The power of heroes and archetypes
Long before Harry Bosch chased criminals in LA, I had similar hero archetypes from fictional characters.
In the 50’s and 60’s an LA detective show called Dragnet was on television every week. Jack Webb, creator of the original radio drama and TV series, played the lead role. Sergeant Joe Friday delivered his signature phase, “Just the facts, ma’am” at least once in every show. He always solved the crime and caught the criminal.
Another regular television show at this time was The Lone Ranger. In the origin story from the radio drama, one Texas Ranger survived a massacre of a team of six rangers. The lone survivor wears a mask, roaming Texas, rounding up the bad guys. Again, he delivered justice with every show.
As a boy growing up in West Texas at that time, I was influenced by these hero archetypes. Like Superman, whose motto of “Truth, Justice, and the American Way”, I aspired to do the right thing no matter what.
Then, in the early 90’s, another fictional hero came into my world and I was instantly hooked.
Enter Hieronymus “Harry” Bosch
The Black Echo, published in 1992, introduced LA homicide detective Hieronymus “Harry” Bosch.
According to Michael Connelly, Bosch is a tenacious detective with a strong personal code that drives him to seek justice for murder victims.
Harry Bosch shares many characteristics with my childhood heroes. I know there are times that I’ve modeled myself after these archetypes. I also know there are deep hidden influences from their stories that have guided my decisions.
Seth Godin wrote about this in a marketing essay.
“More than features, more than benefits, we are driven to become a member in good standing of the tribe. We want to be respected by those we aspire to connect with, we want to know what we ought to do to be part of that circle.”People like us (do things like this) – Seth Godin
Our hero archetypes come from our tribe. They are a key to what’s driving us in the story of our lives.
As I write this, the sixth season of Bosch, an Amazon video series has just been released. Like a true fan, I binge watched all ten episodes over the course of a few days. I found myself wondering why I like this character so much?
What influence does this archetype play in my life?
What drives Harry Bosch as a hero archetype
When you’re writing characters, you need to know what’s driving them, both their external and internal motivations. For Bosch, the external motivation is seeking justice – that’s why he’s a homicide detective in LA.
That being said, the hero’s journey is driven by the internal motivations of the character. I believe, for Bosch, his internal motivation is simple.
He has to know the truth.
Bosch’s mother was a prostitute who was murdered when he was eleven years old. He’s spent years trying to find out who did it. His quest to know the truth led to the discovery of his father’s identity. A half-brother appeared and became a significant part of his life. And, eventually, he solves the mystery of who killed her.
This drive for knowing the truth is the theme of his life as a homicide detective. It’s why it’s much more than a job to him.
But, as with all good stories, such a powerful drive has a dark side and Bosch’s life reveals this completely.
Your greatest strength is often your biggest weakness
A quest for the truth starts when the character discovers they’ve been lied to.
Bosch has a deep and abiding distrust of authority. He comes by it honestly. After his mother’s death he was dropped into a horrible world of social services, abusive orphanages, and foster homes.
Harry Bosch’s life fits the classic archetype of the hero’s journey.
Besides having to learn how to survive in this world, the burning question for him is what happened to his mother. No one will tell him anything. And what they do tell him he doesn’t believe.
He has lots of proof that people lie. He’s learned that people in power are never to be trusted.
As a result, he’s constantly breaking the rules and stepping over the line. On the surface it seems like he’s just fighting against the system. But he’s actually driven by his never ending quest for the truth. The system and authority figures just keep getting in the way.
So, why do I resonate with this character?
How I’m like Bosch
I share his distrust for people in authority and his search for the truth. I know that my authority issues have created struggle in my life. And my trust issues have resulted in poor relationship decisions just like the character.
At the same time, I’ve benefited from a drive to seek the truth. For me, it’s been through studies of many spiritual practices in the world. I want to know why we’re here, what’s the purpose of life.
Bosch isn’t concerned with questions of philosophy. He’s not even concerned with why someone did what they did. He just wants to know who did it.
He’s tenacious. He keeps going long after a reasonable person would quit. It’s a powerful archetype for a hero.
I like that quality in myself and the people in my world.
Bosch mixes process with intuition
Harry Bosch stories fall into the genre of police procedurals because they focus on the details of the processes and procedures used to solve the crime. Most of the time, we find out who committed the crime early in the story. The process he takes to actually prove it is the engine that drives the plot.
