Archetypal Character Arcs, Pt. 6: The Crone Arc

Within the saga of the six archetypal character arcs representing the cycle of human life, the two “elder” arcs that comprise the Third Act of life are perhaps the least dramatized. These arcs are those of the Crone and the Mage.

In studying these arcs, it becomes evident that the Third Act of story structure is, in itself, rather more mysterious than we give it credit for. In our modern storytelling, the Climax is meant not only to be the point, but also the most exciting moment in the story. But many views of story structure (not least the classic Hero’s Journey) instead emphasize the Midpoint as the most significant moment in the plot, with the Third Act acting as more of a resolution or summation.

Although that is a discussion for another time, it is interesting to acknowledge the parallels in this view of structure with that of human life itself. In many ways, a person’s Third Act is the “quietest” time of life. What happens within it is massively influenced by the choices that have come before in the previous two acts. Now we have only to see how everything pans out.

But this is, in many ways, only a surface view of the final act of life. If the Elders are no longer so embroiled in the challenges of survival and power that mark the earlier acts, they are no less involved in the final and in many ways the greatest challenge—the conundrum of a life that must end in death.

In our deeply death-averse Western culture, we have largely avoided stories about the Third Act of life. This is both cause and effect to the reality that just as our modern societies lack crucial initiations for the young (such as found in the Maiden and Hero Arcs), they also suffer from a dearth of true Elders—those who have completed all previous life arcs and are able to not only undertake their own final and most crucial arcs, but also to act as the archetypal Elders and Mentors who are so catalytic in the younger arcs.

In short, I believe these arcs are desperately important and under-served. It is, in fact, difficult to think of many suitable story examples. Most of the time when a Crone or a Mage shows up in a story (especially a popular or genre story), they appear as a supporting character within the arc of a younger protagonist.

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The Crone Arc begins the final act of the “life arcs” by presenting an inevitable and imperative Underworld Journey. Just as the transition from Queen to King marked the Midpoint or Moment of Truth in the overarching saga, the transition from King to Crone signifies the Third Plot Point. And if you have studied story structure with me before, you already know the Third Plot Point is the doorway of Death and Rebirth.

…one night

here’s a heartbeat at the door.

Outside, a woman in the fog,

with hair of twigs and a dress of weed,

dripping green lake water.

She says, “I am you,

and I have a traveled a long distance.

Come with me, there is something I must show you…”

She turns to go, her cloak falls open,

Suddenly, golden light … everywhere, golden light….

“Woman Who Lives Under the Lake” by C.P. Estes

Reminders: Once again, before we officially get started, I want to emphasize two important reminders that hold true for all of the arcs we are studying.

1. The arcs are alternately characterized as feminine and masculine. Primarily, this indicates the ebb and flow between integration and individuation, among other qualities. Together, all six life arcs create a progression that can be found in any human life (provided we complete our early arcs in order to reach the later arcs with a proper foundation). In short, although I will use feminine pronouns for the feminine arcs and masculine pronouns for the masculine arcs, the protagonist of these stories can be of any gender.

2. Because these archetypes represent Positive Change Arcs, they are therefore primarily about change. The archetype in which the protagonist begins the story will not be the archetype in which she ends the story. She will have arced into the subsequent archetype. The Crone Arc, therefore, is not about becoming the Crone archetype, but rather arcing out of it into the beginnings of the Mage Arc—and so on.

The Crone Arc: Facing Down Death

The word “Crone” is a tricky one in some ways (although this seems appropriate to me because the Crone herself is a tricky one). The word conjures images of a hook-nosed hag with a hairy wart on her lip. Gone is all the beauty of youth, to the point that her visage is almost frightening. She lives alone, deep in the woods, discouraging contact with the curious and half-terrified children who seek her out to see if she is really the witch of local legend.

A popular figure in folk and fairy tales, she is often amoral, sometimes wreaking havoc on unwary villagers who dare trespass in her woods, sometimes offering surprising understanding and blessing—and usually the difference is decided by the worthiness of the intruder.

When we hear tell of the “Crone,” our response is often visceral and uncertain. But I have come to love the word, because the true Crone (and not her negative counter-archetypes of Hermit or Wicked Witch) is a portal to the deep wisdom of Elderhood. Her external beauty is vanished. Any temporal power or glory she won when she was the King archetype is long since abandoned. She gave it all, perhaps graciously but certainly not without heartbreak, in order to secure the Kingdom for her successors and journey on into the twilight.

In so many ways, the Crone archetype starts out broken. She who was once King is now fallen from all her power. No longer does she sit on a throne in the palace, but rather on a stool in a hut. No longer is she mighty, both physically and politically. Now, she withered and weathered, hunched with rheumatism.

She can seem like a bit of a crank at first, but really this is because the great leap from the Second Act of her life to the Third is a lot to process. She has retreated to the hut in the woods in order to integrate, to process, to lick her wounds, and to grieve. As all Third Plot Points do, hers has demanded the complete death of the person she was. Her challenge, then, is to decide whether she will now accept the call to be rebirthed.

She doesn’t fully understand it yet, but in losing everything, she has in fact grown in something much greater. In speaking of the Baba Yaga tales of Eastern Europe, Clarissa Pinkola Estés says in Women Who Run With the Wolves:

If the Yaga is true to form, she would not care to be too close to, nor for too long near, the too conforming, too demure side of the feminine nature…. Although sweetness can fit into the wild, the wild cannot long fit into sweetness.

