The Hero's Journey: Meeting with the Mentor

Dorothy and the Good Witch in "The Wizard of Oz."

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The mentor is one of the archetypes drawn from the depth psychology of Carl Jung and the mythic studies of Joseph Campbell. Here, we are looking at the mentor as Christopher Vogler does in his book, "The Writer's Journey: Mythic Structure for Writers." All three of these "modern" men help us to understand the mentor's role in humanity, in the myths that guide our lives, including religions, and in our storytelling, which is what we will focus on here.

The Mentor

The mentor is the wise old man or woman every hero meets fairly early in the most satisfying stories. The role is one of the most recognizable symbols in literature. Think Dumbledore from Harry Potter, Q from the James Bond series, Gandalf from Lord of the Rings, Yoda from Star Wars, Merlin from King Arthur and the Knights of the Round Table, Alfred from Batman, the list is very long. Even Mary Poppins is a mentor. How many others can you think of?

The mentor represents the bond between parent and child, teacher and student, doctor and patient, god and man. The function of the mentor is to prepare the hero to face the unknown, to accept the adventure. Athena, the goddess of wisdom, is the full, undiluted energy of the mentor archetype, Vogler says.

Meeting with the Mentor

In most hero's journey stories, the hero is first seen in the ordinary world when he or she receives a call to adventure. Our hero generally refuses that call in the beginning, either afraid of what will happen or satisfied with life as it is. And then someone like Gandalf appears to change the hero's mind, and to bestow gifts and gadgets. This is the "meeting with the mentor."

The mentor gives the hero the supplies, knowledge, and confidence required to overcome his or her fear and face the adventure, according to Christopher Vogler, author of The Writer's Journey: Mythic Structure. Keep in mind that the mentor doesn't have to be a person. The job can be accomplished by a map or experience from a previous adventure.

In the Wizard of Oz, Dorothy meets a series of mentors: Professor Marvel, Glinda the Good Witch, Scarecrow, Tin Man, the Cowardly Lion, and the Wizard himself.

Think about why the hero's relationship with the mentor or mentors is important to the story. One reason is usually that readers can relate to the experience. They enjoy being a part of an emotional relationship between hero and mentor.

Who are the mentors in your story? Are they obvious or subtle? Has the author done a good job of turning the archetype on its head in a surprising way? Or is the mentor a stereotypical fairy godmother or white-bearded wizard. Some authors will use the reader’s expectations of such a mentor to surprise them with a mentor completely different.

Watch for mentors when a story seems stuck. Mentors are the ones who provide aid, advice, or magical equipment when all appears doomed. They reflect the reality that we all have to learn life’s lessons from someone or something.

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Peterson, Deb. "The Hero's Journey: Meeting with the Mentor." ThoughtCo, Apr. 8, 2022, Peterson, Deb. (2022, April 8). The Hero's Journey: Meeting with the Mentor. Retrieved from Peterson, Deb. "The Hero's Journey: Meeting with the Mentor." ThoughtCo. (accessed June 2, 2023).