The Mentor Archetype

In order to encourage you to join my character counts contest, and because I did promise to do a series on my favorite archetypes, I now present a blog post on one of the most popular archetypes used in media:

The Mentor


Just to refresh your memory, let me define archetypes again. An archetype is an original model of a person, ideal example, or a prototype after which others are copied, patterned, or emulated; a symbol universally recognized by all.

Archetypes are scattered everywhere in media. Many writers use archetypes because they provide a guide for the readers to understand the storyline better. As writers, it’s important that we understand the many archetypes out there. Why? Because when we understand the definition and function of an archetype, we may:

  1. tweak the definition to suit our storyline
  2. break the rules of what a particular archetype is supposed to do to spice up our story
  3. apply a particular perspective to the archetype according to the message of our story. For instance, we may have an anarchist Mentor, a feminist Knight or a Freudian Hero

(If you are so inclined and have time at your disposal, might I suggest that you read or re-read my article on Archetypes and Characters?)

Now that you have a good idea of how archetypes can help us writers, let’s get to know the Archetype in today’s spotlight.

What do Yoda, Cinderella’s Fairy Godmother, Merlin and James Bond’s Q have in common? They are all mentors.

Christopher Vogler in his very helpful book The Writer’s Journey, says:

“Mentors provide heroes with motivation, inspiration, guidance, training, and gifts for the journey. Every hero is guided by something, and a story without some acknowledgement of this energy is incomplete. Whether expressed as an actual character or as an internalized code of behavior, the Mentor archetype is a powerful tool at the writer’s command”

If you’re wondering where the word Mentor comes from, look no further than The Odyssey.

Telemachus, Odysseus’ son, is helped by a character named Mentor who is actually Athena in disguise.

And since Athena is the Goddess of Wisdom, the Mentor Archetype is also typically personified as the “Wise Old Man” or “Wise Old Woman”.

Which is probably why most of the Mentor Archetypes you see in media are wizened old men or women.




Cinderella’s Fairy Godmother

Mentor Functions

The Mentor Archetype has two major functions:

  1. Teaching/Guiding
  2. Gift-giving

Mentors often serve as the hero’s GPS. They are the hero’s conscience and teacher. They motivate the hero to achieve their goals, plant ideas in the hero’s mind that later on the hero draws upon, or initiate the hero into the mysteries of life and love. They also train the hero so that he may have the skills to face dangers he will encounter on his quest. (Example: Yoda training Luke Skywalker)

They also invent items which the hero might need along their journey (as in Q’s case) or they bestow the hero with a particular gift to aid them in their quest (as in Merlin giving Arthur Excalibur, or Cinderella’s Fairy Godmother providing her with the pumpkin coach and such to get her to the Ball).

Cinderella and her Fairy Godmother, Disney’s Cinderella 1950

According to Christopher Vogler, the Mentor is there to protect the hero and to help him discern between right and wrong. More often than not, the Mentor is teaching the hero lessons he has learned from his own experience. Mentors are often former heroes who have survived the quest and are now passing the lessons they have learned to the hero who is just starting out. Think of Brom, passing down his wisdom to Eragon.

Brom(Jeremy Irons)  and Eragon (Ed Speelers) in Eragon Movie 2006

Mentor Types

Although Mentors usually come in the form of wise old men and women, don’t be fooled. There are several types of mentor archetypes which  you can choose from in your own stories.

Comic Mentor

They come in the form of hero sidekicks, giving advice that seems wrong in the beginning but often turn out to be the perfect solution in the end. They are often seen in romantic comedies or stories with elements of comedy in them. Glinda the Good Witch in Wicked is a fun example.

Kristin Chenoweth as Glinda the Good Witch, Wicked

Continuing Mentor

These are often recurring characters in a story series. They may be the boss (such as Charlie in Charlie’s Angels), or the butler (Alfred in Batman). Their role is to give assignments or set the plotline in motion.

Michael Caine and Christian Bale as Alfred and Batman in Batman Begins 2004

Dark Mentor

They are the anti-hero and represent the inversion of the hero’s values. Often, Dark Mentors mislead the hero (and the audience). They pose as mentors, but in reality, they lure the hero into danger and instead of motivating the hero, they become obstacles to the hero himself. Gordon Gekko (played by Michael Douglas) in Wall Street 2 as he teaches Jake Moore (Shia LaBeouf), is a good example.