At the beginning of her arc, the Crone is an Elder already—old and wise and possessing some magic. But, for all that, she is not greatly powerful. She is resigned to Death but still afraid of it. She knows her uses but doesn’t find tremendous power in her life. Whether gracefully or not, she is just waiting to die. Therefore, hers is an arc from disempowerment to empowerment. Her “magic,” such as it is, evolves from little tricks (e.g., Gandalf the Grey’s fireworks) to great strength (e.g., Gandalf the White’s tremendous power—which can, in the Mage Arc turn sorcerous if not restrained with wisdom).

Stakes: Literally Life and Death

But this is not to say the Crone has forsaken the Kingdom entirely. Her call to emerge once more from her solitude of contemplation and self-healing is likely to arrive in the form of a young Maiden or Hero who needs her help. Carolyn Myss states in Sacred Contracts:

The Guide takes the role of Teacher to a spiritual level…. Wisdom comes with age, and so the Crone or Wise Woman represents the ripening of natural insight and the acceptance of what is, allowing one to pass that wisdom on to others.

This younger character will come to her as a messenger of sorts, summoning her from her solitude to confront the greatest enemy yet—a malignant evil—a superfluity of Death threatening the Kingdom. And she accepts the call, thinking to herself, I’m old, so oh well, if I die, I die. Estés describes the mindset that is the crucial challenge of the Third Act arcs’ overarching antagonist of Mortality:

Things of the world that used to be food for us lose their taste. Our goals no longer excite us. Our achievements no longer hold interest. Everywhere we look in the topside world, there is no food for us.

But the journey becomes much more—a soul-deep sacrifice in order to protect the realm of Life. She chooses Life—not just her own or anyone’s in particular, but Life itself—even though that will also means accepting Death in all its profundity.

Just as the King represented the sacrifice unto Death—the propitiating sacrifice to save the Kingdom—the Crone represents a Resurrection—the symbolic return of Life.

Antagonist: Paying a Penny to the Ferryman

The adversary the Crone faces is Death made manifest. Within the plot, this antagonist may be externally represented as a Death Blight upon the Kingdom. This is not “natural” Death, but Death run rampant, Death that is out of balance with Life and overpowering it. More literally, however, this symbolism is merely the representative of the human being’s need to reconcile with her own mortality. The Crone story may be as fantastic as that of Gandalf’s descent into Khazad Dum or as realistic as the quiet struggle with incumbent old age as in Robert Redford and Jane Fonda’s Our Souls at Night.

It can also be seen in the quiet isolation of characters such as Marilla Cuthbert at the beginning of Anne of Green Gables.

There is even a bit of the Crone in Taika Waititi’s tale of the orphan boy and his extremely cranky and unwilling foster father in Hunt for the Wilderpeople.

Whether symbolically to at least some degree or utterly realistically, the Crone’s journey is a descent into the Underworld. She pays her penny to the ferryman, crosses the River Styx, and goes to give Death a good talking to—while hopefully keeping her headstrong young charge from doing anything too stupid.

It’s a tale that has fully as much scope for hilarity as for heaviness. But it is fundamentally a heavy theme—a confrontation with the final antagonist against whom all humans instinctively struggle and, if the arc completes, a recognition that Death may not have been what we always believed. In Walking on Water, Madeleine L’Engle muses:

…this land of death is dark and frightening. No matter how deep the faith, we each have to walk the lonesome valley; we each have to walk it all alone. The world tempts us to draw back, tempts us to believe we will not have to take this test. We are tempted to try to avoid not only our own suffering but also that of our fellow human beings, the suffering of the world, which is part of our own suffering. But if we draw back from it (and we are free to do so), Kafka reminds us that “it may be that this very holding back is the one evil you could have avoided.”

In The Virgin’s Promise, Kim Hudson speaks of the Maiden’s Third Plot Point beat as “Wandering in the Wilderness.” I love this term not just for the Maiden but as an emotionally resonant description of all Third Plot Point experiences, including the entirety of the Crone Arc itself.

Estés describes this “wandering in the wilderness” thus:

Women in this stage often begin to feel both desperate and adamant to go on this inward journey, no matter what. And so they do, as they leave one life for another, or one stage of life for another, or sometimes even one lover for no other lover than themselves. Progressing from adolescence to young womanhood, or from married woman to spinster, or from mid-age to older, crossing over the crone line, setting out wounded but with one’s own new value system—that is death and resurgence. Leaving a relationship or the home of one’s parents, leaving behind outmoded values, becoming one’s own person, and sometimes, driving deep into the wildlands because one just must, all these are the fortune of the descent.

So off we go down into a different light, under a different sky, with unfamiliar ground beneath our boots. And yet we go vulnerably, for we have no grasping, no holding on to, no clinging to, no knowing—for we have no hands.

Theme: Choosing Descent and Return

The Crone’s journey is perhaps the most terrifying of all the arcs. But at the nadir of her descent, there is the opportunity for the greatest riches of all. In The Hero With a Thousand Faces, Joseph Campbell describes this Third Plot Point state:

The adventure of the hero represents the moment in his life when he achieved illumination—the nuclear moment when, while still alive, he found and opened the road to the light beyond the dark walls of our living death.

In the end, the Crone’s true transformation is not the decision to Die, as it was for the King. Rather, her crucial decision is to Live again—to rise up and leave the Underworld rather than accept the temptation of old age’s slow, resigned, comfortable descent into Nothing. In so rising, she symbolically raises the entire Kingdom with her—if not directly at least by revealing the possibility and the way. She goes to Death seeking an enemy, but in the end is surprised to find, if not a friend, then at least not an enemy.

Estés:

…the descent will nourish even though it is dark, even though one feels one has lost one’s way. Even in the midst of not knowing, not seeing, “wandering blind,” there is a “Something,” an inordinately present “Someone” who keeps pace.

