The 4rth stage of The hero’s journey is called “Meet the mentor”. The adventure of our hero has finally begun, and this first encounter will impact the rest of the story.
A mentor is a figure in the story that provides the protagonist with the instruments he needs to succeed in his journey.
Obi-Wan Kenobi is the one who gave Luke his lightsaber and taught him about the force. The encounter with Jiraiya changed Naruto’s life forever. Mulan learns how to “be a man” (metaphorically speaking) from her mentor and also love interest Li Shang.
Many movies and TV series don’t give their protagonist a mentor at all. They simply have the hero figure out the solution or find the McGuffin on his own and the final result is roughly the same.
So the question is: If this step could easily be skipped, what’s the point of keeping it in the plot?
What is “Meet the mentor”?
In his book “The hero with a thousand faces”, Joseph Campbell writes that the mentor in question is most likely a symbol.
“What such a figure represents is the benign, protecting, power of destiny.”– The hero with a thousand faces
There are two different versions of a mentor according to Campbell:
- a protective mother (if it’s a woman)
- a wise guide (if it’s a man)
The mother is often very powerful and uses her abilities to shield the hero from harm, provides him with objects that will help him in his quest and stays behind. Just like the fairy godmother in Cinderella who gives her everything she needs to go to the ball.
Meanwhile, the male counterpart is similar to a teacher. He can either give the hero the instruments he needs or guide him to the place where he needs to be. In the anime My hero academia, All Might gives Midoriya his quirk but also stays with him and teaches him how to be a hero.
Kubo and the two strings
In the 2016 movie Kubo and the two strings, we not only have the stage of “Meet the mentor”, but we have both a female and a male example of this figure.
The first one is Monkey, a wooden charm that came to life thanks to the magic of Kubo’s mother. She is protective, fierce in battle, focused on her objective and a real helicopter parent.
Her #1 priority is Kubo’s safety and wellbeing, this is so important to her that she ends up disregarding her own health in order to stay close to the child. Monkey’s character arc revolves around learning to let down her guard and trust that the child can take care of himself.
The second mentor we get to see is Beetle, a samurai who was cursed to live as half-man half-beetle. Free-spirited, careless, clumsy and unfocused, he is the kind of dad who’s fun to hang out with but ends up losing his kid every 5 minutes.
He immediately likes Kubo and during their journey, he teaches the boy how to use a bow. While Monkey’s more rigid personality keeps the child safe but unhappy, Beetle gives our protagonist the affection he craves and solid advices.
Kubo and the two strings uses both versions of the mentor in the form of Kubo’s parents, and by doing so it enforces the message that the “Meet the mentor” stage is supposed to send: even the greatest hero needs help and guidance in his quest.