Fallen Mentor

These fallen mentors are actually characters who are dealing with issues in their own heroic journey. They are mentors who are experiencing a crisis of faith or who have fallen far from grace. They parallel the hero in his own journey and often serve as a warning to the hero of who not to be. Haymitch in The Hunger Games comes to mind as a great example.

Inner Mentor

Some characters have no need of or no contact with an actual physical mentor who can act as their teacher. These heroes often carry their own internal mentor in the form of their own conscience or a code of ethics or a code of honor they follow. The inner mentor can also be in the form of a long dead being whose advice still lingers in the mind of the hero. The inner mentor can often be seen in Samurai or warrior movies. Ip Man, and The Last Samurai are examples of movies which show the inner mentor at work.

Ip Man

The Last Samurai

Multiple Mentors

Sometimes a hero needs more than one mentor as he undergoes several steps of training. Each mentor can focus on a different aspect of the training which a hero must learn. Jackie Chan as Lu Yan , the Drunken Immortal and Jet Li as  the Silent Monk play mentors to Jason Tripitikas  (Michael Angarano) in the movie Forbidden Kingdom.

Jet Li, Michael Angarano and Jackie Chan in The Forbidden Kingdom, 2008


Sometimes all the hero needs is a vision to get him started. The Shaman is a healer who can help the hero by giving her a vision to point him to the next leg of his quest. Monk Gyatso, Aang’s airbending master in Avatar the Last Airbender is an example. Another example would be Guru Pathik, also in the Last Airbender.

Monk Gyatso, The Last Airbender Nickelodeon Series

Aang and Guro Pathik, The Last Airbender Nickelodeon Series

Mentor Mine

Mentors are wonderful archetypes to have in any story.

In my own book, URTH, I make use of Multiple Mentors. I have a Comic Mentor in the form of Will’s best friend Finn, and an Inner Mentor in the form of the lessons Will has learned from his dead father. I also have a Shaman who guides Will on a Spirit Walk, as well as a Continuing Mentor in the form of Terra, the Guardian who teaches Will Urth Magic as well as trains him in the Fighting Art of Urth.

Now that you have been acquainted with the Mentor Archetype, look back at your own story. Do you have a Mentor character? Do you have one mentor or multiple mentors? How does this mentor influence the hero’s journey?



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11 Responses to “The Mentor Archetype”

  1. Maiko says:

    I would say that Ip Man is a great example of an inner mentor but Tom Cruise from the Last Samurai had had other mentors around him to reach his peace (I love this movie, I’ve watched it at least 7 times…). Ken Watanabe’s character, Katsumoto, was the first that came to my mind as Nathan Algren’s mentor. He really showed the American what it means to be samurai, and to enjoy the “conversations.” As far as the culture goes, the bodyguard samurai, Taka (Koyuki), and Ujio (Hiroyuki Sanada) were all mentors to teach Nathan about the way of the samurai.

  2. Lynn Kelley says:

    Wow, Nutschell, what an impressive posting. It’s not only informative, but you’ve added illustrations throughout, plus other reference tools. I learned a lot from this post. Thanks! (Okay, that’s another point – Woo hoo!)

  3. tita BA says:

    awesome info and more……great stuff

  4. Lynn Kelley says:

    Hi Nutschell, I just shared your archetype blog post on my FB site. This is definitely worth sharing!

  5. Lynn Kelley says:

    I’m almost halfway through “The Hunger Games.” Interesting that Haymitch is in the fallen mentor category. I’ll pay close attention to him from now on. I hope I win the contest because I want to win those cards!

  6. Lynn Kelley says:

    P.S. I’m loving “The Hunger Games” so far. It’s hard to put it down. I’ve got to know what happens next!

  7. Salman Rushdie and other writers are appearing on a CSpan2 Book TV panel right now, until 11:00 am ESDT, discussing writer’s imagination and how countries can use it to promote positive change.

  8. Megan says:

    Who would be the literary archetype to Mary White Ovington?

  9. M says:

    Who would be the literary archetype for Mary White Ovington and why?

  10. evan says:

    would Tywin Lannister be considered a mentor

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