Posts Tagged Four Temperaments

Four Humors in The Avengers

I’m working on my next Ace Double review, so it’s going to be a longer post that requires extra time.  So a quick post today.  Finally saw the Avengers, and what I suspected before I went to the movie was confirmed by the movie itself.  There are four superheros, there are four humors, and they map quite well.

  1. Choleric.  The natural leader.  Captain America.  His own movie was subtitled “The First Avenger,” and he’s the one giving orders when the group is actually working together.
  2. Phlegmatic.  The emotional follower.  Bruce Banner.  It’s hard to assign a personality to the Hulk, but Banner is chock-a-block with personality quirks.  Which is why everyone is raving over the portrayal of the character.
  3. Melancholic.  The introvert.  Thor.  The natural outsider, being the only of the four not from Earth, he’s accustomed to being self reliant and independent.
  4. Sanguine.  The fun one.  Iron Man.  He’s the easiest of the four to pin down, he’s the charismatic one.  The billionaire, playboy, genius, philanthropist.  Those are all sides of the sanguine personality.

It’s interesting, I’ve seen comparisons of the movie to Lord of the Rings, and there is the same fellowship of nine characters.  The listed four, plus the SHIELD characters: Hawkeye, Black Widow, Nick Fury, Phil Coulson, and Maria Hill.  In this analogy, I supposed the superheroes would be the four hobbits, most of the SHIELD characters would be the other members of the Fellowship, and Nick Fury would be Gandalf, the overarching Choleric who brings them all together.  I’m sure someone much more versed in film deconstruction could really pull this apart in-depth, but I’ve got my other post to focus on.

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A Writer Reviews: Lord of the Rings (pt3)

The Return of the Sanguine

For those who missed the first two parts (part 1, part 2) I have divided the 10 main characters in the Lord of the Rings into the four temperaments, shown how characters who share a supposed temperament may share almost nothing else in terms of what actually makes them a character, and now I’m going to look at just the three Sanguine characters, and the differences in their character arcs through the movies.  Today it’s Gollum, Gimli, and Pippin.

The Sanguine, to recap, is the hot-blooded character, a character of passions and desires, and who let these control his or her personality.  When I broke down the Scooby gang back in part 1, the Sanguines were Shaggy and Scooby.  The Sanguine character will frequently, but not always, be the comic relief within a story.  Certainly one of the Sanguine characters in Lord of the Rings, Gollum, is anything but a comic relief character, serving instead as the primary antagonist to Frodo’s quest to throw the Ring into Mount Doom.  The Sanguine can be an effective opposing force for the story, especially if his or her blindered devotion is working directly against the hero of the tale.  Many comic super villains end up firmly in the Sanguine category.  Joker, I’m looking at you.  In the end it depends on the depths a character is willing to plumb to win his or her desire.

In terms of straight comic relief let us, with some regret, turn to Gimli.  I suppose it’s easy to make the dwarf the butt of jokes, I just hope there’s less of a dwarf-tossing running gag in the Hobbit films, especially given just how many dwarves there will be.  Most of the dissatisfaction I, and others, had with the movies revolved around Gimli turning into a series of running gags.  Dwarf tossing, corpse counting, throwing out complaints about whatever situations they were in.  Then he just fades away at the end of the movie, no mention of his fate, he’s the only character who is really left open-ended by the whole thing.  Which is a shame.  It’s an easy trap to fall into with the Sanguine, however, it’s one of the easier characters to play just for their archetype, then when no longer needed, to be discard.  The Sanguine is occasionally the character killed off to prove that Shit Just Got Real.  Or allowed to fade away when it’s time for the grownups to take charge.  The Sanguine comic relief will never solve a problem, except by accident.  It’s really a shame this is who Gimli was turned into.

