Monday, August 06, 2007

Unstructured Archetypes: The Detective


He is Adrian Monk. He is Sam Spade. He is William of Baskerville . He is The Question.

He can be a woman, but is usually a man.

The Detective’s life is defined by Quests that take the form of a mystery.

Unlike a normal Quest, which is to acquire Something or to defeat a Villain, a mystery is a Quest where a Puzzle needs to be solved. To be sure, the solution of the puzzle will often be the fulcrum of the villain's defeat.

The Detective’s moral universe is stark but complex. Good and Evil are distinct but telling one from the other is difficult.

He is vulnerable to the Femme Fatale. He is prone to mistake her for his One True Love.

On those rare occasions where he does find his One True Love, she will inevitably be killed. He will then avenge her.

Unlike other Heroes, the Detective can have many One True Loves.

Not all Detectives are detectives, nor are all detectives Detectives.

Neither Batman nor Sherlock Holmes are Detectives. They are Competent Men.

The Detective is fallible. He can be misled and deceived. He can also fail to get the bad guy. Alone among Heroes, he can remain a Hero even when the Villain wins – at least for the moment.

His life is tragic. It is defined by his mistakes and his losses and much as by his successes.

His friends tend to die. Never the less, those friends he has are loyal to him.

His greatest weapons are his wits and his luck. When things are at their worst, he’s prone to have a Stroke of Luck, often as a result of Thinking on his Feet.

He is street smart. He may also be educated but his most critical skills are being able to judge others, to spot inconsistencies, and to see through deceptions.

He can usually fight but he isn’t a warrior, much less a soldier.

He is lonely.

He is often an atheist although he wishes that there were a God. Above all else, he believes in Justice and despairs of ever finding it.

7 comments:

magidin said...

I take it then that your Detective archetype is based more on the hard-boiled gumshoe than the cerebral detective... Looks like Nero Wolfe would not be a Detective, but Archie Goodwin would. But I confess I don't see Hercule Poirot as fitting your archetype; when does Poirot demonstrate failings, or what are the failures that define him? On the other hand, Adrian Monk would fit very well, the death of his wife being his defining failure.

Andrew Lias said...

On reflection, I would tend to agree. Poirot is out and Monk is in.

magidin said...

That's at least twice I've managed to convince you with words (I lost count of the number of times it took a rubber hose... (-; ).

Another example of a Detective, one who is not a detective, might be Harry Dresden.

Andrew Lias said...

I'm not especially familiar with the Dresden files but, from what I know of them, I would agree that he would qualify.

Heini said...

I love your Unstructured Archetypes. Especially I keep returning to this one. I think I might be a Detective who isn't a detective. How about Samuel Vimes from the Discworld series? I think he fits fairly well.

. said...

Thanks! I'm glad that you've been enjoying these.

I confess that I stopped reading the Discworld novels just about the time that the Vimes character was coming into his own (although that's not why), so I really can't say whether he'd fit, but I wouldn't be surprised.

Anonymous said...

I happen to be studying this in college at the moment...

The first modern "detective story" was "The Murders in the Rue Morgue", written by Edgar Allen Poe. His detective, the "original" modern detective no less, C. Auguste Dupin would not meet your definition of a "real" detective. However, Sam Spade, the original "hard-boiled" is your exemplar. Why do you draw the line so tightly around the "hard-boiled" category and exclude the others?

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