The Shadow Archetype

Hinders the Hero during their exploits and creates difficulties the Hero is forced to overcome to continue their Journey.

Andrea Feccomandi


Photo by Ilya Pavlov on Unsplash

The seventh article of the Character Archetypes Series talks about Shadow.

We have arrived at the “Supreme Ordeal”, the moment in which the Hero wages battle against his enemy, The Shadow.

Illustration by Valentina Forni @cloudandcowfish

The Shadow is the Hero’s antagonist, their enemy, but also their alter ego. This is the most powerful archetype we encounter on the Hero’s Journey. In Disney fairy tales and cartoons, it is represented as the villain in the form of a dragon or monster.

This character got overwhelmed by the negative and dark side of their personality and became a Shadow.

What can a Hero do to not give in to this archetype and turn into something dark?

The Hero can learn to recognize their negative side, dominate it and counter it in order not to give in.

We’re used to thinking that the antagonist, the Shadow, is a flesh-and-blood character, a monster, but that’s not always the case. In some cases, The Shadow may be our fear.

Let’s think about our daily life. Have you ever had to do something that scares you to achieve a goal or a loved one? Have you ever, for example, taken a plane to reach your sweetheart, despite the fear of the plane? Many romantic films show The Shadow in the guise of these inner fears.

What is the role of the Shadow?

Within the Hero’s Journey, the Shadow hinders the protagonist during their exploits and creates difficulties for them. To continue on their path, the Hero is forced to overcome them all and thus reach the end of their Journey.

The purpose of the Shadow is always opposite to that of the Hero. For this reason, the protagonist of the Journey has no choice but to face it.

In some narratives, the Shadow has the appearance of a demon, a general threat. In others, it is represented by a man, an ex-Hero who has succumbed to bad feelings.

Let’s go back to the example that followed us during this imaginary Journey through Campbell’s archetypes. Darth Vader is the dark side of Anakin Skywalker, the Hero of his Journey but who has succumbed to the dark side of the force. His goal is totally different from that of Luke, Obi-Wan Kenobi, and his allies. For this reason, Darth Vader hinders Luke Skywalker on several occasions and clashes with the Hero of this new Journey.

We also think of Voldemort, Harry Potter’s enemy with whom he has an indissoluble bond. So powerful that one of the two will have to die not to let the other survive.

In The Lord of the Rings, Sauron is a fighter who the dark power of the ring has attracted. He fights against Frodo, who he wants to eliminate to achieve his goal.

How a character turns into The Shadow.

What makes the narrative interesting is the explanation of how a character turns into The Shadow.

All these characters succumbed to the dark side of their personality and lost touch with their human side.

Another important example of this transformation is shown in the film “Maleficent”.

Maleficent, the evil witch, has not always been evil. She became a villain when she suffered a great disappointment in love and succumbed to anger and revenge.

The fight against the Shadow

The Heroes of these narratives, like Luke Skywalker, Harry Potter, Frodo, and the Fellowship of the Ring, face the various difficulties set up by the antagonist. They try to reach the end of the path and return home victorious.

Not in all situations is there a single Hero facing obstacles. As already said, the Hero can count on the Allies and other figures who help them along this path.

Think of the movie Armageddon: a team of NASA-trained drillers goes to space to fight against the giant asteroid that is about to hit the Earth, Dottie, and saves humanity. Each of the team members plays an essential role in this narrative.

The Supreme Ordeal

This is the moment of greatest tension. The Hero must emerge victorious to conclude the Journey but seriously risk death.

Sometimes, it dies only to be reborn with a new awareness. A reversal of the situation creates suspense, and it seems that luck no longer assists the Hero. The Hero, therefore, faces their deepest fear, the fear of failure.

This step is crucial because it is here that the Hero changes and becomes different.

Usually, “The Supreme Ordeal”’s action takes place in a hidden place, such as inside a forest. Think of the scene in Harry Potter when he is hit by the spell “Avada Kedavra” and then escorted to Hogwarts in Hagrid’s arms. Moreover, on a mountain or inside a cave, as happens to Frodo at the foot of the volcano during the fight with Gollum.

Without the Shadow, there would be no narrative. There would be no reason to start the Hero’s Journey.

For this reason, creating a believable character who knows how to hinder the Hero in their path is fundamental. In addition, it has to arouse a sense of fear even in the reader.


After the Hero also surpasses the Supreme Ordeal, they can enjoy victory.

However, they will find themself changed and no longer be the same Hero who started the Journey.

This moment is the deepest meaning of the Hero’s Journey: facing one’s fears, the enemies, and the Shadow. This is the inner part that represents the dark part of the ego.

We are almost at the end of the Hero’s Journey. Before moving on to the conclusion of the Journey, in our following articles, we will introduce two more last archetypes, which are very important for the narrative.

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Andrea Feccomandi

Dad, Husband, Booklover, Software Engineer, CTO, Author of the Novel Writing Software bibisco ( and The Warm Lasagna Newsletter (