March 9, 2012

back to basics: the hero's journey, stage four

Continuing with the series on the Hero’s Journey, today we’re going to talk about stage four of the mythic structure, the Meeting with the Mentor. To see all the posts I’ve done so far, check out the “writing help” navigation tab at the top of the page.

Stage four of the Hero’s Journey sort of meshes with stages three and five. Sometimes the structure of a story, even if it follows the Hero’s Journey model, doesn’t have distinct stages. They flow (which they should!), and feed off one another. The Refusal of the Call weaves in with Meeting with the Mentor, which weaves into Crossing the First Threshold. But for sake of explaining each stage, they have to be categorized and separated.

Meeting with the Mentor usually happens around the time of the Call to Adventure, or the Refusal of the Call. As I said Tuesday, sometimes the Refusal of the Call is not a bad thing. Sometimes, the hero needs to prepare for the journey ahead. In most of mythology, the preparation is done with the aid of the wise, protective figure of the Mentor (another archetype), who will guide, train, teach, or test the hero to see if he is really ready for the unknown adventure that awaits. It is this stage of the Hero’s Journey in which the hero gains the supplies, knowledge, and confidence to commit to the adventure and leave all fear and doubt behind.

To continue with the Star Wars examples, when Luke meets with Obi Wan and receives his father’s lightsaber in A New Hope, he undergoes this stage of the Hero’s Journey. Not only does Obi Wan give Luke the lightsaber, he begins teaching him the ways of the force and procures allies that will help Luke for the rest of the adventure. He dutifully fulfills his role as Mentor. And as I stated above, the Call to Adventure and the Refusal of the Call all happen around Meeting the Mentor.

Something that I’ll cover in the archetypes subseries later is the fact that these archetypes—the Mentor, Threshold Guardian, Hero, etc—don’t have to be stagnant characters. These archetypes are masks that various characters can wear. One character can wear several archetypes, or several characters can wear one archetype. So, it isn’t much of a stretch to suggest that perhaps the hero wears the mask of the Mentor for a time. For example, in my novel The Clockwork Giant, Petra, the main character, acts as a Mentor toward Emmerich, rather than the other way around. However, the stage is essentially the same. Rather than Petra Meeting the Mentor, Emmerich does.

Obviously, the Mentor archetype is extremely common, and nearly everyone is familiar with this Wise Old Man (or Woman) and his behaviors, attitudes and functions. Because of this, it’s easy to create a character that falls into the stereotypical clichés – the fairy godmother and the white-bearded wizard. To keep from falling into this trap, create surprising Mentors. You could write a character that is neither wise nor old, and yet they help the hero somehow anyway.

For example, in Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s Stone, Harry’s first Mentor is Hagrid, a bumbling half-giant who was expelled from the very school Harry will soon attend. Later, in Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban, Harry’s Mentor is Professor Lupin, a werewolf scorned by most of the wizarding world. In the film Stardust, Tristan Thorne meets his Mentor at a much later time (just showing how the stages can move around!) when he and Yvaine are picked up by Captain Shakespeare and his sky pirates. Those of you who’ve seen the movie (or read the book), you know how uncharacteristic a Mentor figure the Captain is. In Pocahontas, Grandmother Willow is Pocahontas’s Mentor. In The Lion King, Timon and Pumbaa are Simba’s Mentors.

Sometimes, there is no actual character performing the function of the Mentor archetype, but heroes can still make contact with some source of wisdom before committing to the adventure. They may find a collection of maps of the new territory, read records, and otherwise gather information about the task laid out before them. You could do without the Mentor altogether, in which case the absence of this character creates interesting conditions for the hero.

The Mentor-hero relationship is begging for conflict. If the hero constantly goes against his Mentor, or is ungrateful for what the Mentor has done for him, their relationship can take a deadly turn. The Mentor could be overprotective or misguided. Sometimes, the Mentor is not what they seem to be. As a writer, you can use the reader’s knowledge and familiarity with the Mentor to turn their expectations against them. A Mentor that seems kindly could actually be working for the Shadow (the bad guy archetype), and he could end up crossing the hero or lead him into inescapable danger.

The concept of the Mentor, and the fourth stage of the Hero’s Journey, has many uses for the writer. The Mentor is a force that can propel the story forward and supply the hero with tools and encouragement. It is the energy of the Mentor archetype that gets a hero past their own fear and sends them into an adventure.

Just as every stage in the Hero’s Journey, the Meeting with the Mentor is not a necessity, and it can be altered or removed as the writer sees fit. It is usually placed near the Call to Adventure and the Crossing of the First Threshold (the next stage), but not always.

If you have any questions about the Hero’s Journey, don’t hesitate to ask. I know a lot more about it than I’ve said here, and I would be happy to clear anything up, if you need me to. This is a rather general overview, since I don’t want you guys to have to read insanely long posts, but if you would like a more in depth analysis as it pertains to writing, check out The Writer’s Journey: Mythic Structure for Writers by Christopher Vogler. If you are just interested in the Hero’s Journey in itself, check out A Hero With A Thousand Faces by Joseph Campbell.

What other examples of the Meeting with the Mentor can you think of from books or films you’ve experienced lately?

No comments:

Post a Comment