On the flip side we’ve got the Sanguine’s ability to evolve, which can turn them into a very powerful character within a narrative.  And here is where we get to Peregrin Took.  Who doesn’t love the line “fool of a Took”?  It’s fun to say, and it’s fantastic when delivered with the gravitas of Sir Ian McKellen.  He can be counted on to be the classic Sanguine through the first movie, wanting to stop to eat, delighted that beer comes in pints in Bree, not thinking and giving Frodo’s identity away, knocking the skeleton into the well in Moria to alert the Fellowship’s presence to the orcs in Moria.  The first moment that we see something more from Pippin is when he asks Treebeard to take them to the west of Fangorn Forest, forcing the Ents into war against Isengard, but we still see his impetuous nature when he goes diving for the palantir, ultimately looks into it, and finally drafts himself into service in Gondor.  It’s this series of three events, coupled with being pulled away from Merry, that forces Pippin’s evolution as a character and pushes him away from the Sanguine.

What he becomes is hard to say.  There are elements of both the Melancholy and Choleric to the new Pippin.  In the end we don’t get to see enough of Pippin within the movies.  Within the books, he unquestionably becomes the Choleric, taking his place as the Thain of the Shire.  It makes his evolution a much stronger statement, as he needed to do some growing up to assume his ancestral title.  In the movies, it still makes him easily my favorite character.  The more I watch the movies, the more I see that the trip into Mordor is Sam’s story, not Frodo’s, and the rest of the Fellowship is Pippin’s story, not Aragorn’s.  They are the interesting characters for how changed Pippin is when he comes home, and how unchanged Sam is.  In fact, Sam is a study in how a character not changing can still be very satisfying, but I’ve really talked about these movies for long enough already.

So let’s sum up, and let’s do so quicker than the movies themselves.  The four temperaments can be a great way of approaching your characters and making sure they have unique roles within a group dynamic.  Characters of the same temperament do not have to respond to situations in the same way.  The Sanguine can be an extremely versatile character, but has pitfalls when used solely as comic relief.  With that, I can now put these movies on a boat sailing away with the elves, and look forward to looking back with The Hobbit later this year.

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A Writer Reviews: Lord of the Rings (pt2)

The Two Cholerics

Last time on A Writer Reviews I talked about the four temperaments, then pigeonholed the 10 main characters of Lord of the Rings (the Fellowship plus Gollum) into these categories:

  • Choleric (leaders): Aragorn, Merry
  • Phlegmatic (followers): Samwise, Legolas
  • Melancholic (loaners): Gandalf, Boromir, Frodo
  • Sanguine (wild-cards): Pippin, Gollum, Gimli

This time we’re going to look at the distinctions made between characters who share a broad temperament but are still quite different, and for this we’re going to look at the two bile-based temperaments, the yellow bile Cholerics and the black bile Melancholics.

We’re getting down to archetypes here.  When we’ve got just four broad categories to fit characters into, a wide diversity is going to end up in each of these pigeon holes.  Archetypes are fine, they’re wonderful, they’re absolutely fantastic.  They exist for a reason, and readers respond to them.  However, a character needs to be more than just the sum of their archetypes, and as writers we need to keep in mind how characters of both similar and dissimilar archetypes will react to each other.  This is the essential ingredient in creating both friendships and conflicts within a story.

Let’s start with our two Cholerics.  I made the obvious pick of Aragorn and the somewhat less obvious pick of Merry when picking who the Choleric characters are within the story.  Merry isn’t given many opportunities to actually lead, but remember I’ve only called the Choleric a “leader” as a short hand.  It’s more about drive, passion, and the ability to make those quick decisions on the fly.  Yesterday I cited the example of Merry making the call for the hobbits to escape the Nazgul via the ferry, but he also takes a clear leadership role when we’re down to just he and Pippin in Orcish captivity and in Fangorn forest.  His is an interesting leadership, as he’s the one willing to take the reins when no one else is, but he’s fully willing to defer to another when presented with an option.  Put Aragorn into the formula, and he allows Pippin’s Sanguine nature to rub off on him.  This is important.  Anytime that a story has more than one natural leader in it, there will either need to be that moment of deferral or that moment of confrontation.  There is a very short confrontation when the hobbits first meet Aragorn, and the real moment of deferral happens the morning after Bree when Merry pulls Pipping along when it’s clear Aragorn is not going to stop for every hobbit meal.

In a sense, we’ve got a natural leader, and a reluctant leader.  Both are Choleric, but one never strays while the other is more than happy to experiment with being a Sanguine when the moment is opportune to do so.

