“In mythos and in fairy tale, deities and other great spirits test the hearts of humans by showing up in various forms that disguise their divinity.  They show up in robes, rags, silver sashes, and muddy feet.” ~ Clarissa Pinkola Estes, Women Who Run with the Wolves

Yoda.  Q.  Nanny McPhee. Spock.  Gandalf.  J.A.R.V.I.S. Dumbledore.  Mary Poppins.  Merlin.


We often think of mentors as wizened old men (and women) who give the hero/ine vital information as the quest begins.  Mentors are wise, mysterious, a little deranged, and incredibly awe-inspiring.  They can become much-loved when they recur in a series, even as they create challenges or pose riddles that the hero/ine must understand.

A staple ingredient of the archetype pantry, the mentor appears early in the story.  Often, s/he ponders the push needed to get the hero/ine embarking on the quest.  Gandalf entices Frodo.  Dumbledore guides Harry from his entrance to Hogwarts on to his re-making at the series’ end (another entrance with an exit).

Today, we view the mentor as a teacher who guides, imposing challenges mental and physical that the hero/ine must overcome.  To fall short is to face destruction at the critical moment—as Luke left Yoda too soon and was saved only by luck from certain destruction.


The first mentor was named Mentor.  The old steward who meets and guides Telemachus

the first mentor is female
the goddess Athena

in the Odyssey is the goddess Athena in disguise.

Athena is appropriately associated with mentors.  She is the goddess of wisdom, as the Greeks cunningly separated wisdom from learning/education.  As goddess of battle, she oversees skilled fighting which requires training and discipline as opposed to the blind and violent chaos of Ares’ war.  The goddess of natural crafts, like weaving and carpentry, masonry and the like—using something close to its original form turned to a new purpose.

In effect, Athena epitomizes the role of the mentor in her sacred obligation.

4 Functions of the Mentor

1] Guide & teacher

A mentor can give information freely but can also withhold vital information.  Worse, the mentor can provide advice only to have it ignored.

This is not Luke and Yoda.  Luke was inept and pig-headed, but he tried.  It is Arthur and Merlin.  Merlin warned.  Arthur said, “I don’t care.  I want her (Guinevere) and the alliance she brings.”

2] gift-giver

Gods and mentors are sacred and saving in their gifts.  Through these gifts, the hero/ine proves her/his worth.  S/he should be appropriately respectful of the quality of the gifts received, even if s/he doesn’t quite understand the worth.

As the god intercepted Odysseus and gave him moly to defend against Circe, other mentors give actual gifts:  special devices, like Q in the Bond stories; special insights, like Yoda in Star Wars.

Nanny McPhee gives the best gifts, for they are emotionally and intellectually transforming:

“When you need me, but do not want me, I must stay.  When you want me, but no longer need me, I must go,” she says early in the first film.

“We will never want you,” the boy cries.

“Then I must stay,” she calmly replies.

And we all cry when she leaves at the film’s end.

3] Nexus

A central point in a network, the nexus points the hero/ine to the next stage or person.

Dumbledore in the Harry Potter series gathers in from many points.  No matter who he enlists, he receives information and loyalty from them, which he uses to send more threads out, weaving a metaphorical great cloth of knowledge that will shield and armor Harry.

Gandalf is also a nexus even as he works alone.  He has copious connections and taps into them constantly.  Only he crosses all ethnic groups in Tolkien’s stories:  the elves and dwarves, hobbits and men.  And he is not afraid to venture into the Dark, yet he can also be blinded and become captive of the Dark when he is unwary.

4] obstacle

The challengers of the hero/ine’s complacency, mentors propel the protagonist into the quest, ready or not.  Often, mentors must break her/his rock-hard hubris.  The hero/ine must learn to look into the far distance, between the east of where s/he is and the west of where s/he needs to be.

Good & Bad

Nowhere is the Duality of the mentor more clearly presented than with the mentor as obstacle.

The mentor may be a healer (shaman) yet also a danger to the hero/ine.  Both bright and dark, he may deliberately lead the protagonist astray.

Whether independent or allied, the well-intentioned mentor is the most dangerous.  This is the Lady Russell in Jane Austen’s Persuasion, who clearly wants the best for Anne Eliot but certainly does not understand who is best for Anne.

