December 6th 2012
Studies in Genre
In modern literature and cinema, the spy genre is one that has managed to maintain a strong hold on the public consciousness for several decades. As there are countless examples of the genre, it is invariable that certain common elements exist between them. In fact, it can be said that these elements characterize, or define the spy genre as we know it. The Fourth Protocol (1984) by Frederick Forsyth is no exception to this trend, and is in many ways very representative of the spy genre. Specifically, the traditional roles of professional and bureaucrat are clearly filled, the heroes and villains are distinguished largely by motive, and many common thematic elements are seen throughout. Additionally, one of the central themes of the novel; that people ultimately act according to their own motives rather than a belief system of political background, is closely tied to the traditional spy thriller
Perhaps the element that most obviously characterizes the spy thriller genre is the presence of three archetypes, into which many characters can be grouped. These classes of character can be termed the amateur, the professional, and the bureaucrat (Palmer). The professional is often the most apparent of these three roles, as it is usually the one held by the main character of the novel, in this case, John Preston. There are a variety of reasons why John Preston conforms to the archetype of the professional, rather than the bureaucrat or the amateur. An important part of this is the background of the character. Rather than being born into the world of intelligence operations, he arrived at a later time in his life, already in his 40s (Forsyth 40). This simple fact separates him from his peers at MI5, although he is among them, he is not truly of the same world as him, which limits his advancement. This isolation of sorts is characteristic of the hero of spy fiction; although he is part of an organization, Preston is effectively an individual acting alone against the villains (Palmer). It is important to note that as the hero, Preston necessarily represents the professional (Palmer). This is due to the fact that, unlike the other archetypes, the professional can learn from experience, as Preston does when he is faced with the fairly unfamiliar situation of the leaking of highly sensitive documents (Forsyth 78). This paints Preston, the hero, as a typical professional, something which is very characteristic of the spy thriller.
The other archetype that is clearly visible in The Fourth Protocol is the bureaucrat. Representing a person who holds high levels of power within an organization, and who is firmly rooted in routine and order, the bureaucrat often directly opposes, or is at least an obstacle to, the hero (Palmer). This archetype is seen more than once in the novel, perhaps most obviously as the villain, Director of the KGB. As Director, it is clear that this man holds considerable power within his organization, and functions largely through the use of others. This behavior, typical of the bureaucrat, can be seen in the Director’s relationship with Kim Philby. Despite his long association with the Soviet Union, Philby fears being used as a tool by the Director, which an archetypical bureaucrat would not hesitate to do (Forsyth 133). It is also important to note that the bureaucrat is not a role that can only be filled by the villain, but by any official who values rank and procedure above all (Palmer). An example of this would be Brian-Harcourt Smith of MI5. From very early on, his actions appear typical of those of a bureaucrat, such as when he declares that no further action shall be taken on a report prepared by Preston, due to its inflammatory nature (Forsyth 27). This, again, shows the presence of an archetype of the spy genre in The Fourth Protocol.