe not.

Now that you have been acquainted with the Thief Archetype, look back at your own story. Do you have a Thief character? What type of Thief is she/he? How does this Thief affect your protagonist’s journey?

Additional Links

Caroline Myss’s Gallery of Archetypes


A list of movies showing various Thief Archetypes:



A Quiz on you can take to find out what kind of thief you are:


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19 Responses to “A-Z Day 20: Thief Archetype”

  1. mooderino says:

    Interesting post. My WiP has a bak robbery in it so I guess I do have a thief type in it.


  2. Tina says:

    Following you now, and looking forward to reading more.

    A Thief Archetype…interesting! Is this related to the Trickster of ancient tales, such as Loki?

  3. Julie says:

    This is a very original idea! I never thought about all the different types of thieves before. Congratulations on completing a book with the possibility of following up with a series! Thanks for visiting my blog, and I look forward to reading yours again! Julie

  4. I love Myss’ archetype breakdowns and often use them as jumping off points when developing new secondary characters. Since I write mysteries I guess all my books feature a “life thief” who steals someone’s life.

  5. Maria Toth says:

    Hmmm… after 9 years plugging away at my novel, I never thought about the archetype thief in my story. You really got me thinking on this one. I’d have to say, in my historical fiction MG, it’s the Great Depression.

    This was fun! :-)

  6. Very clever post. The archetype thief – great concept.

  7. Halli Gomez says:

    Great fun post! Thanks for the info on such an intriguing subject.
    Thanks for your comment about my shoes. Glad to meet you through the A-Z Challenge!

  8. Jenny says:

    Great post…so interesting! As for yesterday’s post, I can’t believe I’ve never seen Stardust. Putting it on my queue right now :-)

    Thanks for stopping by my blog!

  9. Jolene says:

    I LOVE movies where the “bad guys” are the protagonists. Just makes life fun. I was very pleased to see that I’ve watched everything on your fab list :)

  10. Stuart Lloyd says:

    Great meeting you through the A to Z challenge. I love archetypes and will read your other posts with interest.

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