Have You Ever Had A Character Steal Your Heart?

Johnny Lancer

Have you ever been viscerally drawn to a character from myth or story, or even from a book or film?

You know, one that instantly grabs you by the proverbial ovarios and won’t let go? In other words, speaks to your heart so deeply that your soul leaps out to greet it?

From the beginning of time, humans have responded to the symbology we know as archetypes. Our cells literally resonate to them, even if we haven’t the words to explain why.

Archetypes are innate symbols of the experience of what it means to be human. I.e., they represent basic human behavior and situations.

The psychologist Carl Jung based much of his work on these as they relate to the collective unconscious, and what they mean to the human psyche. How these characters are symbols of deeper meanings and myths within us, whether they be traits one ascribes to or already embodies.

“The archetype concept derives from the often repeated observation that myths and universal literature stories contain well defined themes which appear every time and everywhere. We often meet these themes in the fantasies, dreams, delirious ideas and illusions of persons living nowadays.” ~Jung

The hero’s journey, after all, is one we all take. We’re each the ultimate hero of our own story. Although as Jung teaches, at the same time we’re also just spear chukers in another’s heroic tale.

There’s a reason that the great characters from modern books and film resonate as well, as they, too, plug into ancient archetypes within us. In other words, at their core, they embody elements of mythological heroes.

In I Just Came here to Dance, the almost main character, Diana, is named for the Goddess of the Hunt. Quite fierce and a huntress in her own right, Diana holds together an eclectic group of folks while facing foes from within and without.

Ah, what joy it was to write her.

Recently I’ve had an archetypal experience that rocked me to my core. In my world, everything, literally everything is energy. Although sometimes I lose that thread . . .

Forty-five years ago, I fell in love with a character from an old TV series, Lancer.

Forty-five years ago, I fell in love with a character from an old TV series, Lancer.

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Now, I’ve never fallen for actors, themselves. I can see an actor in a host of roles, and not be drawn to him at all, even after loving one character he played. In other words, the actor, in every other role, doesn’t do anything for me.

It’s the archetype of the character who steals my heart, and speaks to my soul.

Johnny Madrid Lancer did that for me, all those decades ago.

I hadn’t thought of him since.

Then, oddly, a month or so back, he popped into my consciousness. Out of the proverbial blue. So, I googled Lancer, and came up with a gazillion hits. One of which had a clip from the show.

As soon as it started, I sat simply rapt. And transported not so much back in time as back to the present and future. An odd, odd feeling, indeed.

So of course, like any obsessed fan, I dug and dug until I found the entire 3-year, 51-episode series (in un-digitally remastered so original form, to boot) on e-bay and bought it.

Imagine my glee, watching these episodes now!

And my puzzlement at being viscerally drawn into a character, over 45 years later . . .

Johnny was the bad boy with a heart of gold, who grows into a fine man.

johnny lancer and scott

We don’t need Jung to analyze that!

But with courage and kindness, he retains that spark of wildness and freedom, of untamed, unbroken, unbridled passion. As Murdock says to his prodigal son at one point, “Part of you will always be Johnny Madrid.”

So why, all this time later, did I find myself running after him?

Like you, I’ve been pretty busy being an adult. The last 20 years, I’ve just worked my butt off. The last ten years added all those “issues” of living—dealing with ill parents for a very long stretch, then hospitals, dying, and death. Then managing all their related “stuff,” which took years after. Add more family issues (amazing how those come after the deaths of parents). Then undertaking a blogging career and having a novel launch, and all the while running an editorial business and trying to keep the actual writing of fiction going.

Oh, and showing dogs and having puppies and . . .

You know, life.

Adulting, as it were.

Only this year have I been finally able to catch my breath, after 10 pretty long ones.

Only this year am I back to writing a new novel, albeit in fits and starts.

Only this year have I plugged deeply into that passion that feeds my very soul.

Only this year, back to being me.

So it’s not that crazy that the original wild man in my psyche decides to bubble back up. Which isn’t exactly accurate. Rather, he came roaring back in.

As Jung would call it, the very animus at my core. The male side that when integrated into my psyche produces a whole human being.

The archetype of Johnny Madrid Lancer to me is courage to pursue my passion. It’s a fearlessness—which folks once said of my fiction. It’s honesty in its rawest form.

But mostly, it’s about freedom. From societal constraints. Freedom to act from a place of pure ethics rather than laws.

So now as I dive back into the new novel, I take all of that with me. The courage. The fearlessness. The honesty.

And most importantly, the freedom to go chase wild horses.

As Clarissa Pinkola Estes said in Women Who Run With the Wolves: Myths and stories of the Wild Woman Archetype:

“Bone by bone, hair by hair, Wild Woman comes back. Through night dreams, through events half understood and half remembered...”

I am mightily blessed.

What archetypes speak to you?

