Sometimes, a protagonist lacks the tools and knowledge to begin their journey.  They may have the drive, desire, and ambition to go after the goal but need a little help to guide them on their quest.  This is where the Mentor comes into play.

“Mentor figures, whether encountered in dreams, fairy tales, myths, [novels], or screenplays, stand for the hero’s highest aspirations” (Vogler 48).  They are the characters in a story who have true wisdom to pass on to the protagonist.  Through their teachings, the hero can move forward on their journey to accomplish their goal. 

These individuals are not only equipped with knowledge but also ready, willing, and able to share it to assist the hero. Even when they may initially hesitate due to past failures, they eventually come around to aiding the protagonist in their goal-seeking endeavors.  The Mentor can take many forms but is usually found in the roles of “[t]raining sergeants, drill instructors, professors, trail bosses, parents, grandparents, crusty old boxing coaches, and all those who teach a hero the ropes” (Vogler 48).

Mentors are important figures in fiction who provide the protagonist with what they need to succeed, even if their wisdom isn’t initially understood or heeded.  They can also provide the hero with valuable tools and weapons to assist them on their journey.  For example, James Bond’s mentor, Q, gives him the gadgets to complete his mission.

Wizards and Jedis are familiar Mentors, with Gandalf (Lord of the Rings) and Obi-Wan Kenobi (Star Wars) being two of the most familiar.  Disney movies are also a great place to see Mentors in action, with Sebastian the Crab (The Little Mermaid), Genie (Aladdin), and Phil (Hercules) being active Mentors for the main character.  

Captain Jack Sparrow is Will Turner’s mentor in Pirates of The Caribbean: The Curse of the Black Pearl, taking him reluctantly under his wing and assisting him to save Elizabeth Swann while helping Jack get back his ship.

All of the Mentors mentioned above help the protagonist toward their ultimate goal.  It doesn’t matter if “a physical or psychological battle lies ahead, Heroes must prepare, and for that they need help” (Edson 67).  But that help often doesn’t stick around forever.

Mentors serve a purpose in the story.  They teach “each Hero important skills and knowledge that must be mastered before the Hero faces an Adversary in the showdown to come” (Edson 67).  Once they’ve completed their task, they either move to the background and let the protagonist take the necessary action to reach their goal, or they die.

Either situation leads to the main character facing the antagonist alone, with only the tools and teachings they’ve acquired from the Mentor to guide them.  Obi-Wan Kenobi and Yoda are both Mentors to Luke Skywalker who die once they’ve given him the training and skills needed to defeat Darth Vader and the Dark Side of the Force.

In Hercules, Phil doesn’t die, but he does get pushed away by Hercules, leaving the Hero on his own once things begin to fall apart.  It’s more of a figurative death, but it still leaves Hercules alone without his teacher to guide him.

Think about your favorite movies.  Which characters qualify as Mentors to the main character?  How do they pass along their wisdom and allow the Hero to continue their journey without them?

When you look at your story, who is the Mentor to your protagonist?  How do they help the main character better prepare for the fight ahead?  

See you next time!

Sources:

Edson, Eric. The Story Solution. Michael Wiese Productions, 2011.

Vogler, Christopher. The Writer’s Journey: Mythic Structure for Writers. Michael Wiese Productions, 1998.

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