Archetypal Antagonists for the Crone Arc: Death Blight and Tempter

As the fifth of six archetypal character arcs in the life cycle, the Crone Arc offers the first great challenge of a character’s Elder years. Fundamentally, it is a story about a character coming to grips with the full magnitude of mortality.

And indeed Death itself is the primary archetypal antagonist within a Crone Arc—or at least seems to be.

As noted in previous posts, the protagonist’s view of the archetypal antagonists evolves right along with her progression through the life arcs. What begins as a decided “me versus them” viewpoint in the earlier arcs becomes increasingly more complex. By the time the character is challenged to decide whether or not she will “fight” that greatest of enemies—Death itself—she will surprise herself with the realization that perhaps Death is no enemy at all.

But this is a realization for the Climax of a Crone Arc, when finally she is able to move into the “Liminal World” of the Mage. Throughout most of her story, the Crone’s antagonistic forces are represented more specifically as a Death Blight and as the subtle Tempter who would lure her away from the Truth.

You may remember the Crone begins her story feeling rather played out. Having just completed her King Arc, in which she nobly sacrificed her temporal power and position (her “life” in its previous guise), she may now be struggling with feeling the best part of her life is over and that she might now perhaps just give in to the somnolent lure of a well-earned retirement. Her primary challenge is that of surrendering to her mortality—to Death—and in so doing resisting the temptation to wage war against Life out of her bitterness that it should be so. Furthermore, she is inspired to begin bringing her story full circle by fostering new Life, via the young of her Kingdom who still desperately require her wisdom and initiatory powers.

The Crone Arc begins to become more symbolic and metaphoric than any of the previous arcs (unless of course you play it out “literally” in speculative fiction of some kind). This is because, ultimately, her journey is an internal one. Her experience of the forces of Death, Life, and Temptation are ultimately all within. These antagonistic forces can, and probably will, be externalized as entities within the plot. But the true power and threat they represent is still something projected onto them from within the Crone herself.

The Crone’s Antagonists: Practical and Thematic

Crone Arcs can be wildly fantastic adventures. But they are just as often quiet stories of internal contemplation, peopled by few supporting characters. Either way, it is useful to remember that the external plot will be driven by a “practical” antagonist—one who creates specific obstacles to the protagonist’s ultimate plot goal. Here, this external antagonistic force is the Death Blight.

Meanwhile, the Tempter may or may not be personified. If he or she is represented by an actual character, this character is often one of the most literal presentations of the Contagonist. The Contagonist is an ultimately antagonistic character, but one who does not start out obviously aligned with the antagonistic force. This character may oppose different facets of the protagonist’s plot goal, or may seem (and indeed may literally be) an ally. The crux of the relationship, however, is that the Contagonist is not aligned with the protagonist’s ultimate thematic Truth and will consciously or unconsciously tempt the protagonist away from that Truth and back into the Lie. (You can think of the Contagonist as a “negative mentor.”)

Often, in a Crone story, the Death Blight and Tempter will seem integrally related, even if they are not in the end. Therefore, it can be easier than in other types of stories to blur the lines between the two, depending on how specifically they are represented in the story (i.e., by other characters).

The Death Blight as Archetypal Antagonist

Not to be too glib, the Crone’s great lesson is that maybe Death isn’t so bad after all. Or, more seriously, that Death and Life are not separate, that indeed they cannot be. To be in love with Life is to accept Death; to live a good life is to surrender to Death. And vice versa, to embrace Death is to embrace Life utterly.

This, however, is the ultimate Truth the Crone finds by the end of her story. What prompts her to take this journey in the story’s beginning is a seeming Death Blight upon the Kingdom. And this face of Death seems anything but Life-affirming.

Although ultimately signifying nothing more than the Crone’s own limited view of Life and Death, the Death Blight may be externally represented in the story in many different ways. It may be represented by limiting aspects of old age, such as illness or controlled living circumstances (e.g., being forced to move to a retirement home, etc.).

It can also be portrayed via unhealthy patterns shown in younger characters. Because the Crone’s most frequent relationship character is often a young Maiden or Hero whom she initiates, the Death Blight may show up in the lifestyle of an unhappy teen embracing some form of “death culture” (such as drugs or other destructive patterns).

