The mentor is a great storytelling device. Typically, the protagonist meets the mentor in Act One or early Act Two. The mentor’s purpose (or “job”) is very straightforward: provide guidance for the protagonist.
The mentor’s purpose / job is very straightforward: provide guidance for the protagonist.
Glinda the Good Witch is a perfect example. She shows up, popping out of a floating bubble, as soon as Dorothy arrives in the Land of Oz. Quick and concise, Glinda lays down the rules.
Yes, it is all exposition, just the facts. But Dorothy now knows what she has to do and where she has to go. Pretty important stuff.
Glinda, like all good mentors, only appears a few times in Act Two. When she does show up it is to give Dorothy a gentle nudge in the right direction. Dorothy – it’s important to remember—is the one who takes action.
In Up we see a very creatively designed mentor. It’s Ellie and . . . well, she’s dead. Brilliant, right? She’s not there, but Carl speaks to her. And he knows, as we do, what she will say. Yes, Ellie provides guidance, silently, from beyond the grave. Wonderful!
All Batman films have Alfred. He’s the voice of reason and commonsense, which is shorthand for “mentor.” Alfred wears many hats: valet, confidant, advisor, occasionally doctor, mechanic, and cook. But he never ventures into the field, never fights the bad guys. That’s Batman’s business. Alfred stays home and is there for support, when Batman returns from battle.
Ready for an unexpected mentor?
One of the best and most unique mentors in cinema is Dr. Hannibal Lecter from Silence of the Lambs.
Hannibal is the worst of the worst. Clarice is frightened of Hannibal, even though he’s locked up, and for good reason. He threatens her. But, as the story moves along, Clarice and Hannibal develop an unusual bond. And, as with all mentors, Hannibal knows what he’s talking about . . . even if it is murder and cannibalism.
As is common with mentors, Hannibal has information that Clarice needs and doesn’t have. Hannibal, a bad guy but a good mentor, doles out advice in very small portions, but he does help Clarice reach her objective.