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Into Thin Air- Archetypal Theory
Tags: Into Thin Air | Nonfiction | Archetypal Criticism | Archetype | Mountain Climbers
The archetypal theory refers to universal symbols, characters, themes, or even a setting that shape the structure and function of a literary work (Literary Devices). Jon Krakauer’s Into Thin Air is about the 1996 Mount Everest disaster, in which mountain climbers were killed and several others were stranded by a storm.
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As Into Thin Air is based on a true story, it is no doubt that the characters in the story represented different archetype characters. Some of the archetypal characters that were exhibited in the story include “The Great Mother”, “The Mentor”, “The Trickster”, and “The Hero”. Helen Wilton was Rob’s team’s base camp manager. By holding the phone onto the radio, she would give comfort to those so that the climbers could communicate with their loved ones. She’s the guy to let them know what’s going on and what they should think about doing. This character reminds me of the fairy godmother from Cinderella as they both play the role of a mother. They comfort and direct others, especially when they are confused and need guidance.
“The Mentor” refers to as an individual who helps or trains the main character. Usually the mentor is old, and this individual often has some kind of magical ability or a much wider range of understanding than others have. Rob Hall, the head guide of the Adventure Consultants Team who leads them up the mountain until the summit attempt. He is looked up to as a role model and is the father figure of the group. Hall has fierce loyalty, protecting his clients till the very end. Even when Rob radios for help, he always asks how his clients are doing, always concerned, and always looks out for others. Rob Hall reminds me of the wizard Gandalf from Lord of the Rings as they are both people that you indeed want by your side through good and tough times. Rob Hall and Gandolf are very wise and knowledgeable about what they do. Just like how Gandolf helps Harry, Rob Hall helps out Krakauer, guiding him and making sure he is okay.
“The Hero” is another common archetype in literature that is displayed in the novel. They are the individuals who have an ultimate objective that they must complete by overcoming obstacles along the way to achieve their goal. Jon Krakauer plays the role of the hero throughout the story as he is morally good, and has to go on an adventure that is almost certain to end in his death. He has one ultimate objective to complete which is successfully summiting Everest. In the novel, Krakauer mentions “The ratio of misery to pleasure was greater by an order of magnitude than any other mountain I’d been on; I quickly came to understand that climbing Everest was primarily about enduring pain” (Krakauer 140). Jon Krakauer reminds me of the God Hercules from “Hercules”. Both of these characters go through a great adventure in order to complete a certain objective. Hercules leaves his old community behind to go on a great adventure and become a true hero and performing good deeds to his people. Just like how Hercules has an objective to complete, Krakauer wants to successfully summit Everest and make it out alive.
Lastly, “The Trickster” is another archetype referring to someone who is a magician that creates realities in the duality of time and illusion. Everest, although it is not a person, is the trickster in the novel. Everest is very dangerous and “had killed more than 130 people since British first visited the ,mountain in 1921-approximately one death for every four climbers to reach the summit”(Krakauer 28). This displays how dangerous Everest is and is constantly challenging the mountain climbers with high altitudes, strong winds, and other catastrophic events. Everest reminds me of Loki, known as the God of Mischief who interfered in people’s lives and led them to their inevitable deaths to make him feel more powerful. Just as how Loki has killed many people, Everest is as dangerous in killing a lot of innocent people.
The central symbol of Into Thin Air is Mount Everest, Earth’s highest mountain above sea level.
“Four hundred vertical feet above, where the summit was still washed in bright sunlight under an immaculate cobalt sky, my compadres dallied to memorialize their arrival at the apex of the planet, unfurling flags and snapping photos, using up precious ticks of the clock. None of them imagined that a horrible ordeal was drawing nigh. Nobody suspected that by the end of that long day, every minute would matter” (Krakauer 11). This quote exhibits how Mount Everest symbolizes beauty, awesome majesty of nature, and the great danger it brings to the mountain climbers.
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The main character’s journey and the archetypal hero’s journey are one in the same, with Krakauer wanting to climb atop Mount Everest along with the other mountain climbers. His journey goes from innocent to experienced. During the beginning of the book, Krakauer has heard about the disaster that has taken place upon the mountain. He has some experience on mountain climbing and is more experienced than the other climbers.
Based on the journey archetype I sort of expect the main character to survive the Everest expedition and return home to his family later towards the end of the book. The hero usually faces challenging obstacles along their journey and overcome them by identifying with themselves. Afterwards, they eventually complete their objective and are the bravest they can be.
Overall, after reading the first half of my book “Into Thin Air” by Jon Krakauer, I have been able to connect some of the characters to the common archetypes in literature as well as other characters from different forms of media.
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