The Crone’s Moment of Truth brings the revelation that she can “seek ye this day Life and not Death.” But not until the end of her story, when she fully rejects the Lie that Death is something to be defeated rather than embraced will she comprehend that indeed Death is Life—and become the Mage.

Key Points of the Crone Arc

For easy reference and comparison, I will be sharing some scannable summations of each arc’s key points:

Crone’s Story: A Pilgrimage.

Crone Arc: Elder to Sage (Uncanny World to Underworld)

Crone’s Symbolic Setting: Underworld

Crones Lie vs. Truth: Death vs. Life

“All life ends in death.” versus “Life is Death and Death is Life.”

Crones Initial Motto: “We, the accepting.”

(This is via Spiral Dynamics’ “Green” Meme. If you’re not familiar with Spiral Dynamics, this probably won’t mean anything, but I was fascinated to realize that the six positive archetypal arcs line up perfectly with the “memes” of human development as found in the theory of Spiral Dynamics.)

Crone’s Archetypal Antagonist: Death Blight

Crones Relationship to Own Negative Shadow Archetypes:

Either Hermit finally accepts her Perception in order to grow into Wisdom.

Or Wicked Witch learns to submit her Perception to the truths of greater Wisdom.

Crone’s Relationship to Subsequent Shadow Archetypes as Represented by Other Characters:

Invigorates Miser or destroys Sorcerer through her wisdom.

The Beats of the Crone Character Arc

Following are the structural beats of the Crone Arc. I am using allegorical language in keeping with the tradition of the Hero’s Journey (and honestly because it’s so powerful). However, it is important to remember that the language is merely symbolic. Although in this case the Crone usually will be an older person in some sense, none of the other mentioned archetypes or settings need to be interpreted literally.

This is merely a general structure that can be used to recognize and strengthen Crone Arcs in any type of story. Although I have interpreted the Crone Arc through the beats of classic story structure, it doesn’t necessarily have to line up this perfectly. A story can be a Crone Arc without presenting all of these beats in exactly this order.

As with all of the archetypes, the Crone can manifest within anyone’s life at any time, on a smaller scale. For example, any time a younger person faces as existential crisis—such as a mid-life crisis—they are very likely undergoing a Crone “subplot” as part of one of their larger arcs (i.e., because the Crone represents the Third Plot Point, she is always present, in some capacity, at the Third Plot Point of any of the previous arcs).

1st ACT: Uncanny World

Beginning: Lure of Retirement

The Crone lives alone in a hut on the edge of the village. She is retired from public life and service, and although her former subjects may approach her for guidance as an Elder, she does not particularly encourage it. She is grumpy, worn, and hobbled by old age.

However, in completing the previous King Arc and crossing the last threshold into her Third Act, she broadened her understanding of the world beyond that of the temporal and into an acceptance of a greater spiritual realm. She works within that realm, making remedies and tinctures for herself and for those who might dare to ask for her help.

She’s not exactly misanthropic, but she is deeply introverted, processing her transformation from King to Crone, from youth and power to old age and numinousness. She’s retired. She’s not entirely happy about it, but she has accepted it as unavoidable.

Nevertheless, that acceptance has nudged her in the direction of lethargy. Even as she mourns the end of her youthful Second Act, she also feels like she’s earned her retirement. She’s old and tired; she’s accomplished more in her life than she ever knew possible. Rather than properly mourn her mortality and transform, she is tempted to just lie down and give up until Death comes to take her.

In the beginning of Anne of Green Gables, Marilla Cuthbert is a sullen, unhappy woman who doesn’t even realize how she has cut herself off from life.

Inciting Event: The Dream of Death

The Crone dreams a premonition about an imbalance in the Life and Death Forces. Death is coming to blight the land—either directly through a pestilence or apocalyptic event or indirectly through some sort of death culture. The choice to live and be alive is about to become very challenging for the world.

The Kingdom may be experiencing its first hint of this coming Blight. Most of the world will not recognize it for what it is (some even championing its advent) because they lack the spiritual insight of an Elder to discern its true malignant nature.

A Hero or King may come to the Crone seeking guidance (although not really understanding what it is they truly seek). She is resistant to rejoining the struggles of the larger Kingdom. She might give them a hint of the truth, but she shoos them away, not wanting to be bothered—even though her heart is heavy with her own fear of Death.

In The Fellowship of the Ring, Gandalf the Grey begins to suspect the true malignant nature of Bilbo’s ring after Frodo inherits it.

2ND ACT: Underworld

First Plot Point: Boards the Ferry

The Crone is drawn out from the retirement of her hut, perhaps by her Hero apprentice, perhaps by the entreaty of the King, or perhaps by a sign in her dreams. Grumpily, she agrees to go investigate, even though she still thinks it’s a waste of time. Who can defeat Death, after all? Certainly, not her—in all her feebleness.

But whether she admits it or not, hope sparks in her heart—maybe Death can be defeated. Her resignation also leads her to accept that, since she is old and about to die anyway, she might as well see about doing one more good turn for “the grandchildren.” Her love, symbolic or actual, for the Hero might be what finally prompts her to go forth to the River Styx and wait for the Ferryman. She leaves behind the Kingdom and enters the Underworld, where she intends to see what this is all about and to try whatever tricks she may to delay Death.

In Howl’s Moving Castle (which is a brilliant Crone-Arc-within-a-Maiden-Arc), Grandma Sophie treks into the Waste to try to regain her youth, enters Howl’s Moving Castle, and ends up involved in freeing the Kingdom from a malignant war.

First Pinch Point: Death Is Not Fooled by Her Little Tricks

In the Underworld, the Crone hobbles along, presenting (and mostly believing) herself as a harmless, helpless old woman. But she proves herself canny. Her small magic tricks, such as they are, help her past her various obstacles on her way to discovering the source of the Death Blight.

