Saturday 9 March 2013

The Mentor & the Talisman by Caroline Lawrence

Pixar's masterpiece, UP
March is one of my busy months. I travel to schools in the UK almost daily to tell kids about how I get ideas, do research and structure my books. Structure? Yes! Story structure is one of my favourite subjects to write about, but I also love talking about the archetypal characters that go all the way back to Greek mythology. I show kids still photos from The Wizard of Oz (over 70 years old and still a classic), Star Wars IV: A New Hope (over 35 years old and still a classic) and Pixar's UP (just four years old and already a classic.)

four kids in the Roman Mysteries
I ask them to look at the characters and notice that the Hero often has two or three helpers or allies in his (or her) team. This is what inspired the four kids who feature in my Roman Mysteries books. I've blogged before about the Hero's Journey and Mythic Archetypes, but today I've been thinking about a special character, the "Mentor".

Before he got into mobile phones...
Unlike the Faithful Sidekick, the Funny One or the Wild One, the Mentor does not usually go on the journey with the Hero, but he sets her off. He tells her that she is the chosen one. He gives her advice, encouragement and sometimes a shove. Best of all, the Mentor almost always gives the Hero a "talisman", an object which may have special powers, but is more important for reassuring the Hero that he/she is the Chosen One.

In The Wizard of Oz, Glinda the Good Witch is Dorothy's Mentor. She gives Dorothy the Ruby Slippers as her talisman.

a great Talisman for a girl: power shoes!

In Star Wars, Obi-Wan Kenobi is Luke's Mentor. He gives Luke his father's light-saber as the talisman.

As you can see, the Mentor is often a man with a beard!

But who is the Mentor in the Pixar film UP? And what is the talisman?

If you remember that Mr. Carl Fredrickson is the unlikely Hero who sets off on a fantastic voyage to South America, then the answer is obvious.

Even after she's gone, she's his mentor...

The Mentor is the person who calls the hero to the Quest. So Carl's Mentor is his wife Ellie. He first met her when they were young. She made him a member of her club and gave him the talisman, a grape-soda bottle-top badge. It has no magical powers, but it is infinitely precious to Carl and when he passes it on to his Faithful Sidekick Russell at the end of the film, Russell's eyes shine with pride.

The Talisman doesn't have to be magical
One of the reasons I love talking about mythic structure and archetypes is because they have power in our lives today. Every day we travel our own Hero's Journey and if we we are lucky, we find our own mentors.

My fourth grade teacher was a Mentor. She read A Wrinkle In Time to us and got me excited about fiction at an early age.

Someone you've never met can be a mentor. Author Mary Renault started me on a journey as a historian and writer of historical fiction. In fact, my parents were my mentors, and her book The Last of the Wine was my Talisman!

I listened to Truby's tapes for a decade before I met him

Script Doctor John Truby (above) was my mentor for ten years before I ever met him, thanks to a set of audio cassettes (my talisman!). Truby is the wise teacher who gave me the tools I needed to write a plot onto which I could hang my ideas.

A talisman can be a light-saber, ruby slippers, a Mockingjay pin, a Ring, a grape-soda bottle-top badge. But for many of us, our mentors are authors and our talisman is their book.

And just as we have benefitted from wonderful mentors, we can hope for nothing better than to be mentors ourselves!

Caroline Lawrence writes historical fiction for kids. Her latest book, The Thunder Omen, is out now. Find out more at 


Sue Bursztynski said...

You know, I never thought of Up as a Hero's Journey! Interesting idea. I teach it in English to my Year 8 students, who generally like it. There's so much meat in it to discuss. I don't think they're quite ready for The Hero's Journey, though. ;-)

Actually, Obi Wan Kenobi does set off on Luke's journey and manages to hang around commenting on things despite being dead! (Grin)

Katherine Roberts said...

Ah yes, where would we be without mentors? Merlin makes a good mentor for Arthurian fiction (he also comes with a beard), and I use him in my Pendragon series although he loses his man's body quite early on and ends up trapped in the body of a small falcon - a merlin, naturally.

Not sure I have found my own mentor yet, though I look carefully at bearded people I meet in case they turn out to be a wizard in disguise...

Caroline Lawrence said...

Yes, Merlin is a classic Mentor. With a beard! :-)

Susan Price said...

I loved this, Caroline! Thank you!