About the Author Susan Malone

Award-winning writer and editor Susan Mary Malone is the author of the novels, "I Just Came Here to Dance" and "By the Book," as well as four co-authored nonfiction books, including "What’s Wrong with My Family?" and many published short stories. Forty-plus Malone-edited books have now sold to traditional publishers.

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44 comments
Colleen says September 21, 2016

Neat post, Susan. I’ve had “visits” from characters over the years, too, and it’s interesting when they seem to pop up. Sounds like yours came back just at the right time. Good luck with the new novel!

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    Susan Malone says September 21, 2016

    Isn’t it just wonderful when they come to visit, Colleen! And thank you about the novel. You know what that’s like! Am so loving getting back to it. Want to take off a year and go play. Lol.

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Renee groskreutz says September 21, 2016

Some characters just stay with us and change us. I just caught up on a series called Homeland and the main character haunts me to this day. Her brain fascinates me and it has impacted how I view mental illness.

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Lori English says September 21, 2016

Susan,
Great article and yes archetypes are a very interesting study on how we communicate and sometimes choose our partners . I loved the post and really sparked up some thoughts.
Lori English

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    Susan Malone says September 21, 2016

    It’s funny, Lori, I think I looked for that man all my life . . .

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Jennifer Quisenberry says September 21, 2016

As a filmmaker and a writer, I’d have to yell out a big resounding YES! I fall in love with characters all the time. There are so many. I’ve led so many lives vicariously through these characters and enjoy their journeys myself. I find myself drawn to characters who are complicated – who don’t have easy choices to make and despite the odds- rise above.

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    Susan Malone says September 21, 2016

    I love that, Jennifer. I’m drawn to those sorts of characters as well. I think they speak to the heart of what makes us tick . . .

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Beverley Golden says September 21, 2016

How wonderful that “Lancer” came back so strongly for you all these years later, Susan. Reading this, I wondered if a character like him might show up in your new book. Maybe because I adored my father, but I seem to be very drawn to the sensitive, gentle male character who has a wonderful balance of masculine and feminine. Although I used to be drawn to the archetypal ‘bad boy’, not so much anymore. Maybe it was my own inner ‘bad girl’ wanting to come out back then and I imagine she is still there somewhere. When you mentioned ‘energy’, that is how I describe the people I am attracted to. It isn’t so much a look, but a very specific energy that I am drawn to. Sometimes it isn’t something I can easily put into words either. Wishing you a wonderful time writing your new book and for sharing this post with us. It truly resonated with me!

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    Susan Malone says September 21, 2016

    It was so odd, Beverley–Lancer came back out of the proverbial blue! And I think being drawn to the “bad boy” is a rite-of-passage for most girls 🙂 What was so wonderful about this character is that you saw him grow and change almost from the first episode. Just wonderful writing and characterization.
    But like you, I’m drawn to an energy. And it is difficult to put into words, isn’t it. That’s why archetypes and symbols work so well.
    Glad this resonated with you!

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Reba Linker says September 21, 2016

Oh how I love this post, Susan. the heart has its own mind, so to speak. I’ve always been attracted to certain ‘bad boy’ type actors – Jack Nicholson and Donald Sutherland for two examples – could they be my ‘male side’ and not just a weakness for the wild boys? What an interesting notion. I love how you’ve used this idea to empower your next chapter (literally and figuratively!) – best wishes on your new novel!

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    Susan Malone says September 22, 2016

    Bad boys are just so enticing, aren’t they, Reba. What always draws me is what they then do with it. Ah, those bad boys who have deeper sides, and face their demons . . . Now, that’s a male side to latch onto!

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Sabrina Quairoli says September 21, 2016

I love this. The Harry Potter character is my favorite. Sorry to say I didn’t have a favorite characters when I was a kid. He had struggles but eventually came out on top. Everyone can relate to that. I know I can.

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    Susan Malone says September 22, 2016

    Don’t you love when a character faces his foes, and keeps on to succeed, Sabrina!

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Tamuria says September 21, 2016

I love those out of the blue moments where the universe gives you a little poke to remind you of what you already know. Wonderful that Lancer came back into your life at the perfect time. We often have to put some parts of our life on hold while we deal with other aspects that need immediate attention. The trick is not to get stuck in that habit when there is the freedom to return to the core of who we are. I’ve been influenced by many different characters that spoke to me on some level. Good luck with the book.

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    Susan Malone says September 22, 2016

    It is easy to get stuck in the mundane, but don’t you love how the Universe never lets us down, Tamuria! That soft whisper, that poke, to bring you home again. Such a blessing.

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Kristen Wilson says September 21, 2016

Too funny.. this is great.. love it. I have a thing for Tommy Lee Jones and love the chick on Madam Secretary… love them two.. but not in a star struck kind of thing.