Up (2009), Walt Disney Pictures; Jurassic Park (1993), Universal Pictures; Howl’s Moving Castle (2004), Studio Ghibli; The Iron Lady (2011), 20th Century Fox; Anne of Green Gables (1985), CBC; The Muppet Christmas Carol (1992), Walt Disney Pictures.

The Crone might also face high stakes in the broader world—an actual Death Blight of some kind descending upon the larger setting of her “Kingdom.” It could be she is not the only Elder who is being threatened by tyrannical younger characters and that she is the one to accept the journey into the Crone Arc in defense of the others. Or she may face an evil “spirit” of the land or culture that is poisoning the healthy evolution of younger archetypes.

And, of course, she may face large-scale embodiments of malignant Death, via war or even something fantastical such as a zombie apocalypse.

Regardless, the antagonist she is ultimately facing is not Death in its true nature, but rather an imbalance of Life and Death. This could be because the prevailing culture has embraced Death in some violent way (such as in Nazi Germany), or it could be because the culture has rejected Death and refused, as the Crone is now being asked to do, to confront and embrace Death’s natural and beautiful function.

The Tempter as Archetypal Antagonist

The Tempter may be merely an internal voice within the Crone’s own head—seducing her into the notion that there is power to be had over Death or in resisting it. Most often, however, the Tempter will be an externalized character. This character may be an “ally” of the Crone, urging her to reject her growing understanding of the importance of Death. Or the character may, in fact, be the orchestrator of the Death Blight (or at least someone who thinks they are able to control this malignant force).

Because the Crone is, symbolically, quite a powerful character, this Tempter is often represented by an equally or even more powerful character, such as the aggressive shadow version of the Mage—the Sorcerer. As such, the Tempter is a character who can be used to represent the dark potential in the Crone herself should she he heed his sugared words or tempting example.

Up (2009), Walt Disney Pictures; Jurassic Park (1993), Universal Pictures; Howl’s Moving Castle (2004), Studio Ghibli; The Iron Lady (2011), 20th Century Fox; Anne of Green Gables (1985), CBC; The Lord of the Rings: The Fellowship of the Ring (2001), New Line Cinema.

In Pixar’s Up, one of the more popular Crone Arcs of the period, we see the Tempter represented by the character of Charles Muntz. The protagonist Carl has idolized this mysteriously vanished explorer all his life, but does not encounter him until his Elder years when he slowly begins to realize Muntz has turned malignant in his rejection of Death and his own mortality and now threatens the beautiful Life of the very rain forest he once championed.

Up (2009), Walt Disney Pictures.

Whether the Tempter is “master” or “servant” to the Death Blight, his primary function is that of trying to unleash and harness the Crone’s own potential for “blighting” the Kingdom.

How the Death Blight and the Tempter Operate in the Conflict and the Climactic Moment

The Death Blight will represent the external conflict and its main problem in some way. It could be this problem literally grapples with questions of Life and Death. But it could also be that the Death Blight’s manifestation is merely a metaphor for the Crone protagonist’s inner evolution into a new and broader perspective about the importance of this final act of her life.

In facing the obstacles created by the Death Blight, the Crone will simultaneously be asked to face her fear of and resentment toward her own mortality.

The Tempter, meanwhile, may be either represented merely by the Crone’s own inner conflict or by a primary relationship character or by an obvious antagonist who is “creating” the circumstance of the Death Blight. What is important in regards to the Tempter is that he or she (or it) does in fact offer a legitimate temptation. The more powerful the Tempter’s argument, the more powerful will be the Crone’s ultimate transformation (or, in a Negative-Arc story, her lack thereof).

Depending on the nature of the story, the Death Blight may not be defeated in the Climactic Moment but instead redeemed or healed. The Blight aspect is removed and what remains is just Death—and Life. The Tempter may be entirely bypassed in this process. If the Tempter was “slave” to the Death Blight, then he will likely be destroyed in its absence. If the Tempter was “master,” causing and wielding the Blight, then he will either be directly defeated or simply stripped of his power through some clever (and surrendered) move on the Crone’s part.

However, it is always possible that little to nothing changes in the outer plot in the Climactic Moment of a Crone story. Because the thematic grappling with Life and Death is ultimately something that happens within the Crone, it is her final internal Truth that matters. Her acceptance, surrender, and inner peace is the final victory in her story, no matter the external trappings of the conflict.

