Archetypes: The Mentor

father.jpgMentors are one of my favorite archetypes.  They span in type and function wildly.  They can be good, bad, indifferent, insane, comical, and everything in-between.  Today we will look at what a mentor is, what their psychological functions can be, and offer some different types to play with.

If you’ve followed this blog for any amount of time then you know how much I love an origins story.  The origin of the mentor is a cool one!

Homer penned up the character, Mentor, in The Odyssey.  The devious goddess Athena used Mentor’s body as a meat suit a couple of times to influence major characters to pursue different courses of action.  Even when not being possessed by busty goddesses, Mentor worked as a trusted adviser to the wayward Odysseus.

I also ran the word, “mentor,” through the Online Etymological Dictionary (which is awesome if you haven’t used it before).  The following is the result (I made some of the key points bold):

the oddyssey of homer.jpg[“wise advisor,” 1750, from Greek Mentor, friend of Odysseus and adviser of Telemachus (but often actually Athene in disguise) in the “Odyssey,” perhaps ultimately meaning “adviser,” because the name appears to be an agent noun of mentosintent, purpose, spirit, passion” from PIE *mon-eyo- (source also of Sanskrit man-tar-one who thinks,” Latin mon-i-torone who admonishes“), causative form of root *men-to think” ]

Sometimes it’s just amazing to see how a word breaks down into component pieces; mentor is no exception.  I find it very interesting to see how different languages and cultures shaped not just our language, but how we have come to understand it.

History and origin aside, we can move forward knowing that a mentor, at a very basic level, is a being who:  advises, stirs passions, causes people to think, and helps others find purpose.

writers journey.jpgThe best explanation I have found for the psychological function of the mentor comes from Christopher Vogler’s, The Writers Journey.  Vogler explains that many mentors were once heroes and heroines themselves.  It is because of this connection they often resonate with the person they are advising.

Vogler also explains that, “The Mentor archetype is closely related to the image of the parent.  The fairy godmother in stories such as ‘Cinderella’ can be interpreted as the protecting spirit of the girl’s dead mother.  Merlin is a surrogate parent to the young King Arthur, whose father is dead” (p. 52).

Does this mean the mentors we create should fit these molds?  Nah!  But it’s good to understand how a reader may view the mentor on a subconscious level.  They may accept or reject your mentor based on psychological aspects trapped in their brains.  Given most of us grew up hearing and seeing these fairy tale stories (or version of them) some of this is embedded right into our brains as canon.

Summon the Mentor.jpgLet’s look at a handful of different types of mentors to use in your stories.

The Fallen Mentor:  They are usually on a hero’s journey themselves.  They are portrayed as drunks, failures, outcasts, and are generally unsavory.  Some of them have placed themselves into a self-imposed hermit status.  Many times their failures seem minor to us, but affected them deeply.  They often don’t take the budding hero/heroine seriously at first.  Then the apprentice re-awakes the fallen mentor’s passion through watching them struggle, fight, and overcome obstacles.

The Treacherous Adviser:  These folks are usually wise and powerful, but are still looking to gain more power.  They manipulate actions and people to best match their own agendas.  Often times these folks cloak themselves behind a friendly face.  In many fairy tales they are obviously the bad guy from the readers perspective, but the hero/heroine is oblivious.  We say, “Bro!  Your adviser is stroking a human skull while giving you advice…red flag!”  Sometimes we were right, sometimes we were wrong.  This is the power of the treacherous adviser: the reader is forced to continuously reappraise whether they are good or bad.

The Foolish Wanderer:  Usually appear disheveled and generally insane.  This is sometimes their natural state and sometimes a ploy they use to test the worthiness of those around them.  They are sometimes discounted by the hero or heroine until they say some jaw-dropping comment or reduce a mountain to pebbles by flicking it.

game of throns.jpgThe Wise Jester:  They’ve got jokes!  These folks are constantly goofing off, drinking, prodding, and not taking things seriously.  These mentors tend to find the overly serious hero/heroine and subject them to constant tomfoolery.  Usually this mentor is not taken seriously, until their humor or ability somehow enables them to do something the hero/heroine could only dream of.  This is part of the mentors core function.  They show the hero/heroine a trait they lack and how to become whole.

The Enigma:  Just what are they?  No one knows.  They are the mysterious figure who wanders in and out of the story.  The characters in the story (and the reader) often wonder if they are a neutral party or some supernatural observing force with an agenda.  They tend to offer advice that is cloaked in mystery.  As one of my favorite people from history said, ” It is a riddle, wrapped in a mystery, inside an enigma; but perhaps there is a key” (Winston Churchill).

