Wednesday, September 29, 2010

The Hero's Journey: Meeting with the Mentor

I had another pleasant breakfast on the patio. It's a busy day today and more "normal" for weather -- less magical -- so I suspect that breakfast will be the only Fall Fest element being enjoyed today, though I may do some of my reading/research work outdoors.

I'm continuing the discussion of the stages of the hero's journey, as described in The Writer's Journey by Christopher Vogler. We've covered the Ordinary World, the Call to Adventure and Refusal of the Call. The next stage is the Meeting with the Mentor.

This stage is usually about preparation -- getting the tools and information needed to go on the quest. Joseph Campbell refers to this stage as Supernatural Aid because in myth and folklore, this stage is usually about the hero receiving magical gifts -- powers, amulets, magical swords. This is the meeting with the fairy godmother in fairy tales or the wise old mentor who used to be the hero of his own story sharing his experience with the hero and passing on his tools or weapons as the hero picks up the figurative torch.

This stage can actually go in a number of places. It often comes during the Refusal of the Call because it's a talk with the mentor that helps the hero put things in perspective so he can make the decision about answering the call to adventure. The Mentor may also give the hero some critical information or some tool to help the hero on his quest once he's past the refusal point. When the mentor is the one issuing the call to adventure, the Meeting with the Mentor may coincide with that. The mentor may also show up when the hero has crossed the threshold and is on his quest or even later during the crisis points.

Sometimes, the hero will look for a Mentor to give him guidance, either before committing to the quest or along the way instead of the Mentor showing up, and the Mentor may be reluctant to share information. The Mentor doesn't have to be a character. This phase of the story could come from the hero consulting books, maps, folklore, oracles and stuff like that. The hero can encounter a false mentor, someone he relies upon but who steers him in the wrong direction -- like the wolf in the Red Riding Hood story who encourages her to go off the path. The Mentor meeting may recur throughout the story. The Mentor may join the hero on his quest (though usually is separated from the hero before the climax of the story because the hero has to learn to stand alone) or the mentor may show up at critical points.

As I mentioned when I was discussing archetypes, it's really easy to fall into stereotype with the Mentor character -- that white-bearded old wizard like Gandalf, Obi Wan Kenobi or Dumbledore. But any character who provides guidance, information or tools can serve that purpose.

Some examples of this phase of the story include:
In Star Wars, this is Luke's time at Obi Wan Kenobi's home, when he hears the (false) story about who his father really was and gets his father's lightsaber.
In the movie Stardust, this was when Tristan's father told him about his origins and gave him the gifts from his mother.
In the James Bond movies, this is usually the scene where Bond meets with Q and gets the latest gadgets and gizmos before he heads off on his mission.
In fairy tales, this is when the hero runs across the old man or woman, and when he chooses to help, he gets advice or some magical device that helps him succeed in his quest.
In romantic comedy stories, this may be the scene where the heroine talks to her friends about the guy she just met. Think of Bridget Jones's Diary, where she meets her friends at the bar (and this might count as a false mentor because they're more clueless than she is).
In The Wizard of Oz, Glinda appears to give Dorothy directions and gives her the silver (or, in the movie, red) slippers. She also pops up again when she's needed.
In the Harry Potter series, this is when Hagrid shows up and tells Harry about his parents and who they really were. We tend to think of Dumbledore as Harry's mentor, and he does serve this role in the rest of the books, but for this particular phase of the story, when Harry is on the brink of entering the magical world, Hagrid is the one who provides the crucial information and then takes Harry to get the tools he'll need -- his wand, the owl and his school books.
In the Narnia stories, Aslan plays the role of Mentor and usually shows up early in each story to direct the kids once they arrive in Narnia, then pops up again when they're at their most lost.
In cop/detective stories, this is the briefing about the case where the hero gets the information he needs to start solving it. Or the detective may meet with the (usually older and more experienced) medical examiner or with the lab staff to get the critical information about the victim so he can then delve into the victim's world.
In war, spy or military stories, this is generally the mission briefing where the weapons may be checked or issued.

Next, we finally get started on the journey.

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