But Death is not fooled, and neither is the Sorcerer/Miser (if there is a human antagonist causing the Blight). Emboldened by her success thus far, she tries one trick too many and is thwarted by a discovery of her true weakness. She is startled, because the weakness proves to be one of insight and perception rather than the physical weaknesses she has identified with. She becomes even more frightened to a certain degree, but she is also intrigued: her understanding is broadening; she has glimpsed the true power available to her.

In The Hunt for the Wilderpeople, Hec learns he is wanted by the authorities for “kidnapping” his foster son (who, in fact, he has thus far desperately wanted to get shed of).

Midpoint: Chooses to Seek Life

As the Death Blight descends upon the Kingdom, the Crone must make a choice: will she give up and return to her hut (or allow herself to simply be overtaken by nullity)? Or will she find the strength, courage, and liveliness to rise again, but in a new capacity—not a King and not a Crone, but the beginnings of a Mage?

She chooses Life, even though at this point that means fully facing her fear of Death. She chooses to rise up and stand against the Blight. She uses all her wily tricks to resist it. The Sorcerer is startled, both that she dares to present herself as an antagonist and also that she has the power to make any kind of dent. He does not take her as a serious threat, but he does fully notice her as a spiritual power in her own right. He mostly wins the battle, but thanks to her choice, he is at least forced to pull back for a moment to reconsider his next move.

In Secondhand Lions, Hub proves that “old age and treachery will always beat youth and exuberance” when he handily defeats a group of young bullies.

Second Pinch Point: Temptation

The Crone may guide the Hero, the Queen, and the King in erecting defenses. But she stands apart from the true struggle, working her magic behind the scenes, discovering her true Life power. She is confronted—perhaps in the guise of the evil Sorcerer or perhaps by the neutral Death force—with a temptation. Now that she has chosen Life over Death, she becomes even more determined to live and not die.

The tempter offers that she might become immortal: Death will never touch her. She intuits there is a great danger to this supposed gift, even though she does not yet fully grasp the truth that Death is Life and Life is Death. She does, however, understand that Death is important—that however it may frighten her, its sheer necessity means it cannot be a wholly malignant force. She also inherently mistrusts the tempter, even as he promises that she will gain such power from this choice that she can save the Kingdom and stop Death (essentially becoming the Sorcerer). She doesn’t partake of the fruit and sends away the messenger, but she keeps the apple in her pocket—undecided about her proper course.

In Iron Lady, an elderly Margaret Thatcher (suffering from dementia) is taunted by the “ghost” of her dead husband, but she refuses to “let him go.”

3rd ACT

False Victory: Seeks Physical Immortality

The Kingdom is forced to a dire point. The young people about whom the Crone cares (particularly the Hero) are threatened, perhaps as a result of their own mistakes. She becomes very angry—both because of the suffering caused by Death and its threats, but also at the young people as well—their stupidity and their clear inability to be trusted with the Life of the Kingdom. She knows it is time to fully seek her power, but she does so by succumbing to the promise of physical immortality. She doesn’t complete the process, but her choice is enough to unleash the darkness.

In Up, Carl’s house (symbolizing his dead wife) is set on fire, and he has a meltdown in which he alienates and endangers his young Hero companion Russell.

Third Plot Point: Death Prevails

Empowered, the Sorcerer lets loose the Blight upon the Kingdom. The Angel of Death descends; Life begins not to be blotted out as the Crone feared—but to be overtaken by Death: zombified. The lines between Life and Death blur, and the horror is greater than if Death itself had prevailed. The Crone is aghast at her choice, recognizing that she was the one who skewed the balance of light and dark, Life and Death.

In Anne of Green Gables, Marilla realizes, on the eve of sending Anne back to the orphanage for stealing her brooch, that Anne was in fact innocent.

Climax: Embraces Death

The Crone is deeply humbled. She casts away the immortal power she has been offered. She accepts and embraces Death, not as an enemy but as the lover of Life. Life cannot exist without Death, just as the night cannot be without the day. She submits herself to the beautiful transformation of life. She does this with some hope of rectifying her mistakes, but largely she does it in total humility, simply awed and prostrate before the intolerable light of truth. She walks willingly through Death’s door to meet her fate.

In Fellowship of the Ring, Gandalf the Grey sacrifices himself to the Balrog (“You shall not pass!”) in order to salvage the rest of the Fellowship.

Climactic Moment: Death Transformed

Her wisdom transforms her from the mortal and feeble Crone into a powerful Mage. Death, now that it has been seen as beautiful through her eyes, is itself transformed. She has the power to thwart the Sorcerer and to restore the balance of Life and Death, lifting the Blight from the Kingdom even though she still cannot banish Death.

In Howl’s Moving Castle, Sophie (who has slowly regained her youth) rescues Howl from his monstrous fate.

Resolution: Reintegrates Into Renewed Kingdom

The Kingdom doesn’t fully understand what happened. They only know the Crone emerged from the Underworld, not only resurrected but transformed. They are in awe of her and more than a little frightened. They recognize in her a great new power, which they both trust and fear. They are happy that the Blight has lifted, even though they might be a little confused or even disgruntled that she did not end Death altogether. But she is wise and calm. She just smiles and does not tell them truths they are not ready to hear.

She is formally reintegrated into a respected role in the Kingdom, but even though she leaves her hut behind, it is not to return to the palace. Rather, she embarks on a mission that will take her all around the world as the Mage (which we will discuss next week).

At the end of Iron Lady, Margaret lets go of her hallucinations of her dead husband and surprises her daughter by “returning to the land of the living.”