The comic mentor of Donkey in Shrek clearly understands the darkness of the world, as he urges Shrek to think of the world as “parfait, not onion” and “nice boulder”.

Yoda is an easy selection.  An unexpected one is Katsumoto in The Last Samurai.

Sacred and mysterious or fallen and scarred, a core member of a community or an isolated hermit, struggling on his own path or already enlightened, the mentor’s connection with the hero/ine must develop slowly.  For trust is at the heart of that connection.

Trust is the basis of the connection in the flawed book Eragon with the character of Brom and successfully with Obiwan Kenobi in Star Wars.

Crazy Woman under the Ledge

I have a special place in my heart for 13th Warrior, a seriously flawed adaptation of Michael

The Thirteenth Warrior is adapted from Eaters of the Dead
Herger and Ibn see Buliwye’s completion

Crichton’s Eaters of the Dead.  To explain my reasons would take days, so let’s focus on a single point.

One of the clever details in the story is that crazy woman under the ledge.  Our heroes consult her near the end.  “We need your wisdom,” the queen says to her.  In the Archetypal structure, this crazy woman does not serve as the story’s mentor (that’s the character Herger).  Her entrance to the story falls right before the Ordeal.

(Stories can have more than one mentor.  Never limit the story.  Just keep it bounded.)

The more this riddling mentor says–“In the ground, find them in the ground”–the less the heroes understand—just as my explanation of the film is going LOL.

And then, when the heroes begin to find the monsters they must confront, her words become clear as the fog of rational, established thinking is swept away.  Like Frigga, Odin’s wife, the crazy woman understands the mysterious yet she cannot speak it plainly, if at all.

Here, when the heroes approach the lair of the monsters, Crichton turns clever again, for the character Ibn—who has needed so much instruction—becomes mentor to the group, for he is the first to understand the crazy woman’s wisdom.

Perseus’ Mentors

The earliest hero in Greek myth is Perseus, a stripling who never thought things through before he jumped in (typical teenager).

When he volunteers to bring back the head of the Gorgon Medusa, he doesn’t even know where to look.

First, he visits the Dodona (early Paleo diet:  they eat ground acorns for their flour).  They send him to the Graiae, the monstrous Gray Women, a trap if I ever saw one.  He doesn’t fall into that trap.  The Gray Women have swan necks, are winged, and share one eye among them (past, present or future OR here, there, everywhere).

These three send him to the Nymphs of the North (the Hyperboreans)—early Norse?  Still dominated by a matriarchal society?  Early Valkyries?  They could easily have killed Perseus.  Instead, impressed by his adventurous spirit, they give him the very things he needs to fly to the Gorgons’ islands in order to take Medusa’s head:  winged sandals, a cap of darkness, and a wallet that will hold anything.  Oh, and where the Gorgons are.  (Why does Hollywood consistently ruin a perfectly good story?)

The Point?

3 Mentors:  Dodona for guidance, Graiae for a dangerous obstacle that he had to escape before they trapped (and ate) him, and the Hyperboreans, a dangerous obstacle that becomes a gift-giver.  And each one a part in the wider nexus of mentors.


Mentors improve plots—and can destroy them.  Carefully consider the role that the mentors will perform.  They are not mere walk-ons.  Their role is to~

  • Test the readiness of the hero/ine.
  • Teach necessary knowledge.
  • Guide toward the perspective needed for the quest.
  • Give gifts—tangible and intangible.

Choose your mentors wisely.  

Through the Looking Glass
Alice and the Red Queen

With well-crafted mentors, the hero/ine can step through the looking glass.

Alice laughed.  “There’s no use trying,” she said; “one can’t believe impossible things.”

“I daresay you haven’t had much practice,” said the Queen.  “When I was younger, I always did it for half an hour a day.  Why, sometimes, I’ve believed as many as six impossible things before breakfast.” ~~ Alice in Wonderland


 Only a fool, standing on the tracks and seeing a train approaching, will not jump out of the way.

Seeing danger approach, suffering the consequences of that danger:  for most, these encounters will cause a retreat back into the cocoon.

“But I don’t want to go among mad people,” said Alice.

“Oh, you can’t help that,” said the cat. “We’re all mad here.”  ~~ Lewis Carroll

from Wikimedia Commons
Monarch emerging from cocoon, an image from Wikimedia Commons

Butterflies emerge from cocoons.  They don’t refuse the Call to Adventure.  And they aren’t fools.