Stay tuned: Next week, we will explore the archetypal antagonists of the Mage: Evil and the Weakness of Humankind.

Related Posts:

Wordplayers, tell me your opinions! Can you think of any further Crone stories that feature the Death Blight and the Tempter? Tell me in the comments!

Go on the journey with your characters! Check out the Archetypal Character Guided Meditations.

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About K.M. Weiland | @KMWeiland

K.M. Weiland is the award-winning and internationally-published author of the acclaimed writing guides Outlining Your Novel, Structuring Your Novel, and Creating Character Arcs. A native of western Nebraska, she writes historical and fantasy novels and mentors authors on her award-winning website Helping Writers Become Authors.


  1. One thing about *Up*: its Crone hero wasn’t named Ed — he was Carl.

    Yes, it’s Carl versus Charles, the same name in different languages. Most movies wouldn’t risk that trick for its Shadow, but *Up* pulls it off because we only glimpse Charles Muntz once at the start before he tears into the last act, and not many people call Carl by name.

  2. This post had me pondering the meaning of accepting death and how this shows up in the different arcs. For instance, a Maiden who appears to “accept death” by allowing herself to be sacrificed to a larger culture is in some sense acting in passivity and cowardice, attempting to avoid death through being indistinguishable from the tribe. A Hero who refuses to protect others or a Queen who refuses to assume leadership are also avoiding death in a way- death of the ego or the current life stage.

    I’m noticing this because I previously had interpreted spiritual messages around “accepting Death” to mean choosing the more passive or suicidal response to adversity. Maybe Time or Mortality would be a better name for it, since the more passive shadows often leave themselves and others physically defenseless as they resist the passage from one stage to the next, resulting in literal death but not in spiritual change.

    Your series is really clarifying for me- not just in terms of how I approach my stories, but also in terms of how I think of the cycle of life.

    • K.M. Weiland | @KMWeiland says

      Good points. In a healthy Maiden Arc, I see her necessary evolutionary “death” being the “death of childhood/dependence.” The Hero’s is an ego death, although on a smaller scale than those that come later, a recognition that he is not more important than the group. The Queen’s “death” is a little harder to summarize in a sound byte, but it’s about moving into a larger mindset of an orderly justice that encompasses more than just one’s immediate loved ones or community.

  3. Eric Troyer says

    This has lots of implications in real life. My mom has had our family talking about death for years. (She wanted to be very clear we knew her end-of-life wishes.) Many people (and their families) fight Death even though it’s inevitable. My wife sees this quite a bit as a physician. Many people could learn a lot from a “healthy” Crone Arc.

    • K.M. Weiland | @KMWeiland says

      I always say the ending of a story tells us what it’s really about. By that rule, life would certainly seem to be about death. 😉

  4. Thank you for your deep dive into these Character Arc’s. Love it!

  5. Grace Dvorachek says

    Ah, I immediately thought of Up for the Crone arc, and Charles Muntz is a pretty good antagonist. After pretty much everyone and everything from the past has died out, only Carl, his house, and Charles are left. And Charles, as Carl and Ellie’s childhood hero, represents all of their past dreams and wishes. Even their entire quest for Paradise Falls is based on Charles inspiring them to do so. Because of this, Carl’s entire world is shaken when he realizes that Charles is not the hero he always thought him to be.

    Of course, Carl’s house is more recognizably symbolic of the past, but I just thought it was interesting that even the house was technically grounded in Charles. The whole clubhouse was built on Ellie and Carl wanting to be like him, and even Ellie and Carl’s friendship came about because of what they had in common: They both looked up to Charles.

  6. I can’t give up on the Mahabharata theme now…

    The most obvious Tempter is that, when Yayati is cursed with premature old age, he’s given the option of taking the youth of one of his sons. Since he finds old age unbearable, he asks his sons to give up their youth, and only one agrees. He disinherits his other sons, and spends a thousand years enjoying the pleasures of the flesh in his youthful body while his son spends a thousand years in a decrepit body. After a thousand years, Yayati realizes that indulging in pleasure did nothing good for him, returns his youth to his son, and spends the rest of his life as an ascetic.

    The obvious Death Blight in the Kurukshetra War which kills millions of people, including all of the Pandavas’ children (except one biological child who was adopted out of the family per a marriage agreement, but he doesn’t count because he can’t inherit from the Pandavas). The only recognized descendant of the Pandavas who survives is a single grandson, Parikshit. Also, all of their Kauvara cousins (except Yuyutsu) die in the war.

