Archetypal Literary Theory in A Walk in The Woods

For my CCT I have been reading the novel, “A Walk in The Woods by Bill Bryson.” It’s a novel about a reluctant adventurer who is wanting to hike the gruelling 2,000 mile Appalachian Trail.

In the novel, there are characters that have a connection to archetypal characters. I would like to explain the characters and their connections in other books, movies, or myths. This helped me reveal many things about the characters in the novel.

Bill Bryson (The Hero)

“Undertakes some long journey during which he or she must perform impossible tasks, battle with monsters, solve unanswerable riddles, and overcome insurmountable obstacles in order to save the kingdom” (Archetypal Literary Criticism). He shows that he wants to undertake the journey by hearing this little voice in his head saying, “Sounds neat! Lets do it!” (Bryson 2). This shows his ambition towards wanting this journey. Although Bill Bryson does not battle with monsters, he battles his fears during the trail. He fears the bears of the woods. He solves a bit of this by bringing his sidekick Stephen Katz. Bill Bryson the hero battles many obstacles. Some of these obstacles include figuring out how to handle with Katz being older and having less mobility than Bill Bryson. This would always make Bill frustrated with Katz. I believe later on in the book Bill Bryson will take control of this obstacle and they will later become the healthy relationship of what a sidekick should be with a hero. I think this will be fixed from a possible life saving, whether its Katz saving Bill Bryson or vise versa. A similar comparison to Bill Bryson looking at their archetypal character is Shrek. They both have their sidekicks and the both take on a journey.

Stephen Katz (The Sidekick)

“Like the mentor, but even more so, the sidekick archetype is an interesting one, as the sidekick can be created out of many other archetypes, all with their own traits and roles. However, the sidekick as archetype, also has a set of reasons for being: to support the main hero on their journey.  A sidekick must have a purpose, and that purpose is to be with the main hero. Sidekicks can be secondary or even tertiary characters”(Character Archetypes–S for Sidekick). Stephen Katz is a secondary character and is Bill Bryson’s sidekick.  Although Katz has not lived up to the potential yet of being a sidekick archetype, I believe later on in the story he possibly will. His purpose in this story is to be with his hero Bill Bryson and to finish the journey. So far in this book I do not see a chance of the two finishing the Appalachian Trail. A similar comparison to Katz looking at their archetypal character is Donkey from Shrek. Donkey is very frustrating for Shrek sometimes but always is by Shrek’s side just like Katz is to Bill Bryson.

There are several archetypal symbols that appear in the book.


“In its most general sense, the symbolism of the tree denotes life of the cosmos: its consistence, growth, proliferation, generative and regenerative processes. It stands for inexhaustible life, and is therefore equivalent to a symbol of immortality (Archetypal Literary Criticism). As Bill Bryson and Katz walk in the woods there are many obvious trees. I see the symbolism of trees in this novel as the growth and progression of their journey. As they continue the trail every tree symbolizes growth and progression towards their journey. 

The Forest 

“The Forest is often seen as a symbol of the unconscious. It’s used as a metaphor for entering the unknown…Often the hero is tested. Sometimes he doesn’t survive the confrontation with the unknown” (The Forest Dark As Archetype). Before the journey, Bill Bryson does not know what to expect in the woods, he is unconscious and scared what the unknown of the forest has to offer. He is scared because of all the stories he read about his biggest fear of bears. Bill Bryson is ultimately tested during his journey throughout the forest. As the story continues I am willing to see if he will survive with the confrontation of the unknown.


“Growth; sensation; hope; fertility; in negative context may be associated with death and decay” (Archetypal Literary Criticism). There is obviously lot’s of green as the make their way across the trail. The green in context to the book symbolizes the hope and growth of their journey. This journey may be completed but also may be associated with decay. By decay I mean the inability to complete the journey across the Appalachian Trail. 




The Hero’s Journey Outline of all the aspects in journey archetypes.



The Hero’s Journey is a pattern of narrative identified by the American scholar Joseph Campbell that appears in drama, storytelling, myth, religious ritual, and psychological development.  It describes the typical adventure of the archetype known as The Hero, the person who goes out and achieves great deeds on behalf of the group, tribe, or civilization” (The Hero’s Journey Outline).

Looking at the aspects of the journey archetype I can conclude that my hero’s (Bill Bryson) journey will not work with this pattern which will ultimately lead them to failure. This could possibly be because I have not read the whole book. Seeing the aspects of the diagram I can see that Bill Bryson has not been tested yet with enemies and has not met his mentor. Without this mentor I do not see him standing a chance during the journey.

Therefore I do not see the conclusion of this story ending with completion of their journey. The two characters Bill Bryson and Stephen Katz just do not have the aspects to a successful journey archetype.

Works Cited

“Archetypal Literary Criticism.” Scribd. Scribd, n.d. Web. 12 July 2017.

“Character Archetypes–S for Sidekick.” Word Hunter. N.p., 14 June 2016. Web. 12 July 2017.

“The Forest Dark As Archetype.” The Forest Dark. N.p., n.d. Web. 12 July 2017.

“INTRODUCTION.” Hero’s Journey. N.p., n.d. Web. 12 July 2017.

Bryson, Bill, and Jackie Aher. A Walk in the Woods: Rediscovering America on the Appalachian Trail. New York: Anchor , a Division of Random House, 2016. Print.









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