They have sacrificed the caterpillar to become a winged glory.  But they had to spend their transforming journey in an ugly cocoon form.

In story, the Refusal of the Call to Adventure is just as necessary as the C2A itself.  The protagonist enters the journey because to remain is to die in smothering winter.  The trials of the protagonist’s journey are like the ugly cocoon.  At the end, s/he will emerge a new creature.

The Refusal of the Call demands that the writer engage all aspects of the protagonist:  intellectual, physical, emotional.

The RoC

If you’ve done the work in Ordinary World and Call to Adventure, then staging the Refusal of the Call is a bare hesitation.

In Taken and Velocity (see previous blog), the RoC barely skips through.  The writers get away with this omission because they presented the protagonist’s earlier trauma that steels them to confront the evil.  Few stories, however, have a protagonist already primed to accept personal destruction.

from The Hobbit, 2012
Bilbo Pushed & Tempted

Bilbo rejects Gandalf’s and the dwarves’ Call to Adventure.  One side of him likes his comfort too much.  But we have also glimpsed his desire for adventure, and his decision to journey with the dwarves is understandable.

If the dearness of the cherished sacrifice was omitted in the first two stages, do it now.

The RoC gives protagonist the opportunity to grieve over the destruction of the dear.  The protagonist should also recognize that something even more cherished is now at stake.  Or make plans to recover the dear one. 

Any consequences (especially personal) that arise from the sacrifice develop in the RoC.

  • A lie revealed has consequences far beyond the moment of revelation. How far reaching are those consequences.
  • A broken relationship is not the end of the world. This revelation can bolster the protagonist as s/he starts to rebuild her/his world.  Now is the time to hint—but not unveil—the better relationship to come.
  • The destroyed sacrifice should not have an easy replacement. Various replacements can be tried, only for the protagonist to realize their inadequacy.

Don’t Neglect the Evil

The antagonist must also be considered in the RoC.  Defeating the antagonist must seem impracticable or even impossible.

Development of a worthy antagonist pays off here.  Defeating this conflict-creator will requirement even more sacrifice from the protagonist.

Jobs Not Yet Done

The RoC must also foreshadow the first step on the journey.  Now is the time to hint at the driving force that leads to the journey’s first step.

Remember the dual aspect of the protagonist?  These positive and negative aspects need to come into balance as they propel—or coerce—the protagonist into the transforming journey.

The conflict of the Dual Self—the yin unbalanced with the yang—can be clarified when we consider the protagonist in relation to the 5 Psychological Stages of Maturity.

While these are originally geared to present the maturation of an individual from birth to senior citizen, they are applicable to the hero’s journey.

Remember, the journey is the development of a new identity separate from the collective, a self emerging from the group, distinct and totally individual.

Each level of the 5 Psycho Stages also provides rich ground for character development.

5 Psycho Stages

1] Identity / Infancy: Who am I?  Who do I belong with?  Who is in my group, and what is the reason I identify with them?  What are my good and evil traits—even though I may not want to admit them?

2] Training / Childhood: Acquisition of necessary skills.  The child plays at adult jobs.  The child also learns rules, like sharing which turns the little barbarian savage into a member of the larger community.  Learning the basic requirements of her/his culture is also essential.

3] Responsibility for Self / Youth: At this point, the protagonist does not need others to take care of her/him-self.  The stage’s hero is greatly uneasy when circumstances for her/him back to being tended by others.

This is an important stage for a young adult, and inability or unwillingness to perform the requisite duties and responsibilities is a flashing sign that a character is still in Stage 2.

4] Duties & Responsibilities for Others / Adult: Whether the protagonist performs these duties happily or sourly, willingly or begrudgingly, with great anticipation or with trudging depression, the maturing adult will meet these obligations.

5] Altruism / Maturation: the great mark of the fulfilled soul.  Giving up what is held most dear for the benefit of others can be the impetus for change and is the realization of maturation.

Do the Work

Whether we use the information we discover about our protagonist with the 5 Psycho Stages, it helps us to comprehend their heights and depths.

“A Man Called Horse” by Dorothy Johnson presents these 5 Psycho Stages through the conflict of a white upper-class culture with Native American culture in pre-Civil War America.


OW:  A young man of excellent social and economic standing has left his home.

