grandmother reading a book for the kids

The Archetypes of Story

My kids have been clamoring for me to tell them stories at bedtime. They don’t want made up stories, they want real stories from my lives and their lives. Since they are seven years old and three years old, they are still early in their own stories so there isn’t a lot to mine there.

But they love the stories about Simon the Bad Cat. He was a character with a capital “C” – I adopted him from a neighbor when she moved. He proceeded to get into all sorts of trouble breaking into other people’s houses, picking on my dogs, and getting into cat fights. He lived a full life of 19 years and left behind a treasure trove of stories.

Telling these stories has made me think of the hypothesis that are a limited number of plot lines for our stories. I’ve heard this theory in several different ways from nine to twelve archetypal stories. But drawing from overview on Wikipedia of the work of Christopher Booker, The Seven Basic Plots: Why We Tell Stories here they are:

  • Overcoming the monster
  • Rags to riches
  • The quest
  • Voyage and return
  • Comedy
  • Tragedy
  • Rebirth

Can I fit the Simon stories into these categories? Here are our favorite bad cat stories:

Rebirth: Simon the cat gets a claw stuck in between his shoulder blades while fighting another cat. It abscesses and makes him so sick that I have to take him to the vet so they can drain the wound. Simon dies on the operating table and they have to use kitty CPR to bring him back. Did the hero return home transformed as a wiser cat? Well, he did mend his fighting ways so that we never had to drain an abscess again.

Comedy: Five doors down was a neighbor named Steve that hated Simon because he was always getting into his stuff and messing it up. But it was a love/hate relationship because he noticed how smart Simon was as well. One day when Steve was showing some new tenants around the shared laundry room, he told them they must never leave the outside door open because there’s a bad cat that would get in. They pointed to a shelf right about Steve’s shoulder and asked, “Like that cat there?” and Steve turned around to see Simon smugly listening to his speech.

 Voyage and return: Simon the cat had a habit of breaking into houses and garages that he subsequently couldn’t get out of until someone opened a door. So I was used to him occasionally being gone for a night or two. But when he went missing for twelve days, I did all I could to find him: putting up posters, walking round the neighborhood calling for him, calling the pet shelter. Finally I accepted that he was gone forever and gave away his food. On day 13, Simon nonchalantly walked up to the back door and demanded to be let in.

Overcoming the monster: I met Simon when I had a 150 pound dog, a gentle mastiff named Samantha. When we’d go out for a walk in the morning, Simon would hide in a bush, then jump out and smack Samantha on the rear. Then having “overcome the monster” (or at least scaring her half to death), he’d proceed to join us for our 12 block walk through the neighborhood.

Telling these stories to my children, I wonder if it is just a silly ritual. But I believe it helps them at a deeper level to make meaning out of their lives and days. Maybe one day when they are struggling with a monster or experiencing the rebirth and renewal that sometimes comes with life, there will be a niggling of a Simon story that reminds them they aren’t alone on their journey. Perhaps it’ll even help them understand my story of the quest and how that led me to have them as a single parent. Even if it just creates a basis for loving stories, I believe it will help them to live fuller and more imaginative lives. Don’t you still love a good story?

For a story that has inspired me on my journey, check out Scaling the Walls of Our Dreams on my personal blog. I also post on Mondays at the Heart of the Matter blog. You can find me on Instagram and Twitter @wynneleon

(featured photo from Pexels)

39 thoughts on “The Archetypes of Story

  1. Simon, what a cat! I love the episode under the title ‘comedy ‘ it put a smile in my face, it happened to me so many times that now all my doors are open 😂

    1. I’m so glad you like the Simon stories too. I imagine as a cat lover that you have many of your own stories to tell. Love that you keep your doors open – physical and metaphorical! 🙂

    1. What an interesting comment, Tamara. You’re right – it takes some work to bring back these stories. It’s probably good for my memory too!

  2. I always enjoy your stories about your children, Wynne. <3 I grew up hearing stories about my mother's experiences growing up on a farm. I used to make up "Stupid Pete" stories to entertain my younger brother and sister while we did the dishes. No dishwasher and no TV in our house then!

    1. How fun that you made up “Stupid Pete” stories, Cheryl! A writer even then. I bet your mom’s farm stories were interesting too. Thanks for the lovely comment!

  3. Wow, I enjoyed so reading this post, the archetypes ( that I am so occupied by) and the underlying encouragement, how to meet the obstacles etc.
    And I love s a good story. Like this one of yours.

  4. I love the stories of Simon the naughty Siamese, so I’m sure your kids must as well! (My mom also had a naughty Siamese named Simon, so I’ll need to see what stories she has to share.) I’ve noticed that many kids books anthropomorphize animals, so I’ve often wondered if there’s some value to allowing kids to make that jump in ascribing meaning or a story line to their own experience.

    1. Oh, what an interesting comment about allowing kids to make the connection. I think you are on to something about not spelling it out for them. Great comment, Erin!

  5. Those are great Simon stories. Your children must enjoy them so much. I had a book by Gerry Petievich on seven plots and now I need to look for it. Somehow I think my cat Olive destroyed it. Seriously, we were out of town and she wasn’t happy with the cat sitter.

    1. I love how much writing and creative wisdom you have at your fingertips, Elizabeth. And I’m laughing about Olive destroying the book. That’s hilarious and somehow too perfect!

      1. I found the book! “Beginning the Best Seller.” It’s only slightly chewed or scratched on. It’s based on mythology and storytelling through the ages and Petievich calls it the “The Hero’s Journey.” He goes through 12 steps that make the story arc from the “Ordinary World” to finally “Return with the Elixer.”

    1. Thanks, Belle! I know you have plenty of great animal stories too. If you ever want to fill in as a guest storyteller, I know my kids would love it!

      1. I’d love to anytime! I have a couple of decent tales about my pet goat, Goat Guy (original, I know!) And a couple about our Orangie cat Tigger (these may need to be for a bit older audience. He truly was something else!) 🤪

  6. What a great cat, and just like eccentric but lovable people, they are fodder for great stories. Simon was a charmer. Thanks for the delightful stories Wynne, hugs, C

  7. My kids loved hearing stories from my life too when they were growing up, but I didn’t have any as wild as Simon The Cat! 😁🙀

  8. “I believe it helps them at a deeper level to make meaning out of their lives and days.” I have no doubt about it Wynne. You are such a great story teller. It’s no wonder they clamour for it. Simon sounds like a legend! Thank you Wynne 🙂🙏

    1. Oh, thanks, AP2. Something tells me you are telling similarly engaging stories to your kids half the world away! It’s a fun practice, isn’t it? 🙂

      1. I tell them ridiculous stories all the time. It’s about my favourite thing to do. 🙂🙏

  9. What gifts you are giving your children…the time, the inspiration and skill to tell their own tales some day, not to mention the stories themselves! I hope you have them written down, what a memory to revisit with their own children someday 💞💞💞

    1. What a lovely and thought-provoking comment, Dawn. I guess blogging is my effort to write them down but I’d have to organize it in a way to make it readable by them when they get older. Hmm…

  10. What a little stinker that Simon was! I love how you plugged the concepts of types of stories into your own Simon-ized stories. Very creative and fun!

  11. Thank you for sharing *this* story! I love that you share stories with your children about real things that have happened in your lives. (I am certain that your embellishments of the stories help them to stick in their minds in the way the type of story you are telling intends!)

    Sharing stories is something that is critical to me living my life to the full! It is something I feel called to do with my life and is why I am taking steps to move from a ‘traditional’ office job to writing and publishing novels. One step at a time.

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