Examples of the Crone Arc

Examples of the Crone Arc include the following. Click on the links for structural analyses.

Stay Tuned: Next week, we will study the Mage Arc.

Related Posts:

Wordplayers, tell me your opinions! Can you think of any further examples of stories that feature the Crone Arc? Tell me in the comments!

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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.

Comments

  1. Sabrina Morelli says

    Will you be going into Archetypal Flat Arcs and Archetypal Negative Arcs next??? This series has been SO GOOD! I’ve been looking forward to it every Monday!

    • K.M. Weiland | @KMWeiland says

      Yes! We’ll look at the negative archetypes next, then the “flat” archetypes. The series won’t end until mid-summer, so I’m very glad you’re enjoying it! 😀

  2. I have to admit, part of the fun of this series has been listening to the podcast lay out the concepts and features of the arc and then try to guess what the examples are going to be. I had Carl from “Up”, but I’m kind of kicking myself for not anticipating Gandalf.

    Of those I thought might count as examples, can we include Luke Skywalker from his plot in “The Last Jedi”, or Prospero from Shakespeare’s “The Tempest”?

    • K.M. Weiland | @KMWeiland says

      Luke in Last Jedi is tricky, since (IMO) it was executed so poorly. He starts out in the Crone’s passive shadow archetype of Hermit and does end up arcing, although the middle part of his journey really isn’t fleshed out or dramatized.

      • When I was a little kid and prone to nightmares, my dad would fast-forward the Jubba’s Palace part of `Last Jedi,’ so I grew up with a story that started with the news that a new Death Star has been built. I think the movie holds up a LOT better when it’s not trying to be a story and a half.

        • K.M. Weiland | @KMWeiland says

          That’s actually Return of the Jedi, part of the original trilogy. 🙂

          • Ack! You’re right. They both have Jedi in the title. 🙂 `Last Jedi’ -suddenly your comment about Luke and the Crone arc makes a lot more sense.

      • Anthony Pero says

        I don’t know that the Crone arc was executed poorly, so much as it was set up poorly, and wasn’t the main story arc. That was a fault in the whole movie. It ends up being Luke who saves the day, but so much of his arc happens internally, off screen, in favor of characters who don’t actually affect the outcome.

        But, The Last Jedi was definitely more about theme than plot or character.

  3. Eric Troyer says

    Since you have not mentioned it, I assume that you don’t know of any series that follows all or most of these arcs in succession. That could be very interesting, if done well.

    I hope you are planning a book around this series!

    • K.M. Weiland | @KMWeiland says

      I have yet to think of a series that walks through *all* the arcs, although I’m sure there are many examples. However, quite a few of the examples I call out in individual posts do offer previous or subsequent archetypes as well. For example, Gandalf starts out a Crone, but, of course, ends up a Mage, which I’ll reference next week.

      • David Snethen says

        I am about to start reading LOTR (beginning with The Hobbit) to my kids (10, 12, and 15). I am so excited! I’ve been listening to your character arc series and the way they parallel life is really what makes the characters so relatable.
        Thank you for publishing this series. It gives me fuel to craft my characters in a particular direction. I’ve been listening to your podcast saying, “I think this character is in this arc,” etc. It’s so encouraging to see my “peeps” grow as I develop their stories.
        God bless you! Thanks again!

  4. Fortunate to have personally lived through the stages of life in the arcs up to the Crone stage, I heartily support your analyses. A difference is that my third act is far from my quietist and I am fighting the onset of the Crone. The characters in my novels are powerful actors making life happen not reacting to it, except at first.

    I am studying your arcs with more intensity than I did my Master’s courses in engineering. I am learning more than even in those endeavors.

    Good show.

    • K.M. Weiland | @KMWeiland says

      That’s good to hear! I’m sure my perspective on some of these will change as I, too, grow older.

  5. Esme Weatherwax.

    Also known as Granny Weatherwax.

    Especially in the book “Lords and Ladies,” which was my introduction to Terry Pratchett. In that book, Granny has to face down the fairy folk, aka elves. In British folklore, elves are soulless menaces to humans — Tolkien’s elves subverted that expectation — and in this story, elves are still dangerous. The elves have returned to Lancre via their magical standing stones, and they threaten the safety of the kingdom.

    Granny, being sensible, never trusted elves. Being the most pre-eminent witch of her kingdom, she must face the Fairy Queen and defeat her. In her youth she wisely — out of fear and arrogance — turned down the chance to learn magic from the FQ. As an old lady she is now obliged to prove that she was better off with the route she took. All the routes she took, which included never marrying the young wizard who pursued her in her youth. As an old man, he returns to Lancre.

    At the same time, she must save young witches from the temptations of the Fairy Queen. The leader of the young witches is an arrogant girl who was just as dismissive of her elders’ wisdom as Granny had been at her age.

    During a confrontation the immortal, eternally young FQ challenges Granny with the threat of becoming senile and decrepit. Thus, the crowning moment when Granny snaps back that this is a ridiculous threat to make against an old person: she’s already come to terms with the possibility, whereas, as Granny points out, the immortal FQ lives sideways through life and doesn’t understand mortals well enough…

    Oh, and Death is actually a character in this series. He speaks in ALL CAPS, and Granny has crossed paths with him a time or two, and not always because of her own near-misses with mortality. Sometimes in other books she squares off against him for the lives of young people, especially babies, that he will pass them by. In this story, she foresees the hour of her death, but is heroic enough to not let it deter her from doing what she must.

    Just thought it was a great example to add to the list.