C2A: He wants to be considered a king, which tells us much about his personal esteem.  Seeking a new identity for himself, he travels to the western frontier where he thinks white men are kings.

movie still from “A Man Called Horse”, based on Johnson’s much more wonderful short story

RoC: Captured by the Crow while bathing and blooded by their abuse, he enters the Crow society as a babe enters the world.  His new identity is slave.

Training & Responsibilities for Self

Tests / Allies / Enemies & Beyond:  He must learn his new group and their ways, their language, their social structure, and the jobs appropriate for a slave and a male in that society.

Responsibilities for Others

He climbs from being a slave to being the cherished husband of a young woman.  All he wants to do is escape—but he cannot.  His new wife is pregnant with his child.  He has a duty he cannot abandon.

Ordeal: Then a miracle occurs—the horrible kind that pairs the cherished dear with death.

Road Back: With the deaths of his wife and baby, he can escape—or he can stay and care for his mother-in-law, the woman he was enslaved to, until her death.


Resurrection: He achieves altruism when he sacrifices three more years of his life until his mother-in-law dies.  Only then does he return home.  He had anticipated that he would brag about his exploits;  we find that he merely says he lived with the Crow for a while.

Return with the Elixir:  He achieves the great truth:  that he is the equal of any man on earth.  He knows this because he is equal to anything that he must endure.

A Mortal Apotheosis

He rushed into an adventure.

He faced transforming threats.

And he sacrificed his cherished dear.

To became noble.

This is something we all want to achieve: a standing far above the ordinary collective.

Coming Up

As the protagonist embarks on her/his journey, s/he needs wiser eyes.  Join us on the 20th for an examination of the Meeting with the Mentor.

Old Geeky Greeks:  

Write Stories using Ancient Techniques

Here’s a List for You ~

Blood tragedies.

public domain image, sketch may be viewed at the National Gallery of Art in Washington D.C.
Perseus displaying Medusa’s head: sketch by John Singer Sargent for his 1902 sculpture


I, Robot.

Harry Potter.



The 13th Warrior.

The scariest woman in all literature.

The Hobbit.

Dudley Dooright.

5 Stages of the Hero . . . and the Monster.

Jurassic Park, in all its iterations.

What do the items in this oddly-matched list have in common?

These stories all have origins with the ancient Greeks and Romans.

Sitting around fires after a day of hunting and gathering, the first writers developed techniques to influence their audiences. 

Those techniques have thousands of years of use and still hold true for capturing audiences.

The ancient Greeks (and Romans) of classical antiquity viewed the stories and dramas that were enduring.  And just like writers today, they searched and defined and classified the best techniques to create writings that pleased their audiences.

These old geeky Greeks laid the foundations.  Many of their techniques are still in use. Ideas original to them are re-packaged as glittery infographics and Wham-Pow webinars and three-point seminars with exclusive insights to Buy Now!

Clear and Quick Information

Old Geeky Greeks: Write Stories with Ancient Techinques presents such ideas as the Blood Tragedy and dulce etutile in a clear, organized method for writers who want to write rather than invest hours getting three snippets of information.

Chapters in OGG cover understanding characters to the five stages that established the modern protagonist from the ancient hero.  Aristotle’s requirements for plot precede a survey of the oldest plot formula, the Blood (or Revenge) Tragedy.  Concepts such as in medias res and dulce et utile can help writers solve sticky problems and develop new ideas.

Old Geeky Greeks (and Romans) looked at successful plays and other story-telling methods to determine what influenced the audience.

  • Which characters were still talked about weeks and months after a performance?
  • Which play structures failed—and which were consistently winners?
  • And which ideas helped writers develop their celebrated writings?
Writers today are still searching for the answers to these questions.

The bright minds of Classical Antiquity first explored these questions.  Their answers are applicable even in the age of the internet, open-source software, special effects, and infographics.

Aristotle, Seneca, Plato, Horace, and many other ancient geeks have their ideas matched to Harry Potter, Avatar, Last of the Mohicans, and Shakespeare.

Whether we’re writing novels or plays, blogs or non-fiction, poems and songs, Old Geeky Greeks (written by M.A. Lee and Emily R. Dunn) is a seminar in 28,000 words, just published on Amazon Kindle.

Buy it here!

John Singer Sargent’s sketch for his sculpture of Perseus

with Medusa’s head, provides the cover art for OGG.