Monday, May 24, 2010

The Hero's Journey - Meeting the Mentor

Everyone has at least one person in their life that they look up to, someone who has given them the advice and encouragement that helped them get where they are now. For some, it’s a family member who was always there for them, or a friend who helped them through the darkest days. It doesn’t have to be someone so close to you, though. Help can come from anywhere – a co-worker, a boss, a teacher, even some random passer-by who passed along that little nugget of wisdom that set you on the right track. Whoever they are, wherever they come from, they fulfill one of the most integral archetypes of The Hero’s Journey: The Mentor.

Most Heroes need more than just a Call to Adventure to get them going. That adventure can look pretty daunting if they’re not well equipped to tackle it, which may have resulted in a Refusal of the Call. This is the part of the Journey where Meeting the Mentor is so crucial. He (or she, because the Mentor is no more gender exclusive than the Hero) is the guiding force for our adventurer. They may hand him the tools he’ll need to overcome future obstacles, point him in the right direction to begin his odyssey, or actively guide him through the strange new world that has replaced The Ordinary World. Sometimes, they’ll perform all of the above functions, accompanying the Hero on the Journey and acting as his own personal Jiminy Cricket. Other times, their appearance is all too brief, leaving the Hero to forge his own path. In all cases, the Mentor acts as a way for the Hero to answer that Call.

It’s worth noting that the Mentor doesn’t have to be a single character in the story. While one character can certainly embody that archetype exclusively (think Professor Dumbledore in the Harry Potter books), others are allowed borrow that hat from time to time. In fact, Hagrid is the first to take on that role for Harry, guiding him through the process of preparing for his first year at Hogwarts, and continues to wear that hat every now and then throughout the series. Even villains can take on this role, as the young Mr. Potter sometimes learns just as much from those who seek to kill him than he does from the teaching staff at Hogwarts.

This leads me into the unique concept of the Dark Mentor. It is possible that an antagonist can be a Mentor, both instructing the Hero while working against him. How? From the shadows, usually, but sometimes right in plain sight under disguise. Not to belabor the Harry Potter comparisons, but the Dark Mentor has been used several times in that series, to stunning effect. But why would the bad guys want to help the good guy? Sometimes they start as good guys and evolve into bad guys, forcing the student to surpass the teacher in the final confrontation. Sometimes it’s a show of what not to do, giving the Hero a clear concept of what he stands against… and thus, what he stands for. Then again, the Dark Mentor may have a vested ego-driven interest in building a worthy adversary to oppose him. Some villains are just that twisted.

To illustrate this aspect of the Hero’s Journey through Rob’s ongoing adventure, he needs outside intervention to get him to halt that downward spiral of his and accept the Call to Adventure. His parents, having been in similar circumstances in the past, send him to their personal champion, Betty Dawes. Mrs. Dawes is knowledgeable, patient, and insightful – everything he needs right now. She also knows that what he wants to do more than anything is to write, if only he had the confidence to pursue his dream. Fortunately for Rob, she has all the tools he’ll need to break out of his shell and pursue his dream. It’s up to him to make that first step, though, to leave his Ordinary World behind and actively pursue the great adventure ahead.

It seems like quite the trek already, but this is only the start of the Journey. The real adventure can now begin, as our Hero is armed and ready to face the unknown. We’ll discuss that in more detail soon, when we get into the next part of The Hero’s Journey - Crossing the Threshold.

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