I approach my work, personal and professional, as a process. I’m great with complex projects with lots of moving parts. Like Bosch, I know the systems I’ve developed will deliver quality results.
If you’re a process person, having a role model of someone who leaves no stone unturned is great.
At the same time, Bosch relies on his heightened sense of intuition. Not only can he smell bullshit a mile away, he often finds the key clue by realizing that something’s missing that should be there. He notices details that most people overlook based on his intuition.
I find the ability to shift between well-defined processes and intuitive insights is useful. It’s often the discovery of some small element that’s missing that unlocks the path to successfully completing the project.
I relate to Bosch’s humanity
Good characters have more than one dimension. We love to see the humanity of our hero archetypes in ways that we can relate to. I appreciate and share some of the human touches that Connelly has given Harry Bosch.
Bosch has an encyclopedic knowledge of jazz from LA musicians of the 50’s and 60’s. I love that the real-life stories of these musicians are brought into the Bosch tales. But, while I listen to a lot of jazz, I’m fairly eclectic in my music choices. I don’t think Bosch would approve.
In the books, Bosch listens to CD’s but in the show he plays nothing but vinyl records on vintage equipment. His Marantz 6300 turntable feeds a McIntosh MX110 tuner/preamp. This is connected to a McIntosh 240 tube amplifier powering Ohm Walsh 4 speakers. At a cost of $12 to $15 thousand dollars, this is a serious system.
As a life-long musician and producer of audio and video projects, I appreciate the decisions of the show’s set designer in their choice of vintage gear. These days, my systems are downsized and I enjoy the amazing quality of current technology. Still, I remember the sound of my Mac 240 – it was very sweet.
We drink the same beer
Bosch’s favorite beer is Fat Tire Amber Ale brewed in Fort Collins, Colorado. I lived in Fort Collins in the late 80’s and early 90’s when Fat Tire was first introduced. Craft breweries were just starting and you could only get Fat Tire from a few local restaurants and liquor stores.
At that time, I was into drinking wine. Beer was something you had with a burger at a picnic. Then I tasted Fat Tire at a local craft beer festival and I fell in love with amber ales.
I’m not sure why Connolly decided on Fat Tire. Maybe he found the story of New Belgium Brewery inspiring. Maybe he got to taste it on a trip through northern Colorado. However he got there, even after thirty years I still agree with Bosch. Fat Tire is a great beer.
All that being said, this character has made plenty of life choices that I don’t admire.
Here’s why I can’t be Harry Bosch.
Bosch is a classic lone wolf
One of the results of Bosch’s deep distrust is that he is alone. He chooses cold, hard women and his relationships rarely last for long. Bosch has no male friends. He gets along okay with his coworkers but doesn’t socialize with them outside of work.
His daughter moved in with him after her mother was killed in one of the stories. But they are more like roommates than family.
Harry Bosch is not a great hero archetype when it comes to relationships.
When we struggle with trusting people, we create lonely lives for ourselves. We can change that by learning to be emotionally available in spite of our distrust. I’ve put a good deal of effort in learning to be more emotionally available and to do the work of building good relationships. But that’s not something this character can do.
The seedy side of life engulfs Bosch
As a homicide detective, he’s immersed in the worst of humanity.
Beyond that, he obsesses about his cases. He pours over the details of cases at home. Bosch continues to work cases from years ago. He keeps pictures of victims under the glass covering his desktop.
I’ve never wanted to be a cop. I have no desire to carry a gun or bring criminals to justice. I’m glad there are people who take this role in life and I respect the service they provide society.
I just don’t want to live in that world.
That being said, I do love a good whodunnit. The first time I read a Sherlock Holmes story as a teenager I was hooked. And, yes, Sherlock is another fictional hero in my list of archetypes.
It’s human nature to adopt fictional characters as role models
Humans love stories. Since we’ve huddled around warm fires in caves, we’ve told stories of heroes and villains, struggles and victories. The hero’s journey is a deeply ingrained part of human nature.
We identify with the hero because we all believe that we’re “the good guys.” Knowing this, storytellers through the ages have crafted tales to influence people. They teach the tribe that these choices are good and those are bad.
Even when the story is just a ripping good yarn, like the Harry Bosch stories, we’re likely to use the hero as an archetype. We make decisions and structure our lives based on our archetypes.
It’s wisdom to take a look at these every now and then. You may find some of the power behind your life decisions. If you find those decisions to be not so useful, it might be time to find some new heroes.