    • That is such a great example! I love Granny Weatherwax! And now you have me wondering if Sam Vimes, in his first book, `Guards! Guards!’ might also be a crone arc. He starts off in the gutter, having given up on life, but when Carrot shows up with all his high idealism about what the Watch is supposed to be, it forces Vimes out of his entropy. As the series goes on, he gradually becomes one of the most powerful people in Ank-Morpork -a practically unstoppable force for good. (`Where! Is! My! Cow?’)

      • K.M. Weiland | @KMWeiland says

        My instinct on Vimes (and it’s been years since I read the book) is that he’s probably showing more of a Queen Arc—taking responsibility for leading. I see him arcing more into the Ruler/King than the Mentor/Mage.

    • K.M. Weiland | @KMWeiland says

      Yes, I had thought of Granny Weatherwax as well, but I didn’t include her because I have yet to specifically read any of her books. I have Equal Rites on my Kindle right now. But I’m glad to know she does indeed fit the archetype!

  6. This is a powerful series that has gotten my story-plotting thoughts in motion. I have an epic story that has been percolating in my mind for more than a decade. It is the reason I became a writer. But I knew I had much to practice before I would have the skill the write this massive story I love, thus other works have been written first. As I’ve read through your archetypal character arc series, I’ve seen different arcs click into the different portions of my story. I am very much looking forward to the Mage post to see how you will type up this last arc of life, see if it fits my series-finale Moses-like character as I think it will.

    You do have the archetypal negative-change arc coming next, right?

    • K.M. Weiland | @KMWeiland says

      As a matter of fact, Moses makes a cameo next week. 😉 And, yes, after the Mage Arc, we’ll start examining the negative archetypes.

      • David Snethen says

        Moses is an example of a “character” (so to speak) who goes through multiple character arcs in his story. I can hardly wait!!

  7. Meg Brummer says

    Ohhhhh. Big lightbulb moment. A story I recently scrapped just wasn’t working, and now I realize that I was trying to force a crone arc into the beats of a hero arc. Now I know how to fix it! Thanks!

  8. This is an endlessly fascinating series; every week it makes me rethink my characters. I love these elder arcs. We need more of them in stories.

  9. As I did with the King Arc, I’ve tried to put together a plot for a potential story building on the Crone Arc. The Crone Arc naturally lends itself to Fantasy, so I’ve decided to go in a different direction. I’ve thrown this together pretty quickly, but I’d like to know what people think and encourage others to suggest changes or even come up with their own applications of the Crone Arc.

    Setting: Historical fiction based on Mayan pre-Columbian culture. Much of this is conjecture as the historical records are weak, but it’s known that the Mayans abandoned their cities cyclically over very long stretches of time. It’s not known why this was done, but there is a theory its built into their view of time and religion. This is a point of serious historical debate, but I’m going to go with it for the purpose of laying out an unique plot. I’m going to postulate a city that’s abandoned and that the prior king is left alone in the city as its inhabitants enter the wild before eventually reforming into a new city. The king being left behind is entirely a fictional device, but otherwise this is based on a possible interpretation of history. The central character is the king, Tlankarnul (made up) and he is thirty six at the time he is left alone in the fictional city of Fartul.
    Note that before I actually wrote this story, I’d do significant historical research.
    First Act
    Beginning (Lure of Retirement): Tlankarnul is left with a nice garden and the wonders of the city for comfort. He spends his time gardening and enjoying the beauty and the resources of the dead city. Old residents sporadically visit him from the woods to seek his wisdom. He has influence without responsibility and believes he will dwell forever as long as he never leaves it.
    Inciting Evidence (Dream of Death): Current inhabitants (particularly his daughter Hlankarna) mention slavers, a tribe called the Arkunal, coming to take his former subjects. He worries what will happen to them and to the memory of Fartul should they all be captured.
    Second Act
    First Plot Point (Boards the Ferry): Tlankarnul ventures out and observers the slavers who have metal weapons and appear invincible. He wonders if his magical powers can turn them away.
    First Pinch Point (Death is not fooled by her little tricks): He performs an elaborate ceremony can save his former people, and there is a slight delay in the raids afterward, but followed by a big raid that captures the former high-priest. Tlankarnul believes the slavers must have great magic. The former high priest of Fartul dies in the conflict.
    Midpoint (Chooses to Seak Life): Tlankarnul chooses to advise his people and organize them and puts up a fight against the Arkunal. The Arkunal win, but at a cost both in their lives and potential slaves.
    Second Pinch Point (Temptation): The chief of the Arkunal offers Tlankarnul a place of honor in his tribe, as a high priest where he will enter immortality through their magic. The implied threat is to kill him if he doesn’t accept.
    Third Act
    False Victory (Seeks Physical Immortality): He’s rejected the offer, but sulks, irritated particularly at Hlankarna. They ask to much of him. He withdraws to the dead city and stops taking messengers so he will be safe.
    Third Plot Point (Death Prevails): Large strike captures Hlankarna and many others.
    Climax (Embraces Death): Accepts that he must take a hand. Leaves the city and returns to his people.
    Climatic Moment (Death Transformed): Organizes a raid which recaptures many of his people including Hlankarna. The chief of the Arkunal prisoner dies in battle and they Arkunal offer to take him is chief. He rejects this.
    Resolution (Reintegrations into Renewed Kingdom): He has lost his place in the dead city, but buidling of a new city begins with both tribes working toether. Hlankarna is recognized as queen of the new royal line and Tlankarnul becomes high priest.

    • K.M. Weiland | @KMWeiland says

      Again, I like how you’ve flipped this by having the Kingdom leave *him*, instead of him leaving the Kingdom in the beginning.