    Also, when the Pandavas and Draupadi retire and make a pilgrimage to the Himalayas, they all die one by one except Yudhishthira. This forces Yudhishthira to confront mortality in a new way, even in a way that surviving the Kurukshetra war did not. Perhaps this is another Death Blight… but maybe not, because the deaths during the pilgrimage to the Himalayas are depicted as a natural result of how the world works, whereas the Kurukshetra war is depicted as being exceptional in the scale of death. Yudhishthira being the last living Pandava paves the way for the most shocking plot twist in the Mahabharata (if you know the story of the Mahabharata, you know what I’m talking about, and if you don’t know, maybe I shouldn’t spoil it.)

    • K.M. Weiland | @KMWeiland says

      “the deaths during the pilgrimage to the Himalayas are depicted as a natural result of how the world works, whereas the Kurukshetra war is depicted as being exceptional in the scale of death.”

      This is a great contrast of “good” Death versus the destructive Death Blight.

  7. Your series of arcs is the basis to help outline the books of my next trilogy for two friends. I am finishing the final touches on my third book of the first trilogy in adventure and historical fiction. These friends are genuinely attached to each other, but harbor opposite viewpoints. They become protagonist and antagonist. They are actual people to me.

    A minor point not related to writing, only style—humanity to me for my entire life is encompassed in the pronoun him and his. Her and hers immediately disenfranchise a tad over half of humanity. The next pronoun, it, loses another sizeable chunk. The coming pronouns of people who do not know what gender they are drop off more. My personal style is they and them, or his and him. Just me, and I am consistent.

    Thanks for the series of arcs. My third trilogy will feature my two friends in the more advanced arcs.

    I am sad, but the third trilogy will end with the story of the sinking of the ship, Agilis, on which they have lived for seventeen years in the United states Civil War. They will be in their fifties or early sixties, married with families, and will have lived through tumultuous times.

    Thank you.

  8. The tv series Mr. Robot is a clear Crone Arc for me. The Death Blight being the corrupt capitalist world itself, and the Tempter being the character of White Rose, a definite Sorcerer for sure.

    • K.M. Weiland | @KMWeiland says

      I haven’t seen it either, but that’s interesting!

      • For several years my go-to examples of TV shows with female arcs has been Mr. Robot, Twin Peaks, and Orphan Black. Only now with your Archtypal Arcs series almost complete do I realize that Orphan Black is a Maiden Arc, Twin Peaks is a Queen Arc, and as said before Mr. Robot is the Crone Arc. So it’s a thrill to understand that their differences in this way now!

  9. Dominique Blessing says

    I’m really enjoying this series, though I’ve had to go back and read the previous posts on the archetypes. (I was in the midst of a major career change.)

    Both this post and the one introducing the Crone Arc had me thinking about True Girt. I haven’t read the book, but I’ve seen both movies, which are equally wonderful for different reasons. Rooster Cogburn (in True Grit, not the sequels, which was John Wayne doing what John Wayne did) is a Crone archetype. He’s in the unenviable position of accepting that he’s no longer at the top of his game, but he ain’t dead yet. Under his wing are two very different hero archetypes. Mattie, a preteen girl who’s determined to claim what’s due her; and a young gunslinger who has just enough skill and bravado to be dangerous.

  10. Katie, your content is just SO GOOD. I have LOVED this current series and have been able to add so much more depth to the story I’m working on just by thinking through how these archetypal layers drive my characters.

    Please tell me you plan to put all of this into a book when it’s done. Even though I’ve listened/read every week, I’d still buy the book just to have it easy and accessible on my desk!

    • K.M. Weiland | @KMWeiland says

      Thanks, Meg! And, yes, I’m working on a book version as we speak; hoping to release it next year.

  11. Beth Irvine says

    Like Meg, I am getting a lot from these archetype discussions–I’ve struggled to understand women Who Run with the Wolves for years. The sequencing of the arcs is clarifying. Thank you, KM, and I’m waiting to buy the book, too.

    • K.M. Weiland | @KMWeiland says

      I fell in love with that book the minute I started it, so I’m happy to point people to it (or back to it). So glad you enjoyed the series!

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