This post is part of a series sponsored by SCBWI Florida Tampa Bay area writers. We invite you to join us in this online book study of THE WRITER’S JOURNEY: MYTHIC STRUCTURE FOR WRITERS, Third Edition by Christopher Vogler.
Book 1, Pages 39-63
Book 1, Pages 39-63
Contributor: Nancy Stewart
Who among us has not had a mentor or two along life’s path? In his book, The Writer’s Journey, Christopher Vogler speaks in great depth about the value of The Mentor: Wise Old Man or Woman. The genesis of the word mentor comes from The Odyssey and is a character who guides the young man, Telemachus on his Hero’s Journey.
Much is made of the role of mentors’ roles in Book 1, including the Psychological Function of this archetype. Vogler makes the argument that many heroes seek out mentors because their parents are or were inadequate role models. As an example, he suggests that Merlin is a surrogate for the young King Arthur whose father is dead.
There are types of mentors whose functions are as varied as characters to be assisted by them, whether willing or unwilling. As with heroes, dark or negative sides can be expressed, such as a mentor’s trying to influence the character by putting obstacles in his or her path.
Mentors are there to provide their heroes guidance, motivation, inspiration, training, and gifts for their journey. Whether the mentor is an actual character or an internal code of behavior, the mentor archetype is a powerful and necessary tool for the writer.
One doesn’t have a book worth reading if the hero’s path to enlightenment is not strewn with obstacles. A Threshold Guardian should be at the entrance to each new world to keep the unworthy from entering. We learn they may be border patrols, sentinels, night watchmen, bouncers, or doormen, to give the flavor of naming a few. To mix it up a bit, the guardian can also be an animal, force of nature, or architectural feature. The Threshold Guardian’s primary task is to test the hero, so whenever he/she meets one along the way, a test must be given and passed. In fact, learning how to deal with one’s own Threshold Guardian/s is perhaps the hero’s major task along the journey.
Many times when a new force appears in Act I to bring on a challenge to the hero, a Herald will deliver it. Herald characters issue challenges and announce the coming of significant changes. Typically, in the opening part of a story, the hero has gotten by somehow. They have handled difficulties by “muddling through” a series of coping mechanisms or defenses, always keeping a status quo about their problems or issues. Suddenly a new condition, or person, or circumstance comes along and changes the hero forever.
Often the Herald, in a straightforward manner, does exactly what s/he is supposed to do: Bring news to the hero that a new energy will soon change the balance. This archetype, however, can be a positive, negative, or neutral figure. An example is found in the film, Romancing the Stone when the Herald for Joan Wilder is a treasure map arriving in the mail and a phone call from her sister who is being held hostage in Columbia. As the Herald’s driving force is delivering news of change, this figure is necessary to almost every story.
The word elusive was made for the Shapeshifter archetype. By definition then, its very nature is to be unstable and ever-changing, and not surprisingly, serves the dramatic function of bringing doubt and suspense to a story. It’s no wonder this archetype is often found in noir films such as: The Big Sleep, The Maltese Falcon, and Chinatown. In Fatal Attraction, the hero is confronted by a Shapeshifting woman who morphs from a passionate lover into an insanely murderous mistress. The Shapeshifter is a powerful as well as flexible archetype who many times is a member of the opposite sex.
To recap: Mentors, Threshold Guardians, Heralds, and Shapeshifters are quintessential archetypes reflecting the human condition for as long as humans have been “modern,” from an archaeological standpoint. As such, they make powerful “everyman” characters that are pivotal to telling a story wisely and well.
Meet Today’s Contributor—Nancy Stewart
Nancy Stewart is the author of the Bella and Britt picture book series. Her book, Katrina and Winter: . Partners in Courage, is the authorized biography of Katrina Simpkins and her life changing relationship with Winter, the dolphin. All are published by Guardian Angel Publishing. Nancy’s book, One Pelican at a Time and she were featured in the PBS Tampa special, GulfWatch. A frequent speaker and presenter at writing conferences throughout the United States, Nancy is also a judge in the Rate Your Story organization. A blogger with an active worldwide audience, she writes of all things pertaining to literature for children. Nancy is fortunate to have been around the world and back again and is the U.S. chairwoman of a charity in Lamu, Kenya that assists girls in furthering their education through high school.