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  • Writer's pictureTina Radcliffe

Understanding the MENTOR Archetype

Once again, I’m going to talk about Michael Hague and Christopher Vogler’s The Hero’s 2 Journeys. Specifically, the character known as the mentor archetype.

I ’ll start with a little background behind the Hero’s Journey.

Joseph Campbell was an American author and teacher known for his studies in the field of comparative mythology. He applied modern psychology to mythology and outlined what is known as the Hero’s Journey in his book The Hero With a Thousand Faces.

In Campbell’s book, the Mentor is a supernatural aid, “an old crone or an old man who provides the adventurer with amulets against the forces they will pass.

In the first books, we were introduced to as children, we saw the mentor as a benign, protecting power, helping the protagonist on the road to destiny. Think fairy godmothers or Glinda the Good Witch in Frank Baum’s book, or Merlin and in the tales of King Arthur. They can also be supernatural helpers in the form of wizards, hermits or shepherds. They supply amulets and advice the hero requires. Another example is Jiminy Cricket in the Disney version of Pinocchio.

What about the mentor in the romances we write?

Christopher Vogler’s first discusses the mentor in his book, based on Campbell’s work, called The Writer’s Journey. The same info is found on his portion of the DVD and CD of The Hero’s 2 Journeys.

Vogler lists these functions of the mentor:

Teaching and training-the key function of the mentor.

Gift-giving-a clue, a key, a magic token or a piece of advice or warning. Vogler tells us that gifts are usually earned by learning, sacrifice or commitment.

Inventor-some mentors are scientists or inventors and their gifts are their creations.

Conscience- some mentors function as the moral compass for the hero.

Motivation-the role of some mentors is to motivate the hero to overcome their fears.

Planting-clues or props can be planted by the mentor for use by the hero, later in the story.

Types of Mentors:

Dark Mentors-or the anti-Mentor. The mentor who attempts to lead the hero down the road to self-destruction. Or the dark mentor could be a mentor that the hero outgrows. Their advice is no longer valid as the hero moves to the next stage of development.

Fallen Mentors-the mentor who is on his own journey and needs to get it together themselves to not only help the hero but themselves as well.

Continuing Mentors-they provide assignments for the hero and “set the story in motion.” They are often bosses or senior authority mentors.

Multiple Mentors-the hero may have a mentor for each specific skill they need for the journey.

Comic Mentors-often seen in romantic comedies as the hero or heroine’s best friend (male or female). Their advice can often lead the hero/heroine astray.

Inner Mentor-seen where the hero is a loner and has internalized an inner code of conduct or ethics.

On to Michael Hauge who calls the mentor archetype the Reflection Character.

The reflection character is the sidekick character. They help the hero achieve their outer goals, by attempting to get the hero to step up to the plate and face their fears. On an inner level, the reflection character acts like a conscience.

“In real life, the reflection character is one, who, no matter how difficult or painful, offers honesty, loyalty, and real friendship.” He helps the hero reach his goal by making him accountable.

They can be the teacher, trainer, coach or therapist who gives the hero skills to achieve their goal.

Both Vogler and Hauge agree that the mentor is usually introduced in Act 1, in the first ten percent of the story.


1. They provide a way to share backstory through dialogue.

2. They help eliminate large chunks of introspection by the hero.

3. They can add variety and spice and uniqueness to your story.

4. They can help move your plot forward.

5. They help develop your character arc as the hero learns the lesson they must learn.

6. They can provide a thread of unity/continuity in series books.

7. They push the hero out of their comfort zone.

Now let’s talk my favorite mentor/reflection character-DONKEY in Shrek. The first movie which we all know is NOT a movie for kids. It is a thoroughly adult film.

Some dialogue between Donkey and Shrek:

Donkey: Hey, what’s your problem, Shrek? What do you have against the world anyway? Huh?”

Shrek: “Look, I’m not the one with the problem. Okay? It’s the world that seems to have a problem with me. People take one look at me and go, ahhh. Help. Run. A big stupid ugly ogre.

They judge me before they even know me. That’s why I’m better off alone.”

Do you love it?? No boring, internal narrative in 'sequel.’ We have his internal conflict right there, live in 'scene,’ thanks to the mentor. What else do we have? E.M.O.T.I.O.N

And, the plot thickens as the mentor attempts to push Shrek out of his comfort zone and admit how he feels. It totally keeps us rooting for the hero too. ONCE AGAIN...EMOTION!

Donkey: “Look, I’m an animal and I got instincts and I know that you two were digging on each other. I could feel it.”

Shrek: “Oh, you’re crazy. I’m just bringing her back to Farquaad.”

Donkey: “Okay, come on Shrek. Wake up and smell the pheromones. Just go in there and tell her how you feel.”

Shrek: “There’s nothing to tell. Besides, even if I did tell her, well, you know... And I’m not saying I do...’cause I don’t... She’s a princess, and I’m...

Donkey: “An ogre?”

Shrek: Yeah. An ogre.

I rest my case with this final scene from Shrek:


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