Sherlock Holmes and The Trouble With Typing Fictional Characters

Discussions about Sherlock Holmes’ Myers-Briggs® type can get pretty heated in the online community. He’s either an INTJ or INTP and whichever side you come down on (if you care about this sort of thing) is worth passionately defending. I’ve weighed-in on this myself in a blog post arguing that Sherlock as portrayed by Benedict Cumberbatch in the Sherlock BBC series, Robert Downy Jr. in the Sherlock Holmes movies, and even the Basil of Bakerstreet version from Disney’s The Great Mouse Detective are all INTPs.

I do think that’s the best-fit type for all three of those versions, but they aren’t the only portrayals of Sherlock Holmes. We ought not forget, for example, the original character in the stories penned by Sir Arthur Conan Doyle. I’ve been reading and re-reading several of those for my Classics Club book list and Sherlock doesn’t seem very much like an INTP in those stories. In fact, the only thing I can say with absolute certainty is that he’s a Thinking personality type.

Typing People Who Aren’t Real

Sherlock Holmes and The Trouble With Typing Fictional Characters | LikeAnAnchor.com
image courtesy of The Sherlock Holmes Museum

That brings us to the second part of this post’s title: the trouble with typing fictional characters. Though I love looking at fictional characters’ personality types, there are limits to how accurately you can type them. It gets especially tricky in the case of someone like Sherlock Holmes or Batman because so many writers and actors have been involved in portraying this character over quite a long period of time. There’s bound to be some inconsistencies in how each creative sees the character they’re working with. Plus, I doubt very many of them think about the character’s Myers-Briggs® type and how they can keep it consistent in every portrayal.

Going back to Sherlock Holmes as our example, Sir Arthur Conan Doyle sometimes writes him in a way that looks like ISTJ, sometimes more like one of the NTJ types, and sometimes with traits of a TP type. He also calls Dr. Watson by two different first names (John is used three times, James once), so I think it’s safe to say Doyle wasn’t all that concerned with consistency. In any case, Doyle’s Sherlock Holmes stories were written about 30 years before Jung published Psychological Types, so we know he wasn’t relying on those theories when writing the character.

So Why Type Fiction?

Since it’s difficult to type fictional characters with a high degree of accuracy, why do it? For one thing, it’s fun. It’s one of the ways to turn an interest in Myers-Briggs® into an entertaining pastime as well as a useful hobby.

Typing fictional characters can also sharpen our skills typing real people. It gives us a chance to study how characters react and puzzle out which psychological functions they’re using based on what they say and how they act. In addition, well-written characters provide familiar examples of the different types to use in every-day conversation. If someone asks me what an ENTP or ISFJ, for example, looks like in real-life then Tony Stark and Samwise Gamgee are there to help clarify things.

Do you enjoy trying to figure out fictional characters’ personality types? Tell us about your favorite characters and what you think their types are in the comments!

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Fictional MBTI – T’Challa (ISFP)

I saw Black Panther yesterday. So naturally today’s post is a new installment in the superhero Myers-Briggs types series. I know I get pretty excited about most of the MCU films, but this one is seriously good. I love the hero characters and the principles they stand for like loyalty and peace. The acting is great, the plot’s tight, I love the music (I’m listening to the score as I type), and while it still has a superhero-movie feel it doesn’t shy away from digging into some really deep and difficult subjects.

Basically, you should go see the movie. And if spoilers bother you, see it before reading any further in this post. We are going to talk about key plot points and character moments. You’ve been warned.Fictional MBTI - T'Challa (ISFP) | marissabaker.wordpress.com

Okay, let’s start typing. T’Challa’s judging functions are pretty easy to pin-point: Fi/Te. But the fact that he uses Introverted Feeling and Extroverted Thinking when making decisions only tells us he’s either a TJ or FP type. We’re going to need a little more to go on than that.

After Captain America: Civil War came out, most people typed T’Challa as an ISFP. A couple of the discussions I found online also pointed out that he’s an ENTJ in the comics (which I haven’t read, so this typing is only going to focus on his film portrayal). I ended up going with ISFP. And here’s why: Read more

Fictional MBTI — Thor (ESTP)

With Thor: Ragnarok now out, it seemed like a good time for another Fictional MBTI post. Especially since Ragnarok is so good. Who would have thought a film about the destruction of Asgard and fall of the gods (that’s not a spoiler — it’s Norse mythology) could be so light-hearted and fun?

