WTCB September: Peter as Inversion of the Jungian Archetype of the Old Man

One could argue that each man – each character of any book, even – has more than a plot-role; they have an existential role, a reflection of the other world, if you will. With this is mind, we might look at the complete shapes of each brother, as life-affirming models.

jung-four-archetypesSo begins one section of my work looking at the Costello brothers in their separate forms. Today, I turn my eye to the psychology of one of Freud’s contemporaries, Carl Gustav Jung, for a look into Peter’s character. I’ve been reading his Four Archetypes, with a particular eye on the phenomenology – the psychology and philosophy of self-perception.

Of course, the spirit manifests in many ways; as Jung points out, fairytale and fable – and, in this case: fiction – can show us what our subconscious is concealing. In many books, the protagonist is accompanied by a secondary character, whether ultimately a good or bad person in terms of plot. However, this is more obvious in fable, as the hero might walk alone, but he/she still needs someone to offer advice.

“For instance, he tells the boy who has gone to fetch silver water that the well is guarded by a lion who has the trick of sleeping with his eyes open and watching with his eyes shut.” (Four Archetypes, page 118)

As such – “Phillip needs a rock* who can teach him where he is going wrong.” However, having Peter as a grey old man would have been a cliché, conscious or not. Instead, Peter is a inversion of the original idea from our folklore. Whilst the old man is soul-searching and nearly always a timeless font of wisdom, Peter is the youngest member of the Costello brothers. When we readers meet him, he has barely turned twenty, and has spent his last years of boyhood on the battlefield. Although never explicit, it is quite likely than Peter suffers from Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder.

Funnily enough, one might interpret Jung’s words as referring to youth as well as shortness of size when he says, “a thing must be exceedingly small to fit inside the head”; if anything, this statement is not only the literal idea of small manifestations of the spirit, but also the spirit’s manifestation into the youth of, for instance, supporting characters.

However, Peter’s qualities – natural of his character, rather than imposed by my conscious mind, I like to think – bring him closer to the archetype than he’d probably admit.

“The old man represents knowledge, insight and intuition…and moral qualities such as…readiness to help.” (cf, 118)

Knowledge and insight/intuition – naturally, Peter has a gift beyond any of the other characters. He might not hold all the keys to the future, as Zara does, but his information is present and fresh through his psychic ability. This means he can provide Phillip with the split-second connection to Aidelle that they need. His intuition and insight leads the plot forward and is a vital part of his character.

Readiness to help – Again, a readiness to help, as described by Jung as part of the old man spirit-manifestation, is something most supporting characters should have, by the end of the story if not at the start. Peter’s readiness to help, whilst derived from his hatred of his elder brothers, also shows his kindly heart underneath the traumatised youth act. As Phillip says, it is this which leads him, ultimately, to become a doctor.

Logan Lerman and John Hurt, my ideas of the two Peter
Logan Lerman and John Hurt, my ideas of the two Peters

Peter’s visions vs the endopsychic spirit

‘Endopsychic’ (literally: ‘in/inner psyche’) refers to the creation one might make in one’s mind in a state of helplessness, eg. the old man’s appearance to guide in dreams.

Having a psychic ability is a very personal experience, just as I couldn’t tell you how exactly I ‘sense’ the emotions of those around me*. Too, Peter’s intuitions strand him away from his brothers and, later, society, when he has to conceal his real person from the world. The only way Phillip is ever able to share in the endopsychic spirit of Peter is through the exposed rupture in the times-streams and the medium of the tree in the centre of the ruined house.

Otherwise, Peter is, and has been during his youth, introverted, intrapsychic and in need of a way to share such ‘hallucinations’.

This transgresses both the fictional world, with Peter’s own visions, and the act of the world of the story, where we see the characters in what one might call our own, conscious ‘visions’.


The old man is also known for being critical, something I see as a perfect quality for a sidekick; as a writer, I well know that, without criticism, we are wandering around in written circles. Indeed, both Zara and Peter play this role as they guide Aidelle and Phillip, respectively, back to each other through criticism at the couple’s weak wills and desire to give up.

However, it is Peter who fully encompasses the critical old man. He is willing to point out Phillip’s prejudice against the servants and his fear to confront their father because of tradition, especially when plot leaves Peter sour at the world. These things, though rewritten at the dénouement, stay with Phillip throughout his life.

Of course, like any character, Peter cannot be the ‘perfect’ old man entirely; his good qualities also tip over into his flaws. His wisdom is often lacking, influenced by the hasty decisions he makes as a person only two years older than myself.

Take the critical trait, for instance: to a point, criticism is all right, constructive, it is better than praise. However, Peter’s tendency to criticise makes him overeager for change – often that of someone’s opinion or personality – rude, and often self-critical. This, in turn, leads him to disbelieve his own abilities, and, with the pressure of his family’s non-psychic views pressing down upon him, he ignores the other traits that en-wizen him.

After all, this is how he is Peter. If he’d devised an argument for how his malicious brother has the instead of criticising him, he wouldn’t be Peter. Peter needs to be the realism to Phillip’s philosophic acceptance of the good in everyone.


*Although I use the choice of ‘rock’ here deliberately, pure coincidence was behind the name ‘Peter’ actually meaning rock.

*Most of my knowledge of psychic and empathic fields are actually derived from science-fiction as opposed to Psychology.


2 thoughts on “WTCB September: Peter as Inversion of the Jungian Archetype of the Old Man

    1. Really? Peter kind of annoys me, though he seems to charm all of the readers 😛
      Gosh: if you were to ask me about my favourite character, I wouldn’t be able to give an answer. I’m a big fan of Zara in the sequels, but she’s too immature in the first; Phillip is wise and philosophic (and I was editing his speech on love today <3), but if I were Aidelle, I know I, too, would be annoyed by his inability to truly show emotion.
      I guess that's good, though: that no character stands out to me. Each I hate and love simultaneously.

      Thanks for the comment, by the way. I've missed your eyes [on my blog]! 😛

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