the hero’s journey – meeting the mentor

The fourth step of the anatomy of plot: Meeting the Mentor.

The Hero with a Thousand Faces

  1. The Ordinary World
  2. Call to Adventure
  3. Refusal of the Call
  4. Meeting the Mentor
  5. Crossing the First Threshold
  6. Tests, Allies, and Enemies
  7. Approach
  8. The Supreme Ordeal
  9. Reward
  10. The Road Back
  11. Resurrection
  12. Return with the ‘Elixir’

Galdalf. Albus Dumbledore. Obi Wan Kenobi. Wise old men, war veterans, teachers, parents, older brothers or sisters. People who have lived through enough to cast some information on the path ahead.

This step is another often minimized or left out. Cliche mentors often get killed to provide the hero with the will to leap at enemies they used to shy away from, but not always. And in some ways, killing the mentor is a rather weak character development tree. It strikes of the reluctant, and in some ways, weak-spirited persona following the emotional path of least resistance, though physical dangers present themselves. How much stronger is the character who comes to a decision and gets to his feet on his own, after the ‘mentor’ figure has brought something to his attention?

How the personalities of the characters react to these obstacles placed in their path– and the nature of what will motivate them– determines the shape of the mentor. The mentor could even be the villain by the story’s end. Or maybe something as simple as a passage in a book, or the map guiding the character through his journey.

Or there may not be a mentor at all. That depends if you want the hero wandering around, blind and alone. It’s a hard thing to pull off– the audience empathizes with the protagonist, and they need guidance, too. Even ‘The Princess Bride’ (movie) had a mentor in The Dread Pirate Roberts, though we never saw him, and his involvement was summarized briefly enough.

Any good plots out there that come to mind without a mentor? What was the effect? And how did the writers get around that?