Reading deep into the final chapters of Into Thin Air, I was not surprised to find that my previous expectations about the story’s darkness and lack of certainty were true. After all, this is a true story, and in real life, problems are far more complex and their solutions are even more so.
Regardless of the fact that the story is true, John the author and protagonist serves the image of one specific archetype to a T: the explorer. From the get-go one can see that he’s no hero, specifically after he allows the leadership of the group to pass over him, seeing himself only by his profession as a journalist and only rising to meet the demand for leadership once he truly is the only person left remotely qualified. As well, as the book draws a close and John’s speculation of what he could have done to help begin to show, one can see that he is far from the image of the innocent character, though that can be inferred beforehand by his lack of naivety and abundance of unoptimistic realism. Unlike all of these, however, the explorer archetype fits him like a glove. Jon explains that since he was young his close role models were great climbers, adventurers who made their life and fortune on seeking out the unknown. This selection of role models he claims gave cause to his own life of climbing, where rather than opting for a hobby inside like games or music, he desires to push himself quite literally to new heights. As well, like the explorer, Jon drives himself in times of stress with his fear of being trapped. Be it up on the summit, in a snowstorm, or on the mountain at all unable to return to the world below, Jon’s primary drive is one of survival; to not submit to the urge to rest, to let his surroundings consume him, and to grow still.
However, though his drive to survive is shared by his counterpart Rob, Rob himself plays an interesting role as a sort of archetypal hero. This is interesting as a concept, because it is not often that a character aside from the protagonist is found taking the role of the hero. Now throughout the story the heroic role shifts when certain struggles are met and climbers are killed. After all, heroism in real life is rarely rewarded with a perfect ending. Finally, the most obvious archetype is found in the actual setting of the book: the mountain. The great obstacle that must be overcome by the protagonists, and not just any obstacle, but the largest of its kind, a well as the most dangerous, unpredictable and foreboding in the entire world. Truly, the mountain is a symbol of the hero’s journey, the great source of struggle that must be dealt with in order for the characters involved to proceed. Overall, the story is laden with archetypes. More updates will follow soon.