The Soul Triptych in Pop Culture

Have you heard of the soul triptych?  Probably not.  But if you’re a fan of pop literature and entertainment, you’ve experienced its power.

The soul triptych is a literary device that appears in books, television, and film.  It refers to three  complimentary characters in a story, with one representing the body, another representing the mind, and a third representing the spirit.

harry potter trio

In a soul triptych, the body character is usually physically strong, and is driven by passions or bodily desires.  The mind character, on the other hand, is the brains of the trio, and is often the one who formulates plans.  This character is primarily driven by rational thinking.  The spirit character, in contrast, follows his or her heart when making decisions.

I was introduced to this concept by literary scholar John Granger.  His books on Harry Potter and the Twilight Saga shed light on why these works are so popular.  As I learned from Mr. Granger, soul triptychs feature prominently in both of these series.

The Soul Triptych in The Sopranos

A classic example of a soul triptych is found in the HBO series The Sopranos.

This show chronicles a fictional mafia family living in modern-day America.  Three of its primary characters are Tony Soprano, the mob boss, Dr. Jennifer Melfi, his psychiatrist, and Carmella Soprano, his wife.  Together, these three are the perfect illustration of a soul triptych.

Tony Soprano is the epitome of a body character.  He is physically strong and driven by his passions.  He is prone to rage, materialism, and lust.  But beneath his confidant demeanor lies deep seated fear, paranoia and doubt.

Dr. Jennifer Melfi, his psychiatrist, is the mind character.  She is a rational, clear thinker who seeks to help Tony to better his own motives and fears.  Through her intervention Tony is able to mature emotionally.

the sopranos

Carmella Soprano, Tony’s wife, is the spirit character.  She is sensitive and caring, and functions as the glue who holds the family together.  She is a religious person who follows her heart in every decision that she makes.

Each of these three characters possess different, yet complimentary traits.  These differences fuel conflict, but also drive character development.  This is what make the soul triptych such an effective storytelling device.

Other Popular Soul Triptychs

Once aware of the concept, you’ll start to notice that soul triptychs appear across pop culture in a variety of mediums.

Here’s are some of the most popular:

  • Harry Potter:  Ron (body), Hermione (mind), Harry (spirit)
  • Twilight:  Jacob (body), Edward (mind), Bella (spirit)
  • Hunger Games:  Gale (body), Katniss (mind), Peeta (spirit)
  • The Lord of the Rings:  Gollum (body), Frodo (mind), Sam (spirit)
  • Star Wars:  Han Solo (body), Leia (mind), Luke (spirit)

These represent just a sampling of the soul triptychs permeating pop culture today.  In each of these cases, the three characters are very different from one another.  Yet they join together perfectly, like pieces of a puzzle.

Now that you’re familiar with this storytelling device, tell us about any other soul triptychs in pop culture you recognise.

Antonio del Drago

Antonio del Drago is the author of The Mythic Guide to Characters: Writing Characters Who Enchant and Inspire, a layered approach to writing characters that is based on psychology and archetypes. He’s also the founder of Mythic Scribes, an online writing community.

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