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    Susan Malone says September 22, 2016

    I’m laughing, Kristen. I don’t have a thing for Tommy Lee Jones per se, but have always been in love with Cap’n Call. With me it’s always the character, not the actor. Lol.

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Rachel Lavern says September 21, 2016

Too funny. I’m sure that I’ve liked some actor as much as you like Johnny in my past; however, since I haven’t watched television or even gone to the movies in a long while, my mind is blank.

Oh, and my primary archetype is The Rebel aka The revolutionary, wild woman, the misfit.

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    Susan Malone says September 22, 2016

    I know the feeling, Rachel. Johnny Lancer came into my life 45 years ago!

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Chastity says September 21, 2016

Anything with Ryan Gosling! I also love the characters in That 70’s Show – oh how I wish I could be there friend:)

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Alene Geed says September 22, 2016

Thanks so much for this great post. I have been drawn to heroes in books. Right now I am enamored with Chief Inspector Gammache from the Louise Penny series. Your own experience was fun to read about too

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    Susan Malone says September 22, 2016

    Don’tcha just love when that happens, Alene! Heroes in books grab me too. Often even my own characters!

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Joyce says September 22, 2016

I’ve found it interesting since reading your post as to which characters I respond to. For men, it’s always been Cary Grant and the updated version George Cooney. It thinks it’s their element of mischievousness that I notice. When it comes to women, there is no specific one, but fascinated by all the women detectives in the movies.

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    Susan Malone says September 22, 2016

    Oh, I love that mischievousness too, Joyce! I tend to love one with an edge as well 🙂

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Nicole Escat says September 22, 2016

I can’t think of a character that touches my heart. All I am watching for now are Disney films and cartoons!

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Bill S says September 22, 2016

I know my wife has had a couple characters she has swooned over before!

I know my wife has had a couple of characters steal her heart! It is funny how characters from books and movies can pop back up.

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Teresa Salhi says September 22, 2016

I love when I am moved by a character and have that deeper connection. I recently wrote about a movie “Begin Again” which I felt this way so much that I watched it about 8 times now I am inspired now to check out ‘this lovely “goddess of the hunt” for more inspiration for an upcoming goddess program/ retreat I’m hosting. Thanks for the nice read Susan.

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    Susan Malone says September 22, 2016

    Isn’t that the coolest ting, Teresa! I do that too, although usually with books–read them over and over and over. Tweaked by your goddess program/retreat!

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Sharon M Hart says September 22, 2016

This article certainly caught my attention. Yes, there are characters that have stolen my heart and so engaged me that I sometimes lament that they are fictional. I wish they were alive in the world, doing all the charming, witty, intriguing, – you name it – things that they do. HEIDI is the first full-length book I read as a child and the title character stole my heart. I loved (and still do) her “joie de vivre.”

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    Susan Malone says September 22, 2016

    Oh, I loved Heidi’s joie de vivre too, Sharon! And I’m like you–sometimes it seems like fictional characters really are real. At least to me. Then again, as a novelist, my own characters come to life in my head 🙂

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Elizabeth O says September 23, 2016

No, no characters have stolen my heart. I’ve watched movies that moved me though.

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Joan M Harrington says September 23, 2016

Hi Susan,
Really interesting and something I had not thought about as to what character has really had an affect on me? Over the years I have seen tons of movies and watched many tv shows and right now I can not really think of anyone that has had such an affect like you write about in your post……..Will have to think about this one a little more 🙂

Great thought-provoking post 🙂

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    Susan Malone says September 23, 2016

    I’m just weird like that, Joan. Lol. But it’s a ton of fun chasing wild horses with Johnny Madrid Lancer 🙂

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Jackie Harder says September 26, 2016

Bond. James Bond. Not sure why…except Sean Connery was (and still is) a hottie. I loved the character’s strength, on all levels, as well as his ability to troubleshoot (hahaha!) and solve problems. I love doing those things myself. Maybe that’s why the character spoke to me. But I am not a spy. And never have been. Sorry.

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    Susan Malone says September 26, 2016

    Love it, Jackie. It’s not the profession but the character that speaks to you. Although, hm, perhaps thou protests too much? I’ll have to keep an eye on you!

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Karen says September 26, 2016

When we “indulge’ in a passion that feeds our souls, we are open to learning and growing. I love that your character came roaring back, just when you needed him.

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    Susan Malone says September 27, 2016

    Isn’t that the truth, Karen! It cracks us back open to the wonder of life . . .

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Beverly says March 19, 2018

I loved your article about falling in love with characters. I, too, fell in love with Johnny Madrid Lancer. I was about 13 when Lancer first aired. I have recently rediscovered this wonderful show and the “love of my life”. Not only was he adorable, but he rode a palomino, just like me. I felt very connected to this character.

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    Susan Malone says March 20, 2018

    So happy to meet another Johnny Girl, Beverly! I too was about 13 when it first aired. And ahhhh . . . don’t we just adore him!

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