  10. I find this arc very interesting because it’s where my life is at the moment. The archetypal character is very different from my concept of it, perhaps because my religion has a celebration called Croning when someone enters this phase of like that emphasizes the wisdom of aging. And we see death as merely transformation. I don’t think I’m grumpy at all. I’m happier now than at any other phase of my life. I know who I am, what I want, who is worth my time, and what is real. I don’t care about looking young or living forever, but I want to be my most authentic self living my best life.

    I like the arc in this post, though. Gandalf was always my favorite. I think both Tenar and Ged might have fit this archetype in Tehanu by Ursula K. Le Guin. (She wrote this when she was older and wrote the previous three books in her thirties, I think.) Tenar is a former priestess living outside her village as a wise woman. Ged, once an arch age, shows up after defeating death in the underworld, now stripped of his powers. They live quietly, tending a garden and peeling potatoes with the scarred orphan Tenar has taken in. And then stuff happens.

  11. Here’s a link to one idea of a Croning. http://www.unitariancongregation.org/ceremonies/croning-ceremony/

  12. Katie,
    Excellent post!
    Phil Coulson from MCU (Marvel Cinematic Universe), specifically S.H.I.E.L.D seasons six and seven, fulfills many of the Crone characteristics.
    He is introduced in Thor as a secondary character, however, his character is one of key motivations for the rest of the series. As the movies unfold, spoiler alert, he deals with the ramifications of death.
    By the end of S.H.I.E.L.D, he is still sorting out his existence with a self-soothing acceptance.
    I look forward to next weeks podcast.
    Glenda

  13. Esther Aardsma says

    I feel like we see Galadriel in the Lord of the Rings begin a crone arc? She is never overly developed and we kind of lose the elf story when they leave for the west…But there are some distinct elements of crone in her, especially when she knows she could take the power of the Ring and rule…but it would ultimately destroy her and everyone around her. (The promise of an”overtaken by death” beat, but she sees it for what it is and turns away from it before it can happen.)

    • K.M. Weiland | @KMWeiland says

      I agree that there isn’t a lot to go on in her story, but I tend to see her more as a Mage. I’ll be using her as an example in next week’s post. But in reality, it’s probably true that, since she doesn’t undergo an actual plot arc, there’s a little of both archetypes in her.

  14. I really liked this one, as it was easier for me to understand. Maybe because of it’s similarity to one’s spiritual walk with God, which brings about both Life and Death, freedom and prison, at least when one is doing it the right way. I’ve never seen it, but I think maybe Edward Cole and Carter Chambers from ‘The Bucket List’ (2007) might be a Crone Arc, as they both face the same fate of death from cancer, have a need to come to terms with who they are, and have a desire of things they want to see and do before they die.

  15. Another fascinating arc! Also, it’s interesting how the Crone starts stuck in place to her little hovel and then ends travelling the world, whether metaphorically or not.

    If you’ve read Guy Gavriel Kay’s Fionavar Tapestry, is the character of Kim in a Crone arc? She acquires a lot of power as a Seer, and is definitely a figure of transformation, but she rejects it late in the game to avoid destroying her friend’s people. Given how powerful she is though I have to wonder if Mage arc would fit her better, but I guess I shall have to wait until next week!

    That series is archetype rich by the way.

    • K.M. Weiland | @KMWeiland says

      I haven’t read it so can’t comment, but based on what you’re saying I could see it going either way.

  16. Hi!

    Just to say, I’m finding your current series truly inspirational! I can see writing a series that moves across all the arcs. Wonderful idea. I think you have surpassed yourself this time. So Bravo!

  17. Your Crone Arc is wonderful! I published my first novel last April, A Measured Thread. Now I recognize it as the epitome of a Crone Arc. I got there on my own…but it would have been wonderful to have you as my guide.
    Thank you for many wonderful posts. I continue to learn from them every week.

  18. Douglas R Thompson says

    Love the Crone Arc. It comes close to, but doesn’t quite completely resemble the movie “Wit,” starring Emma Thompson. What do you think the Arc type of that movie is?

    • K.M. Weiland | @KMWeiland says

      I haven’t seen it, but if it’s called Wit and stars Emma Thompson, then I think I must. 😀

      • Douglas R Thompson says

        It’s very sad, but very beautiful. And throughout the movie, Emma Thompson will come out of her role and speak directly to the audience, sharing her thoughts. Even for guys, Kleenex is a “must.”

  19. stories that seem to fit this arc for me include:

    Sir Percival and his search for the holy grail and eternal life (after Arthur and the kingdom become sick). Morgan le Faye being the evil sorceress who tempts him .

    Gilgamesh of course must be the UR-myth of this archetype he is disappointed when he cannot find immortality

    many modern stories where the protagonist experiences death or loss and initially gives up, also to some extent follows this archetype.

  20. What about the story of Gautama buddha who leaves his life as prince to find the solution to suffering and death and who finds enlightenment?

    • K.M. Weiland | @KMWeiland says

      All good examples!

      • I listened to your podcast at the start of the week and watched the new Tom Hanks film News of the World on Netflix and was struck by how close it sticks to this arc!

        – Former military captain (former king)
        – Living on the western frontier (wilderness)
        – Unwanted mission thrust upon him
        – Assists young girl with no one else to turn to
        – Not let down by physical strength but ‘magician’s tricks’ get him into hot water (buffalo tyrant)
        – Let’s death win (leaves the girl behind with family, killing their bond and her chances of a better life in favour of his old philosophy of moving forward)
        – Finally confronts death (his wife’s, his imagined life and his younger idealistic self) is aghast and returns to rectify mistakes by adopting young girl thus arcing into the saint/mage archetype.
        – Kingdom doesn’t fully understand what happened but begrudgingly accepting of it (young girl’s family can see that she is better off with Hanks)

        Quite similar in theme to Hunt for the Wilderpeople albeit a serious and dramatic (as opposed to comedic) take.

