By Debby Giusti
THE FIRST MENTOR
Any conversation on mentors starts in 8th century BC Greece when Homer composed The Odyssey. His epic poem takes place ten years after the Iliad, Odysseus has not yet returned home from the Trojan War and his twenty-year-old son, Telemachus, needs guidance. The goddess Athena--disguised as a character Homer named Mentor--is sent to help the lad and provide the wise counsel he needs. Since Homer’s time, the term mentor has been given to all characters serving in that role of guide and/or counselor.
|Mosaic depicting Odysseus, villa of La Olmeda,|
Pedrosa de la Vega, Spain, late 4th-5th C AD
(CC BY-SA 3.0. File: Villa Romana de La Olmeda Mosicos romanos 001 Ulises.jpg. 8 June 2011)
The mentor character type has often been portrayed as a wise old man or woman who offers advice like a loving parent. An example that comes to mind is the fairy godmother in Cinderella. Mentors frequently are former heroes, such as a coach who excelled at a particular sport and now instructs the young star on the ins and outs of the game. While usually a seasoned veteran, the mentor can also be a young person—even a child—who offers words of wisdom and/or information the hero needs to successfully achieve his goals. Think of the teen computer whiz who might help a statesman or government bureaucrat, especially if the cyber security of our nation hangs in the balance. For anyone old enough to remember Shirley Temple movies, the child-star always provided simple, yet logical advice that spurred the older characters to take the high road when conflicted about a certain decision.
What’s an archetype?
Dictionary.com provides this definition:
is found in stories and fables down through the ages, it is considered one the basic literary archetypes and thus an important tool for writers.
The following archetypes are frequently found in literature:
THE COLLECTIVE UNCONSIOUS
Interestingly, Carl G. Jung, the Swiss psychiatrist and psychotherapist who founded analytical psychology in the early 1900s, wrote about archetypes as being “constantly repeating characters or energies which occur in the dreams of all people and the myths of all cultures.” Jung claimed that these characters sprang from the collective unconscious common to all humankind. If there’s any truth in what Jung espoused, then it would behoove us as writers to tap into the universality of the archetypes as a resource to ensure our stories resonate with readers.
|Carl G. Jung, Orstsmuseum Zollikon,|
artist unknown. (PD-US)
How do we know that these basic literary archetypes, including the mentor, are universally found in stories? We can thank Joseph Campbell, a writer, professor and mythologist, born at the beginning of the 20th Century.
Campbell studied mythology extensively and deduced that all myths, whether passed down as oral tradition or written expression, contain the same basic format. That same basic format and character archetypes are found worldwide, and are common in all cultures, tribes, peoples, races and nationalities. According to Campbell, this universal format is, indeed, the journey taken by man and is at the heart of who we are as human beings. He named the structure The Hero’s Journey and published his findings, in 1949, in a book entitled, “The Hero With a Thousand Faces.”
While taking classes at USC in the 1980s, Christopher Vogler was introduced to Campbell’s work and instantly connected with The Hero’s Journey and the mythical elements common in all stories. Vogler recognized that those films that followed the mythical structure, such as Star Wars, were box office hits.
Eventually, Vogler accepted a position with Walt Disney Company as a story analyst. It was there that he penned a seven-page memo, which he titled “A Practical Guide to The Hero With a Thousand Faces.” The memo circulated through Disney and then traveled to other Hollywood studios as more and more people recognized the formula for successful story creation into which Vogler had tapped.
THE WRITER’S JOURNEY
Vogler expanded that first memo into an excellent book called The Writer’s Journey, which provides a more in-depth look at the mythical structure. The book, now in its third edition, is a favorite of mine, and one I believe every writer would be well served to read and review often in his or her own writing journey. I’m giving away a copy to someone who visits this blog today and leaves a comment. Let me know if you’d like to be in the drawing.
FUNCTIONS OF THE MENTOR
Vogler identifies the following functions of the mentor. I’ve provided examples, although I’m sure you can think of many more.