Maharishi_BhrighujiThe Mystic Force:  These tend to exist environmentally to enforce balance in a world.  If the villain (or hero) of the story is threatening to disrupt the balance it usually triggers this mentor to pop up and offer tidbits to the opposition.  This mentor offers measured advice and often acts as a harbinger.  They are quick to remind the hero/heroine of balance and will jump sides if the balance requires them to do so.

That’s it for today!  As usual, we only scratched the surface of this archetype.  I encourage you to blend archetypal dimensions however you want!  Your mentor could be a treacherous, shape shifting, threshold guardian.  There are no rules.  Only that it makes sense in the context of your own story.  I have created a category specific to archetypes in my site navigation (the widget in the sidebar) and will continue to populate it with examples for you all to play with.

Do you have some real or made up examples you’d add to the list?  What kind of mentor appeals to you?  And I’m talking about in fiction and in life.  Whether you answer that question or not (in the comments) it’s important to consider.  Being able to tap into this current of emotions and translate it into your writing will make the character far more believable.  I look forward to hearing your thoughts!  Until tomorrow, keep reading, keep writing, and as always – stay sharp!

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23 responses

  1. Another great post. In my current Grand Work, I have a vague mentor character… who doesnt actually know that they’re a mentor. It took me a while to get my.head around the concept, but he’s now one of my favourite characters.

    Liked by 1 person

    • Nice! I really enjoy that kind of “blind leading the blind” dynamic sometimes. It’s a whole extra growth arc to add into the manuscript too. So for those readers who fall in love with the mentor they will enjoy watching them change.

      Thanks for giving the post a read and leaving some thought! Good luck with your magnum opus.

      Liked by 1 person

  2. This post triggered so many nostalgic thoughts of the mentors I have read (or watched) and taken as my own. General Iroh from Avatar: The Last Airbender, is a blend of the Fallen mentor, the Wise Jester, and the Foolish Wanderer, but he ends up being one of the most pivotal (and powerful) characters in the series.

    Also: the badger mothers from the Redwall series of novels. Childhood memories…

    Side note: I don’t understand how you can write so prolifically. A high-quality, non-clickbaity post every day? I just upped my weekly minimum to three! 😀

    Liked by 2 people

    • All the examples you just mentioned resonated with me. Fiction had a funny way of connecting all of us.

      As for “prolific” writing, I don’t know if I would go THAT far (I do appreciate such kind words though). I do find by getting the analytical work done it allows me to focus on creativity in my own work. It also keeps me studying and learning. Every day I read and study and compile. It makes me a stronger writer and editor. So in many ways, this blog is self-servicing. The idea other people are enjoying it makes it even better though.

      Thanks again for the kind words and for reading.

      Liked by 1 person

  3. I’m just going to say it. The Mentor usually winds up dead. There, it had to be said. Still, you touch on many of the different types quite well. I just had to get that out because the moment you said Archetypes: The Mentor I translated it as (The Soon To Be Dead One or The One Who Dies) Xp

    Liked by 3 people

    • Winter was coming and that cursed family didn’t stand much of a chance. I do like him for a mentor though, especially in that role. I also agree with your previous comment, many mentors get the knife. But some manage to pull through, or even ascend beyond life by being killed. Awesome insight from you as always. Thanks for swinging in today!

      Liked by 3 people

      • Ah yes, one can never forget Obi Wan Kenobi! 😉 He definitely ascended beyond life, but so did Yoda. I do love me some Star Wars! You wrote an engaging article. I quite enjoyed reading it so the thanks really goes to you.

        Cheers! ^_^

        Liked by 2 people

      • The list or resurrected mentor types is lengthy. Star Wars absolutely pulls into it (lots of examples there). I also think of Balrog killing Gandalf the Gray and him being brought back as Gandalf the White.

        In fact, it’s such a common theme that in Joseph Campbell’s book The Hero With a Thousand Faces (the guy who came up with the Hero’s Journey) one of the stages of the journey is resurrection. Most heroic characters go through a stage of literal or metaphorical resurrection in their journey. Mentors, who are also sometimes quiet heroic, sometime follow the same path.

        Liked by 1 person

      • Reading this just makes me that much more excited as its amazing what is possible with writing! I am for Resurrection as it were in a literal sense, only if it makes sense in the story and the world created. If it is out of place or just feels like a get out of jail free card for the sake of convenience or a writer’s head, than I don’t like it.

        I’m all for metaphors and metaphorical death and revival. Metaphors are fun! Xp Most cases though, if I write something and a hero dies…well you can bet they have a 99.9% chance of not being resurrected.