  21. the fisher king? the movie I mean, with Robin Williams and Jeff Bridges

  22. Karen Edwards Pierotti says

    I appreciate all these arcs and these great comments. The crone arc reminds me of what Mary, Queen of Scots embroidered while in prison: “In my end is my beginning.” and this is echoed in T S Eliot’s “Four Quartets”

  23. This was so helpful. Even though I have published four novels in the past twenty years, the one I’ve worked on for the last twenty-five years fits precisely into this archetype. Karly Reiss is the matron and owner of a fabulously successful international conglomerate. She is terminally ill and has three children to whom she wants to leave a legacy. Only one, her youngest daughter, Bryn Reiss, is capable of assuming control of the corporations, but Karly must set up her daughter for success, knowing others will contest Bryn’s claim to take control.

    I based the story on my experience as a strategic planner for a large corporation. Thank you for this article. Perhaps it will break my roadblock on this novel.

  24. Ben Buitendijk says

    One example that might be a Crone Arc is: The Farthest Shore by Ursula K. Le Guin. I need to reread it to check, but I recognize several of the beats you mention.

  25. Bob Woods says

    Bravo! Another “deep” segment…I was pleasantly surprised when you mentioned “Misanthropic”. You don’t see the term used often. My protagonist in the script I’m working on has developed this into his character since childhood. I’m hoping I didn’t start too early.

    Looking forward to your next…

  26. I think the later Clint Eastwood movies, like Gran Torino, Trouble With the Curve, even Unforgiven fit this arc. Clint seemed to find great stories that fit his age of life as he got older, and the characters were the protagonists, not side characters in a heroes journey. Another thing to love about Clint Eastwood.

  27. Would Harold Fry in the Pilgrimage of Harold Fry be a Crone story Arch?

  28. Mariah Richardson says

    I feel like this could fit Doc Hudson from Cars.

  29. I’m currently watching the James Bond movie Skyfall and I think it’s a Crone Arc. The setup is that Bond is taken out of service (and presumed dead) after Q (Judy Dench) orders a sniper snot on the guy Bond is fighting and the snot hits Bond instead. When Bond returns to work, he’s more cranky and out of shape and the younger agents keep commenting on his age, how he’s not up to date on new technology and ways of doing things, etc. Meanwhile, his female friend and fellow agent encourages him to prove that he’s an “old dog” with “new tricks.”

    I haven’t finished watching the movie yet but I’m pretty sure I can guess where it’s going. I think there may be a bit of a Mage arc for Q as well, as she’s the older mentor who is grappling with her power of life or death over her agents and the ethical implications her capacity for manipulation. I’m not sure I’ve seen an action film before, let alone a Bond film (a series so known for eye candy and replaceable actors and actresses), in which both the main male and main female arcs are about later stages life journey.

  30. I just watched Skyfall and it was really interesting to me as a Bond installment including both a Crone Arc and a Mage Arc. Daniel Craig’s Bond is the agent who is returning to the field after being shot, dealing with his sense of mortality, decreased physical strength and decreased tech saavy compared with newer agents. Meanwhile Q (the leader whose voice tells Bond about his mission through his headset, played by Judy Dench) is dealing with the temptation to lie and manipulate in order to manage her agents in the fight against evil. The bad guy is a former agent who has broken away from Q and the agency’s control and guidance. For a series known for replacing actors with younger versions, it was cool to see both the principle characters be in later-stage journeys. (I mean, how often is the main relationship conflict in an action film a triangle between a good guy, a bad guy, and the badass grandma figure who raised them both?)

  31. Peter Beagle (of The Last Unicorn) can be hard to pin down. But I think Schmendrick the Magician is a Crone arc. He’s a weird one — he’s cursed to be immortal until he finds his true power, when he will become mortal and begin to die. But…

    Joining the Unicorn on her quest feels like a transition from the Uncanny world to the Underworld – we find him in Mommy Fortuna’s Carnival, a deeply Uncanny yet thoroughly pathetic world for a Hermit who has given up. Haggard stealing the unicorns from the world is the Death Blight, making men blind and spiritually stunted.

    When he transforms the Unicorn into a woman, that was failing at Temptation — using his magic in a way that helps nobody, leaves him immortal, but lets him feel that he is great and powerful.

    Being a fool for Haggard, perhaps eternally, while the Unicorn sinks into becoming human is Death Prevailing. And when he joins the others to truly seek the Red Bull, to save the Unicorn or die in the attempt, he is Embracing Death. Prince Lir, for a moment, tries to pull back. And appropriately for a Crone, Schmendrick doesn’t take the lead himself. Instead, he slyly counsels Lir that of course, we *could* run away, that would be fine… Knowing that a Hero, truly seeing the choice for what it is, *cannot* run from it.

    And quite literally, Schmendrick steps out of living death (immortality at the cost of utter ineffectiveness) to dying life, to a Death Transformed. He has utter control over the power he has lusted after for centuries… and now understands just how little that power means in the great wide world, even as he uses it to make that world better. He finishes as a Mage, ready to travel the world, “but that is a different story.”

    Unicorns return to the world. The small village of Hagsgate, in Haggard’s shadow, is renewed and rejuvenated… but still spiritually stunted. Schmendrick can’t fix everything. But he can put a Hero in place to fix what can be fixed, and move forward to do what he can, everywhere.

    Haggard, of course, is a gorgeous combination of Sorcerer and Miser, both in extreme measure, while never condescending to touch the balanced point of “Mage” in between.

    Beagle also has a wonderful Mage Arc in The Innkeeper’s Song, that of The Man Who Laughs. It’s a flat arc eventually, but teases positive and negative wonderfully throughout.

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