Teaching – Mr. Miyagi in the Karate Kid
Gift-Giving – Fairy godmother in Cinderella
Inventor – Doc Emmett Brown in the movie, Back to the Future
The Hero’s Conscience – Jiminy Cricket in Pinocchio
Motivation – Mary Poppins, a teacher but also a motivator
Planting—(information, a clue, a prop) “Q” in the James Bond movies (“Q” gives 007 gadgets early in the movie that will be needed later in the story)
Sexual Initiation--(provides advice on love) Alex Hitchens, a date doctor, in the movie Hitch
In Nowhere to Hide, my debut novel, the heroine, Lydia Sloan, hides out in her beloved aunt’s oceanfront home. Although the aunt is traveling in Ireland, the two women keep in touch by phone. The aunt’s kind and loving advice, as well as gifts she provides for Lydia and her son, help Lydia feel at home in her secluded hideaway. Even more important is the aunt’s stitched sampler bearing the words, “Jesus, I trust in you.” When danger looms, Lydia reflects on her aunt’s faith and draws strength from the short prayer.
Everyone has a secret in Countdown to Death. The hero’s kindly aunt provides sage advice and clues to a decade-old murder that has bearing on why five people in a small Georgia town come down with a rare, deadly disease.
The hero’s sister in Stranded shares insights into the hero’s character and reveals information about his past that positively impacts the relationship between the hero and heroine.
When characters have already learned the lessons they need to achieve their goals, a real-time mentor is not necessary within the story. The hero can reflect on a past mentor, such as a military instructor or a favorite chaplain who has brought him to faith or has provided life lessons that will save the hero in time of danger.
In Scared to Death, the heroine lovingly remembers the grandfather who raised her as she tries to uncover the truth about an old friend’s untimely death. A missing cross given to her by her grandfather is found and serves as an external sign of her grandfather’s love and the faith he taught her.
The first two stories in my new Amish Protectors series both have mentors that help the heroines learn about the Amish faith and way of life. In each instance, the concern and acceptance of the caring Amish women—one is the hero’s sister and the other an innkeeper—help the heroines make the transition to the plain world.
Who are the memorable mentors in the stories you love to read? In what ways did they help the protagonist? How did their presence add depth to the story? Have you used the mentor archetype in your own stories? What did your mentor teach your protagonist? Or what function did the mentor provided in the story?
Note to self: Check the archives before writing a blog post!
Finding blog topics for Seekerville is becoming a challenge. After ten years of sharing writing tips and techniques, it’s hard to come up with something original.
When I needed to select my blog topic to insert in the last Weekend Edition, I looked in my writing toolbox and pulled out THE MENTOR, thinking the topic would provide an interesting discussion. I should have checked the archives. Tina Radcliffe wrote an excellent blog in 2014 on “Understanding The Mentor Archetype.” Cross my heart that I didn’t read her post until after mine was written, which means that Tina and I must think alike because we both shared similar information found in The Writer’s Journey. Check out Tina’s blog HERE, but be sure to come back and take part in today’s discussion. Remember, leave a comment to be entered in the drawing for a copy of The Writer’s Journey.
Wishing you abundant blessings,
By Debby Giusti
HIDDEN IN PLAIN SIGHT
Miriam Miller barely escapes the ruthless attacker that killed her mother and kidnapped her sister. Running deeper into the woods, she’s running out of hope…until she falls into the arms of an unlikely bodyguard—a peaceful Amish farmer. Something about Abram Zook inspires her trust, but even in bucolic Willkommen, Georgia, Miriam faces danger. Both from the men pursuing her and from her growing feelings for the caring—though guarded— widower who protects her. Because if she falls for Abram she’ll have to embrace his Amish faith as her own—or lose him. With each minute, her abductor creeps closer, pushing Miriam to an inevitable choice: stay and risk her heart…or leave and risk her life.