The Mentor Archetype
The Mentor archetype in the hero’s journey is a character who is present in most of the story. It’s any character who teaches the Hero something or gives them a gift to help them in their final test.
In the Hero’s Journey, the Mentor archetype often shows up in the first Act, but where to place the Mentor depends on what kind of story you’re writing. As such, it’s also possible for the Mentor to show up much later in the story. Consider when the Hero needs to be motivated to continue or need a crucial piece of information or learn a new skill. That’s when you could use a Mentor character.
In the Hero’s Journey, the Mentor archetype represents our Higher Self, the part of us that’s wise and noble. They’re our conscience, so to speak.
Think for a moment about Jimini Cricket in Pinocchio: he’s an apparent manifestation of Pinocchio’s conscience, constantly teaching and advising Pinocchio.
So, in the story, the Mentor stands for the highest aspirations of the Hero. They’re what the Hero aims to be and aims to surpass. It’s also why Mentors are often former Hero’s and are now transferring their wisdom and knowledge onto the Hero. They’re also very akin to parental figures—they’re the ones who teach us the most, after all.
One of the more obvious functions of the Mentor archetype is to teach the Hero. This may be training them in combat, teaching them science, boxing, morals, or whatever else. The teaching also goes both ways: those who teach also learn from the ones they teach.
Another function is gift-giving, and this is usually a Mentor who appears temporarily in the story to aid the Hero. This may be a magical item, an important clue, medicine, food, or even a crucial piece of advice. An example in Harry Potter and the Chamber of Secrets is when Fawkes shows up with the Sorting Hat, and the Hat then produces the Sword of Gryffindor.
A good practice is also only to have the Hero receive a gift after they earn it. For instance, after they’ve passed a test, learned something crucial, sacrificed something, or just put in the work.
As stated above, they also often act as the Hero’s conscience, reminding them of a certain moral code the Hero should follow. The Hero may rebel against this code.
But overall, the Mentor archetype is there to motivate the Hero and to help them overcome their fears. Sometimes they also plant information or an item that will show up later in the story. Here, Q in the James Bond series is an obvious example: he gives Bond the items at the beginning that help him in the final acts.
Types of Mentors
Just as the Hero comes in different versions, there are also different types of Mentor archetypes. These are dark Mentors, fallen Mentors, inner Mentors, multiple Mentors, comic Mentors, and continuing Mentors.
So, first up is dark Mentors. This is an archetype often used in, for instance, thrillers. The audience is misled to believe the Mentor is good and is leading the Hero on the right path, only to discover at the ending that the Mentor is part of the bad guys after all.
A neat variation of this is with the combination of the Threshold Guardian (which we’ll talk about in part 3), where at first the Mentor will give advice and teach, but when the Hero is ready to go on an adventure, the Mentor will cast doubt and try and stop the Hero, which is the role of the Threshold Guardian.
A fallen Mentor is someone who has fallen off the hero’s journey. They either failed to complete the road or had some kind of setback. The Hero needs to motivate the Mentor to pull himself together so the Mentor can teach them.
One such example is Haymitch in The Hunger Games. He completed the hero’s journey since he won the games, but after that, he became a drunk, deviating from the hero’s path. It takes Katniss and his belief that she might win to pull himself together.
In a series, there are often continuous Mentors. This helps to give the series a sense of continuity, and readers are familiar with the characters. Examples are Dumbledore and Hagrid in Harry Potter.
And yes, there may be multiple Mentors in one story. There can even be a lack of a Mentor in a story. That usually happens in a tragic story, where the Hero didn’t receive the proper guidance to complete their journey, and they fail.
Romantic comedies often have the so-called comic Mentor, who is usually the friend of the Hero, and often the same sex. They give the Hero advice about love. The advice actually often leads the Hero into a temporary disaster, but it always turns out in the end.
The inner Mentor is more common in Westerns, where the Hero is hardened and functions as their own mentor. The archetype is imbedded within the Hero, such as a strong ethical code.
Remember: Mentors, like other archetypes, aren’t rigid characters. They can morph and change. One Mentor character might shift into a Threshold Guardian, while a different character then morphs into the Mentor. The Mentor is a function, not a set character.
So, that’s it for this second part of the Hero’s Journey on the Mentor archetype! I hope it was informative, and it will help you develop and write your characters.
Do you use the framework of the Hero’s journey in your writing? Have you ever looked at the archetypes and tried to find them in your own work, or others? Do you have any feedback on this article or questions? I’d love to know your thoughts!