Classical Archetypes V – The Huntsman and the Gladiator

Cook Lake in the Bridger Wilderness, Bridger-T...

I'd move there

The hardy man of the wilds is an ancient archetype, going back to the dawn of humanity – and so appears under many, MANY, names. We have military scouts, Tolkien’s rangers, mountain men,  outriders, gamekeepers, jungle lords, barbarians, explorers, research biologists and ecologists, wildlife experts, and even bounty hunters – but the only real difference lies in whether the Huntsman is of the wilds or of the city.

The Huntsman of the Wilds is dedicated to the wilderness – preserving and defending it, living in harmony with it, or simply exploring and understanding it. Their place is in the wilds – and without them, they have no true purpose. The mountain man who flees civilization for the wilds, the Alaskan frontiersman who prefers to live a hundred miles from any major community, the grizzled prospector, the biologist who spends twenty years camped out deep in an african wildlife preserve investigating the habits of a community of animals, nature artists, fur trappers who make sure that they don’t adversely impact the land, and many more all fall into this category.

The Huntsman of the City is dedicated to defending humanity against the rampant dangers of the wilds, taming the lands and seas for the benefit of men. Explorers, pioneers, game wardens, and hunter-gatherers all fall into this category – as, do military scouts (who usually simply count peoples and realms other than their own among the “dangers of the wilds”) and bounty hunters who feel that people who have placed themselves outside the rules of civilization have become a part of the menaces of the wilds.

Regardless of the name, the Huntsman is a rugged, dangerous, and barely-civilized individual. He or she is a consummate master of wilderness skills – of hunting and tracking, of the lore and handling of animals, of living off the land and gathering its resources, and of otherwise getting along on their own. A huntsman is generally an adequate fighter – but he or she is rarely the best around, in part because they normally avoid the encumbrance of serious armor. On the other hand, they are superb survivors – tough, healthy, and capable of recovering from almost any less-than-fatal injury. In fact, they’re often capable of treating injuries in others; some surprisingly-effective rough-and-ready medical skills are a normal part of the package.

Unfortunately for those with a bent towards “tables of organization” or “lines of command”, huntsmen tend to have a definite independent streak – and a serious dislike of crowds. Groups of Huntsmen are rare; the “natural unit” of Huntsmen is one. One or two buddies, apprentices, or children – or a very small group of non-huntsmen who need a guide – is about the limit. Beyond that point, the natural tendency is to split up, and get back out there where it’s isolated and there’s nothing to come between the huntsman and the grandeur of nature.

A Huntsman obviously makes an excellent addition to any group that plans on wilderness travel and adventure – but he or she will usually find little to do if the group’s activities revolve around intrigue or politics. Some people try to stretch the archetype to cover “the wilderness of the streets” – but a knowledge of tailing, common scams, and the habits of street gangs really doesn’t have much to do with the Huntsman.

Unsurprisingly, while the Huntsman is a strong and deeply-rooted archetype, it hasn’t changed much at all over the centuries.

In part, that’s due to the legendary “romance of the wilderness”. That notion is almost as deeply embedded in human consciousness as the Huntsman is. After all, the rejection of “modern complexity” and “modern crowding” probably started with the development of agriculture – when some members of the early tribes found that they preferred to go out and watch the flocks, rather than put up with swarms of noisy children, screaming babies, and digging in the fields that came with village life. Even today, the pull of the easy (if dangerous and often short) lifestyle of the hunter-gatherer is strong; that’s why parks and camping trips are so popular – even if the disadvantages of that lifestyle send most people back to civilization again fairly quickly.

More importantly, it’s due to the fact that this particular archetype really doesn’t have anywhere to go. About the only major variant is someone who actually turns out to be fairly sophisticated underneath the rough exterior – the “Banished Heir” or “Voluntary Exile” routine. In some cases, that turns out to be inherent; Lord Greystroke may have been raised by apes, but blood will tell – at least in fiction – and he turned into a very proper lordling after a brief exposure to good old England. In other cases it turns out to be because the Huntsman followed some other career as a youth before he or she withdrew into the wilderness or received extra training (often requiring an extended lifespan) because he or she is expected to carry on some old tradition.

When you can sum things up in three words – “skillful wilderness survivor” – about all you can do is add elements. Any modifications will take you to a different archetype entirely.

The Gladiator may be known as a prizefighter, a kickboxer, a rough-and-tumble ringmaster, or a professional wrestler, but the profession really hasn’t changed all that much beyond the fact that serious casualties are rarer than they used to be. Some classical Gladiators were volunteers, in it for personal, religious, or monetary reasons – and that percentage has only increased as forcing prisoners to fight has gone out of style – but the basic notion is still quite recognizable.

When people are fighting for other people’s entertainment, Gladiators are those rare and fortunate few who find that – whether by training or instinct – they can usually satisfy a crowd without actually getting seriously injured. Quite often, they can even do it without anyone being genuinely injured at all – whether due to simple showmanship, the old “hidden bag of blood” routine (which goes back a LOT further than you’d think), or due to more advanced tricks and special effects. As with current professional wrestling, appearances and drama are at least as important as actual skill – and are often far more important.

In other words, a good gladiator is a skilled actor, an expert in intimidation, knows a variety of flashy (if not necessarily tremendously effective) combat techniques, knows how to use a fairly wide variety of weapons, armor, and unarmed techniques (if not necessarily the most practical selection) and really knows how to put on a show. They carefully nourish their reputations, since a strong reputation is one of a Gladiator’s most vital tools – often more important than their combat abilities. Even if they have every intention of retiring peacefully, living high, occasionally assaulting people at random, feuds and (VERY) public arguments, and personal excess is all a part of the show.

If you travel with a Gladiator in your party, the more straightforward fighters will probably do a good deal more damage to your enemies – but the Gladiator will get the credit. He or she will also get you into the good parties, intimidate bandits into leaving you along, get you past guards on the strength of his or her reputation, be expected to carry weapons in town, and attract lucrative offers of employment. After all, everyone KNOWS that Anteaus the Devastator, winner of more than sixty bouts in the arena, and one of the greatest Gladiators of the age, can surely handle a few assassins, or monsters, or whatever the local problem is – and you wouldn’t DREAM of insulting him by offering too little money! He might take your head off just for the fun of it!

Remember! Gladiators are People Persons.

Watching someone who’s “not like us” fight, suffer, and die, has always been considered a fine spectator sport. It’s quite understandable really; the worst competition for a group of creatures is a similar group nearby, so it’s no real surprise to find that there’s an instinctive attraction to the idea of seeing something nasty happen to them. Worse, unlike the “basic” hostilities among plans and animals (which can be horrifyingly ruthless, but generally aren’t malign), intelligent beings can be very, VERY, creative about finding exotic and horrible things to do to each other. It’s not one of their more attractive features.  

Fortunately, intelligent beings can also be quite creative about extending the group of  “those like us” who are to be cooperated with. Nationality, religion, social class, economic philosophy, and a hundred other markers have all been used – with considerable success – to extend the size of a cooperative group of humans beyond the basic tribe.

Still, the continuing popularity of genocide, grossly violent films, and violent attacks on anyone who has placed themselves outside the group, demonstrates eloquently that our worst instincts are still with us – as does the rampant tribalism of the poorly socialized adolescents who are now so common.

Whether willingly or unwillingly, Gladiators exploit those instincts. They are entertainers – albeit sometimes ones with an unusually stiff termination clause in their contracts if they fail to amuse.

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