I’ve been typing Thor as an ESTP since the first film came out, which I think is pretty much the standard typing for him (please note: I’m only typing the MCU version of Thor, not his character in the comics). But that’s no reason not to give him his own blog post. I usually use David Kiersey’s nicknames for the personality types, but for Thor the ESTP nickname “Adventurer” seems more appropriate than “Promoter.”Fictional MBTI - Thor (ESTP) | marissabaker.wordpress.com

A Man of Action

Fictional MBTI - Thor (ESTP) | marissabaker.wordpress.comESTP types lead with a mental process called Extroverted Sensing (Se). Fittingly, this is the most visible aspect of Thor’s character in the films. SP types are doers. They thrive on taking action in the real world and they’re good at it. Really good. In fact, I’d venture a guess that most action heroes in fiction are SP types, especially STP types. It’s not that they can’t pause for reflection or plan ahead. It’s that they don’t really see the need since things usually work out so well for them.

ESTPs have a reputation for being thrill-seekers, and it’s not hard to see why. Their dominant Se seeks variety and physical stimulation. They like to take risks, yet they are so aware of their physical surroundings and their limits that they are probably the smartest physical risk-takers around. They have a natural awareness for what their body can or can’t do, paired with quick reflexes, and an ability to keep their wits in a crisis.” — Susan Storm, Understanding ESTP Sensing

This side of Thor’s character is at the forefront in the new film as well as his past appearances. In Ragnarok’s opening scene, he even comments that fighting against overwhelming odds without a real plan seems to always work out for him. And not only does it work out, he’s clearly enjoying himself. He thrives on challenge and risk-taking. Read more

Fictional MBTI – James “Bucky” Barns (ESTP)

It always intrigues me how certain characters attract so much investment from viewers. Browsing Pinterest lately, it seems like Bucky is the new Loki — the Marvel fandom’s dark, mistreated character who just needs a hug because we love him soooooo much. In Bucky’s case, the reasons why we find his character compelling aren’t too hard to find. He’s a good man who was forced to do terrible things and is now constantly fighting a battle to be himself. Sebastian Stan’s portrayal allows audiences to glimpse Bucky’s human side under the soldier persona he wears and the assassin role he’s forced to adopt, and audiences are drawn in by a realistic, sensitive portrayal of a compelling character.Fictional MBTI - James "Bucky" Barns (ESTP)

Most people type James “Bucky” Buchanan Barns as an ESTP, and I’m inclined to agree with them. Operating under the assumption that MBTI type doesn’t change, when we see him as Bucky in Captain America: First Avenger he’s a healthy, stable version of his MBTI type. The version of Bucky we see later in Captain America: The Winter Soldier is a severely stressed and traumatized man of the same MBTI type. Bucky in Captain America: Civil War is still dealing with the fall-out of all he went through, but he’s more recognizable as an ESTP. Read more

Fictional MBTI – Scott Lang (ISFP)

With Captain America: Civil War coming out fairly soon (7 weeks is soon, right?) I thought I’d add a post on Scott Lang to my collection of fictional MBTI types. It’s also a pretty good excuse to buy and re-watch Ant-Man.

If you do a quick Google search to see how others on the interwebs are typing Scott Lang, you’ll mostly find ESTP, with a few ISTP, ISFP and one INTP guesses thrown in. One thing all these types have in common is that they’re extroverting their Perceiving process, so that’s where we’re going to start (the P/J preference in an MBTI type refers to how we interact with the outer world).Fictional MBTI - Scott Lang (ISFP) | marissabaker.wordpress.com

Sensing vs. Intuition

The S/N preference describes our perceiving function, which is the mental process we use to learn new information. Isabel Meyers wrote that Sensing types “depend on their five senses for perception.” They want to see, touch, and test the information they’re taking in. Subjective or indirect information is less trustworthy, and less interesting, than their own direct experiences. Read more

Fictional MBTI – Loki (INFJ)

My first Fictional MBTI post was about Loki, and though it wasn’t the most complete or polished post it quickly became the most active in terms of comments. Even now, over a year and a half later, people are still posting new insights and observations on Loki’s character. And when the latest comments are more in-depth than the original post, it’s time for an update.

Quick note: my typing for Loki is wholly based on the Marvel Cinematic Universe, not on the comics or on Norse mythology. Loki is a controversial figure to type (as those 40 commends on the last post can attest), and his instability further complicates things. Also, I suspect Tom Hiddleston is an NF type, which would color his depiction of Loki.Fictional MBTI - Loki (INFJ) | marissabaker.wordpress.com

INFJ Overview

The letters “INFJ” stand for Introvert, iNtuitive, Feeling and Judging. This means INFJs lead with a function called Introverted Intuition (called “Perspectives” in the Personality Hacker system). Introverted Intuition is a perceiving function that takes in and processes information, and is particularly interested in things that can’t be directly experienced. Intuition is great at pattern recognition and extrapolating future possibilities, and I’ve never seen anyone argue Loki is not an Intuitive. Read more