I started the Archetype Series with a discussion on archetypes and Characters, and the archetype most commonly seen in media:
I also explored the following archetypes:
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:
- tweak the definition to suit our storyline
- break the rules of what a particular archetype is supposed to do to spice up our story
- 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.
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).
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.
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.
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.
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.
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?
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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