The Mentor and the Ally: Aid, Direction and Loyalty
Despite being the main protagonist of its own solitary journey, the Hero is often confronted with different characters whose role is to assist, support, and guide it in its soul-changing adventure during its perilous, arduous and life-moulding path.
One of the most notorious and recognizable archetypes in this category is undoubtedly that of the Mentor.
The Mentor, also known as the Wise Old Man or Woman, because of its form being most commonly that of an older, almost mystical person, is usually a positive figure who aids, trains and protects the Hero. Furthermore, more often than not, this figure leads the Hero into the crux of the adventure, all-the-while assisting it in recognizing the core values of the tale, and sometimes providing it with fundamental gifts.
The word "Mentor" is directly derived from one of the most notorious mythical tales of the Western world, Homer´s The Odyssey. In The Odyssey, the character named Mentor is a long-time guide for the young hero Telemachus, who is Ulysses’ son. However, the modern connotation of the term presents a more complex and emblematical meaning. It is, in fact, the goddess of wisdom, Athena, who acts as a guiding figure in the tale when, disguised as Mentor, she convinces Telemachus to assemble a ship and a crew to leave Ithaca in search of Ulysses, de facto operating as a propelling force to nudge the Hero towards their destiny.
The origin of this archetype’s name being so closely connected to a deity is not fortuitous, as it is in fact, on a psychological level. Mentors represent the Self, the divinity within the human psyche, the wiser, nobler and deeply aware side of the soul and “Mentor figures, whether encountered in dreams, fairy tales, myths, or screenplays, stand for the hero's highest aspirations.” (Vogler 40)
They epitomize the abeyant complete form the Hero might eventually attain if it persists on the journey, as more often than not Mentors are former Heroes who have endured life’s hardships and have now the responsibility to pass their acumen and expertise onto the protagonist.
From a narrative perspective, the Mentor, usually appearing during the second part of Act One, has a crucial role in advancing the tale, as it is a means not only to prepare and train the Hero to face the forthcoming path and its inevitable crucibles but also, and most importantly, it embodies the wise, judicious voice the Hero needs in order to discover the courage and strength within itself. The Mentor, despite being an essential source of knowledge for the Hero and the audience, presenting information on the substantial mythos of the fictional world the tale is set in, is mostly utilized as nothing more but the echo of the Hero’s already present noble, resolute core values and traits, in a first, fundamental attempt to prompt it to reach their potential equilibrium. Some characters embody the Mentor archetype so quintessentially that they adapt their counselling, advising function towards more Heroes, as, for instance, in the Star Wars saga Obi-Wan Kenobi trains both Anakin Skywalker and his son Luke.
At times the Mentor is someone the Hero seeks when it is at a loss about how to continue on their path, as, for example, in the show Penny Dreadful, Vanessa Ives, at the lowest and darkest point of her life, seeks out the witch Joan Clayton as a desperate attempt to learn how to control her power.
Another often utilized function of the Mentor archetype is to provide the Hero with gifts and endowments, whether they be “[…] a magic weapon, an important key or clue, some magical medicine or food, or a life-saving piece of advice.” (VOEGLER 40)
Because of its frequent role as an all-knowing, stable and supportive advising, almost parental-like figure to the Hero, it is often the Mentor’s death that signals the Hero’s approaching to the definite, final steps of the journey. To the protagonist of the tale, losing its guiding force and moral compass is a cornerstone moment that thrusts it to enter the ultimate phase of the path relying on nothing but its own self-worth and capabilities.
In the Harry Potter saga, it is after Albus Dumbledore’s death, at the end of the sixth movie, Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince, that Harry is finally forced to choose and fathom for himself – and for the allies who follow him – the road he is bound to take to defeat the final enemy, de facto taking his destiny in his own hands for the first time since the beginning of the story, and accepting his past, present and, most importantly, his future and ineluctable sacrifice.
Not coincidentally, Dumbledore’s fall to death is an almost exact visual parallel to another great Mentor’s demise, as in the first The Lord of the Rings instalment, The Lord of the Rings: The Fellowship of the Ring, Gandalf the Grey sacrifices himself in order for Frodo and the Fellowship to continue their mission unscathed, and it is not too long after Gandalf’s loss that Frodo, as the Hero of the tale, makes the decision to persist on his adventure alone, accepting the full burden of the ring’s corruptive power and taking complete responsibility for its imperative destruction.
Like every other archetype, the Mentor is not an inflexibly adamant character type, but rather a role that can be bestowed upon any figure in the course of the story, as long as it provides the Hero with motivation, counsel, inspiration or training. Sometimes, when the Hero is a particularly lonesome or experienced person, the Mentor traits are within the Hero itself, as an internalized code of behaviour it gathered during the course of its life and elect to follow to complete its path.
The Mentor’s defining lines are not as stark and distinctly drawn as they may appear, as many examples of flawed, ambiguous, and unwilling Mentors populate the storytelling world.