Among our Melancholic types, we see a broader range of characters.  We have an energetic Melancholic, able to lead men while still fitting many of the paradigms, in Galdalf.  We have a Melancholic whose thoughtful introversion scales all the way to scheming in Boromir.  And we’ve got our miserable Melancholic who can hardly bear the burden placed on his life in Frodo.  We see two of the three overcome their base natures.  Boromir ultimately backs off when given the opportunity to snatch the ring.  Gandalf acts as the military leader at the battle of Minis Tirith.  Frodo never really does.  Even after his burden is lifted, he lives alone, and joins the elves, leaving Middle Earth.  Which is fine.  Having a character overcome their Melancholic nature can be a fantastic plot device for a story, but it isn’t a necessary one.

The problem comes with just how heavily to play the Melancholic.  This is where we get into my issues with the movie.  Two of our Melancholics are given bigger personalities.  Gandalf is the great wizard, older than the ages, plyer of magic and in many ways the architect of everything that happens in the story.  Boromir is scheming to get the ring away from Frodo.  Frodo is…depressed.  With the exception of the scene right after he’s released by Faramir he spends the entire time from the beginning of the second movie through the destruction of the Ring in a deep blue funk about how miserable he is with the path he’s been forced to take.  This.  Gets.  Tedious.  A character cannot be defined solely by his temperament, but needs some other depth or trait, especially a character nearly so introspective as a Melancholic.

So we have our temperaments, but we’ve got our layers on top of them.  We have two leaders, but one is a destined king of men while another is a hobbit who only takes the lead when no one else is going to.  We have our loaners, but one is willing to lead men, one is a schemer, and one is our overly introspective lead.

However, people change.  Characters are dynamic.  And a character who may start in one pigeonhole may end up in another.  Which is what I’ll look at tomorrow with The Return of the Sanguine.

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A Writer Reviews: Lord of the Rings (pt1)

Part One: The Fellowship of the Humors

I’d like to retread ground I’ve walked on before.  Nearly a year ago I talked briefly about using the four humors when putting together a quarter of character within a narrative structure, using a Cracked After Hours video as a basis.  At the time the concept was a new one to me, but I’ve been looking at it more and more in the months since, especially after discovering that my wife and I had accidentally created four point of view characters for our current novel that map perfectly to the four humors.

Let’s do a quick recap of the four humors, or four temperaments, for those who not aware of them.  It all started with out of date notions of psychology, explanations of human behavior in terms of the balance and imbalance of the four primary bodily fluids: blood, phlegm, yellow bile, and black bile.  This gave rise to four primary temperaments based on which of these essential humors was most in control of a given person.  Blood was sanguine, phlegm was phlegmatic, yellow bile was choleric, and black bile was melancholic.  While our understanding of bodily organs and our various internal fluids has evolved (at the time, blood was associated with the liver) and humorism no longer holds sway in psychology or medicine, the concept of the four temperaments has held on within fiction.  It’s the basis of an immediately recognizable quartet of individuals.

The sanguine individual tends to be an impulsive pleasure seeker who, in an extreme, might even be hedonistic.  We actually have a phrase in English that dates to this old four humors explanation of temperament, “hot blooded.”  The choleric individual tends to be ambitious and will take charge of a group and be its leader.  The melancholic individual tends to be a loaner, a perfectionist, and may even be a fatalist when taken to the extreme.  The phlegmatic individual is accepting, loving, and often a willing follower.

To oversimplify it within team dynamics, we have the choleric leader, the phlegmatic side kick, the melancholic outcast, and the sanguine comic relief.  This is a vast over simplification.  For one, the phlegmatic may not always be the choleric’s side kick, and the sanguine can be tragic as often as comic.  However, these simplified designations are helpful when considering just what role the four have within a group, and how it creates the classic group dynamic we’re accustomed to.  It’s one we even see starting in childhood.  Within the Scooby Doo stories, Fred is choleric, Daphne is phlegmatic, Velma is melancholic, and both Shaggy and Scooby (who are basically one character anyway) are sanguine.

This is a fantastic construct because it creates characters with natural in-built conflicts, and characters that viewers will be able to map themselves on to based on their own tendencies.