        Thanks for the insight and a wonderful chat!

        Cheers! ^_^

        Liked by 1 person

      • “…if I write something and a hero dies…well you can bet they have a 99.9% chance of not being resurrected.”

        This does not surprise me at all! Hah! Might they become musicians in the Black Winter orchestra? Because dark reanimation (necromancy) still counts as resurrection…

        Liked by 1 person

  4. Seriously, your page has become a daily must-read for me. I work heavily in archetypes, and the way you break down the mentor made me run through a quick list of great mentor performances in movies. I was reminded in particular of Nicol Williamson’s epic Merlin in Excalibur, and how he blended the Wise Jester with the Foolish Wanderer so well. Thanks again for another insightful article!

    Liked by 1 person

    • I absolutely loves Williamson as Merlin. What a perfect actor to fill that role. Williamson was a powerhouse of an actor though! There weren’t to many roles he took on that I didn’t enjoy him in.

      Thanks for stopping in so often. It’s thrilling to know some of the things I find fascinating about writing are being enjoyed by others. Much of my blog is me writing to myself. I kind of think of my page as a place where I catalog writing information for me to quickly reference later in my own work (writing and editing). It is extremely rewarding to know people like you are finding a use in it too.

      I just recently visited your page Grimmleigh’s Lab and absolutely love the artwork you are generating. I’ve just finished my first draft of my book Wastelander and after some housekeeping tasks will begin writing the companion novella, The Wasteland Survival Guide. The survival guide is a short work full of wasteland parables that feature my protagonist from the main book. But it’s written by a young boy who idolizes Drake Nelson (the protagonist from the main book). So the survival guide is a rewrite of the main book, but through the eyes of a hero worshiping boy.

      The point is I’m looking for an artist to create rough illustrations for the survival guide. Rough (drafting marks/imperfections) because they would be drawn by a teenager in the wasteland. I already have an artist working on my cover for the main book, but he specializes in a sort of dark painterly style. I’m trying to find someone who can do line art (I think that’s what it’s called?). Kind of like the india/digital ink examples you have. If this is something you would be interested in talking about, shoot me an email! Either way, I really enjoy your work.

      Oh, I’m not sure Conan would agree on your outlook of what is best in life…just saying. There simply aren’t enough crushed enemies and lamentations on your page. Other than that, your page rocks.


  5. As a crusty old infantry sergeant, my real life mentor was my former platoon sergeant (platoon daddy). Since I write military science fiction, I use that role for the mentor. The world weary sergeant who has seen too much, done too much and now wants to spare the youth from making the same mistakes. Sigh, if we didn’t have butter bars maybe they wouldn’t be needed?

    Liked by 2 people

    • It’s funny you say this because when I think of heroes and mentors I often reflect on my time in the military and as a police officer. So many dynamic people you meet along way. It was interested to see and experience how drastically people can change when heat is applied to the situation. You take someone who is a vision of strength and they may crumble in the face of fear. On the other hand, the unlikeliest of people sometimes rise to the occasion.

      I’m sure much like you, I pull from those experiences to add an emotional element to my fiction. Hopefully it translates into my current books. We’ll see.

      As for butter bars…every young 1st Lt. (Ensign for us amphibious types) needs a crusty NCO there to take all of their energy and apply it to something useful.

      Liked by 1 person

      • Don’t get me wrong, I’m a millennial as well… I think? I was born at the tail end of 1981, so I think that fits into that demographic. My problem is after I got hurt, the pumped me full of drugs and I gained weight. With my injury it comes off slowly, but their clothes tend to cater to the athletic types who can still work out etc. Maybe some day…..

        Liked by 1 person

  6. Iago from Othello was the first character that really inspired one of my characters. He’s a textbook treacherous mentor. What intrigued me about him was his arrogance and cleverness. Othello is my favorite work from the immortal bard.

    This is also why I like to shift that role around. Most books, the mentor is obvious. Guy discovers he’s a wizard, here comes a mentor. Woman discovers she’s Divergent, here comes a mentor. I try to make that archetype feel more natural. I’m glad to see another archetype, I like this series from you.

    Liked by 1 person

    • This is horrible, but I’ve never read Othello. I need to when I get some more time. If it inspired you, I’m sure it will have the same effect on me.

      I agree with you about the obvious mentor roles in most popular culture right now. It’s certainly turned into a stereotype. That’s one of the goals with these glimpses at archetype: more tools for us to twist the blueprint and make it our unique fingerprint.

      Good luck with your revisions of Caught!

      Liked by 1 person

  7. Pingback: Tarot Tuesday: The Magician | Rough & Ready Fiction

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