In Game of Thrones the character of Sansa Stark, who, at the end of the tale, is arguably an example of one of the most well-constructed character arcs of the series, throughout her journey is constantly surrounded by older, shrewd and cunningly ruthless figures, such as Cersei Lannister and Petyr “Littlefinger” Baelish. These characters, who, presented with a young, sheltered Sansa, attempt to utilize her initial naivete to fulfil their own selfish plans, underestimate her potential and, while manipulating her, wind up teaching her valuable lessons on the inner mechanics of Westerosi politics, actively contributing to her slow but consistent process of disillusionment about reality. They are to be considered a particular kind of Mentor to Sansa because, despite their aim of merely using her for their personal gain, it is also through their words and deeds that Sansa gains crucial information on how to survive and eventually thrive in the brutal, greyish and convolutedly dangerous world of Westeros.
Another essential archetype in the Hero’s journey that is defined by their allegiance and support towards the protagonist is that of the Ally.
The Ally, as a companion to the main character, is more often than not overlooked and seen as a side character, despite frequently being, because of its close bond to the protagonist, a profoundly influential force and a vital mechanism for the tale to proceed.
The Ally archetype is usually a character that assists the Hero on its journey, functioning as an accomplice to its deeds, aiding or challenging it to listen to the most profound side of itself, often acting as an emotional sounding board in order for the Hero to deal with the internal conflict tormenting it. The Ally nudges the Hero towards its greatness through support and belief in its capabilities when doom seems inevitable, and sometimes questioning the Hero’s choices, creating an often required friction for the protagonist to keep moving towards its soul-balancing path.
The psychological function of the Ally archetype is to represent the unexpressed, unused, neglected or dismissed parts of the human psyche, the core, most poignantly emotive inner traits that must be brought to life in order to reach the soul’s full potential, such as care and love, compassion and hope.
On a narrative level, the Ally has the essential purpose of humanizing the Hero and driving the audience towards a more sympathetic approach to its struggle, by highlighting the protagonist’s relatable human traits and past experiences and, sometimes, disclosing elements of the Hero’s inner mindset and essence.
However, the Ally also poses a dramatic function of its own sometimes, when its relationship with the Hero, often as strong as intricately nuanced, is utilized as a propelling force to further develop the story and add tension to the tale. In the show the 100, for instance, the relationship between the Hero, Clarke Griffin, and her main Ally and co-leader, Bellamy Blake, is an essential part of the tale.
As an embodiment of devotion and pure loyalty, the Ally archetype can be presented in a non-human shape, as an animal, whether it be real or mythological, or sometimes, as in the Star Wars saga, as a robot or an android. Despite their apparently less structured skills of expression, the blind allegiance that these Ally types present can be a powerful tool to aid the Hero in perilous times, and their sacrifice or involuntary departure is often used as the emblematic loss of innocence or connection, as it happens with the Stark’s siblings dire wolves in Game of Thrones, or with Hedwig in the Harry Potter saga.
In Marvel’s Captain America trilogy, comprised of Captain America: The First Avenger, Captain America: The Winter Soldier and Captain America: Civil War, the Ally archetype, portrayed by Bucky Barnes, Steve Rogers' lifelong best friend, is the vital fulcrum of the three-parts narrative. In the first movie, it is to save Bucky’s life that Steve ultimately decides to renounce the propagandistic poster-boy role he had been given and embark on his first, action-packed mission, de facto initiating his heroic path. Bucky’s role remains essential when, in the second movie, after being brainwashed and turned into a deadly assassin, he appears as the main villain of the tale, instilling a grave inner conflict in Steve, who ultimately decides saving Bucky is even worth losing his own life if necessary, reminding the audience of his core selflessness. In the third instalment, Bucky is once again an Ally, but is persecuted by the entire world for his past as the Winter Soldier, and his situation essentially propels Steve to fight against his own previous allies, the Avengers, causing an internal war and leading him to temporarily give up his shield and role as Captain America. Ultimately, the bond between Steve and Bucky is utilized both as a crucial, recurring plot point in the entire trilogy and, most importantly, as the ultimate demonstration of the Hero’s human, flawed albeit deeply relatable character traits, as his relationship to his Ally is the utmost epitome of his strengths and weaknesses.
The Ally’s key role in the Hero’s journey is probably best embodied in the The Lord of the Rings saga, as Samwise Gamgee, the main Ally to the Hero Frodo Baggins, is very often seen as the most heroic figure of the entire tale. Despite Sam’s traits being recognizably nobler than almost any other character's, on a narrative level, the Hero of the tale remains Frodo, as he is the one called for the adventure and entrusted with confronting the true evil and tying the overall narrative knot. It is however essential to note how in this specific story, it would have been entirely impossible for the Hero to conclude his journey had it not been for the Ally, as Sam’s presence is, on many phases of their odyssey, the only unwavering force thrusting Frodo forward. Sam constantly reminds Frodo of the true values they both hold dear, voices his concern for Frodo’s possible corruption, saves him and the ring, constantly supports him, never loses hope and ultimately carries a worn-out, almost unrecognizably mentally broken Frodo on his back in order to arrive to Mount Doom and face the final challenge.
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