Let’s look at the Lord of the Rings.  This is a rather more complex series of groups that are constantly breaking apart and reforming.  At points there are just two characters together, at points there are as many as nine between the formation of the Fellowship and Gandalf falling in Moria.  But I’m going to break it down into two groups, based largely on the period between the fall of Gandalf and the breaking of the Fellowship.  They’re easy groups.  We’ve got the hobbits, and we’ve got the non-hobbits.  Among the non-hobbits we’ve got Aragorn as the clear choleric leader, Boromir as the dour melancholic who wants the ring for his own purposes, phlegmatic Legolas who makes only one active decision in the entire trilogy and serves otherwise as body-guard and ass kicker, and sanguine Gimli, turned into classic comic relief for the purposes of the movies.

The hobbits are a little more difficult.  It’s easy to consider Frodo the leader as he’s our protagonist through the movie (well, Sam actually is, but that’s another discussion), but he’s almost a textbook example of the melancholic, both within the temperamental definition, and the more modern idea of melancholy.  He’s the one who breaks the Fellowship by setting out on his own, and spends most of three movies bemoaning how unfair the world is.  Sam is the easy one to peg, he’s the phlegmatic follower.  At no point does he ever do anything but.  This even leads to my biggest disappointment in the movies, the moment when Sam briefly hesitates in giving the Ring back to Frodo.  In the book there’s no hesitation, as his devotion to Frodo is stronger than anything, even the allure of the Ring.  That leaves Merry and Pippin, who are so often “Merry and Pippin” that it’s easy to overlook them as their own characters, but that’s unfair.  Merry, even though he’s on the adventure to help Frodo, is actually the choleric, which doesn’t have to be synonymous with leader.  But he does take the lead at several key point, especially when the hobbits are fleeing toward the ferry.  Pippin is the sanguine, though he actually goes through more evolution than any other character.  At the beginning, he’s the one complaining that Aragorn isn’t aware of second breakfast, brunch, tea, lunch, or any of the other hobbit meals.  This rash nature ultimately gets him in trouble when he just has to look into the Palantir.  This also becomes the defining moment for his character arc, but that’s another topic.

There’s two wild cards: Gollum and Gandalf.  Gollum is easy, he’s a hot-blooded, single-minded sanguine, through and through (ignoring the split personality).  Gandalf is harder.  It’s easy to say, as with Frodo, that he must be choleric because he’s a leader.  But he’s also the one character who is the most at ease on his own within the story.  Thus, I would actually peg him as a melancholic, as he’s a loan wolf often concerned with the larger fate of the world.

That means within the story we get the following groups:

  • Full set of each (the Hobbits leaving the Shire)
  • 3 Melancholics, 2 Sanguines, 2 Cholerics, and 2 Phlegmatics (the Fellowship)
  • Melancholic, Sanguine, Phlegmatic (Frodo and Sam heading to Mordor, and led by Gollum)
  • Choleric and Sanguine (Merry and Pippin, luring the Ents to war)
  • Sanguine, Phlegmatic, Choleric (The remains of the Fellowship, trying to save Merry and Pippin, and getting into every major battle)
  • Full quartet (Gandalf rejoining the above group in Fangorn)
  • Melancholic and Sanguine (Gandalf and Pippin setting off with the Palantir)

These personalities lead entirely to the dynamic within each group.  It makes the trudge of Sam and Frodo rather tedious, as there’s no leadership qualities in any of the characters, so the Melancholic is bemoaning his fate, the Phlegmatic is commiserating, and the Sanguine is plotting his take down of the other two.  It makes the adventures of Aragorn, Legolas, and Gimli throwaway fun, as there’s nothing to really ground the group, which is why their adventures of body counting can transcend to the frankly silly.  Merry and Pippin?  Ah, that’s a little more complicated, and something I’ll talk about on Wednesday.

Now that we’ve pigeonholed everyone into four categories, and I’m already well over 1000 words, I’m going to turn this post into its own three part epic.  Tomorrow I’m going to look at how different characters within each of the four temperaments can be from one another.

Part Two: The Two Cholerics (Coming tomorrow)

Part Three: The Return of the Sanguine (Coming Wednesday)

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