Friday, 26 January 2007

The Hero's Journey: Meeting with the Mentor

This is a feature in the hero's journey which I've seen less often in the books and films I've been reading, but it's still interesting.

The mentor is one of the character archetypes that Vogler mentions in the beginning section of his book. You know the the kind of character: the wise old woman or man in the fairy tales that imparts wisdom and sometimes gifts to help the hero as he starts his quest. The most obvious examples would be Gandalf in Lord of the Rings, Obi Wan Kenobe in "Star Wars" or Mr Miagi in 'The Karate Kid'. (Seriously, who can forget "Wax on. Wax off."?)

Now, Vogler stresses that the archetypes are not necessarily hard and fast character types in a story. A very non-wise old woman-ish person may wear the mask of the mentor for a time.

This is a preparation time in the story where the hero may need to equip himself for the task ahead: a best friend may give some advice; the hero may need to learn some new skills; he may need to arm himself or listen to his conscience.

Mentors may not appear in every story and they may appear at other key points, not just as the hero embarks on the quest, it's just that, in many myths and fairy tales, the presence of a mentor at this point is common.

Shrek doesn't really have a mentor as he leaves the swamp and travels to Duloc. He is only just tolerating donkey - although at other points, donkey wears the mask of the mentor, teaching him about friendship.

In a similar way, in French Kiss, Luc teaches Kate how to live life, despite her attempts to return things to the stale, secure state they were once in. I suppose, in a loose way, the scene where he annoys her on the aeroplane to distract her from take-off, is him passing on his knowledge.

Questions for 'Meeting with the mentor'

1. Does your hero have a mentor?

2. If so, are they:

  • A full-blown mentor?
  • Another character that wears the mentor's mask?
  • An inner code of ethics?

3. What dramatic function do they perform?

  • Teacher - many mentors impart wisdom or teach new skills. What does the mentor teach the hero?
  • Gift-giver - the gift may come in the form of a weapon or something useful for the journey.
  • Motivator - helping the hero to move past her fears and embark on the journey. Helping with mental preparation is in important function of the mentor.
  • Do they give the hero information or plant a prop that the hero will find useful later?

4. In what form do they appear?

  • Traditional mentor
  • Dark mentor - Sometimes the villain (shadow archetype) can be the hero's mentor.
  • Fallen mentor - A hero who has been on his own journey but has stalled. Helping the current hero may help him finish his journey.
  • Continuing mentor - someone like 'M' in the James Bond films.
  • Multiple mentors - there may be a groups of teachers all with different skills and lessons to impart.
  • Comic mentor
  • Inner mentor - the hero's own conscience or inner set of beliefs may teach him.

5. Is the mentor a cliché and how can you avoid this?

6. Is the mentor what the hero/reader believes them to be?

  • Sometimes the mentor may seem benevolent, but has his/her own agenda.
  • Is the hero being duped?
  • If so, at some point he will need to break free of the mentor and finish his journey on his own.

7. Does this story need a mentor?

  • If so, at what points?
  • Don't just shove a mentor in because you think you ought to have one.
  • every character needs to earn their keep - especially in a category romance where the word count is around 50,000.

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