The Professor and the Madman through an Archetypal Lens

The Professor and the Madman

The Professor and the Madman by Simon Winchester, is a book about the creation of the Oxford English Dictionary. The book tells the real life story of two men, Professor James Murray and Dr. William Minor, and how they came together to create the Oxford English Dictionary, which at the time, seemed impossible. After reading half of the book, there are three archetype characters that come to mind: the creator, the mentor, and the everyman.

Dr. William Minor was born on the island of Ceylon (Sri Lanka) in June 1834. After many years, he made his way to the United States, where he studied medicine at Yale University. After graduating with a degree and specialization in comparative anatomy, Dr. Minor applied to the Union army as a surgeon. They say that what made Dr. Minor go crazy was that he was forced to brand a Irish deserter, “he pressed the glowing metal onto the Irishman’s cheek. The flesh sizzled, the blood bubbled and steamed; the prisoner screamed and screamed” (Winchester 61). After being released from an insane asylum, Dr. Minor decided that he wanted to, “rest, read, paint”, and planned to stay a year in Europe (Winchester 73). When in England, Dr. Minor shot and killed a man and was again deemed insane, and again sent to an asylum, where he remains. I think that Dr. William Minor is an example of the everyman archetype. I think this because he is an

The ordinary man

ordinary man, who was a surgeon, that becomes insane because of extreme circumstances. Dr. Minor is force to brand an Irish deserter and shows clears signs of not wanting to do it, “he hesitated for a moment–a hesitation that betrayed his own reluctance–for was this, he wondered briefly, truly permitted under the terms of his Hippocratic oath? The officers grunted for him to continue” (Winchester 61). While in the asylum, Dr. Minor received an offer from Professor James Murray, that asks for volunteers to send in words that they have come across and the sentences from which they saw them. With Dr. Minor, being bored, I assume he will take him up on his offer, but I don’t know as I haven’t read that far. I think that in the future I will be able to classify Dr. Minor as a hero archetype, because I think that he will help Professor Murray and will have to overcome many obstacles, with him being in an insane asylum.

I think that Professor James Murray is the creator and mentor archetype. I think this

The Creator

because, it is said that he once invented “water wings made from bundles of pond iris, he tied them to his arms but was turned upside down by more buoyancy than he calculated, and would have drowned had not his friends rescued him by pulling him from the lake with his five-foot-long bow tie” (Winchester 34). Murray is also very intelligent by the age of seventeen he was, “an assistant headmaster, eagerly passing on the knowledge that he had so keenly amassed; by twenty he was a full-fledged headmaster of the local subscription academy” (Winchester 34). He is also able to speak many languages, “I possess a general acquaintance with the languages & literature of the Aryan and Syro-Arabic classes…I have a more intimate acquaintance as with the Romance tongues, Italian, French, Catalan, Spanish, Latin & in a less degree Portuguese, Vaudois, Provençal and various dialects. In the Teutonic branch, i am tolerably familiar with Dutch, Flemish, German, Danish” (Winchester 36-37). Professor Murray also, is the lead for the creation of the Oxford English Dictionary. This is an enormous task but as a creator would say “if it can be imagined, it can be created” (Hudnall). I think that as the books progresses, Professor James Murray will become more of a mentor, as I think he and Dr. Minor will come together, and Murray will have to teach Minor how to do things related to creating a dictionary.

Therefore I think that there is three main archetypes within the book and I think that in the future there will be four. I think that Dr. Minor is the everyman archetype now and will become the hero later in the book, as the story progress, but it is to early to tell. I also think that Professor James Murray is the mentor and creator archetype and will become solely a mentor in the future, as I think he will have to aid Dr. Minor in getting out of the asylum and with helping create the dictionary.

Works Cited

Hudnall, Ariel. “Archetypes: Creator.” Memoirs of a Time Here-After. N.p., 28 June 2015. Web. 12 July 2017. <https://arielhudnall.com/2015/06/28/archetypes-creator/&gt;.

Winchester, Simon. The Professor and the Madman: A Tale of Murder, Insanity, and the Making of the Oxford English Dictionary. New York: Harper Perennial, 2016. Print.

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