The mentor character archetype helps and protects the hero along her journey. Let’s look at the similarities of Hagrid, the mentor in Harry Potter, and Haymitch, the mentor in The Hunger Games.
1. The Mentor was Once in the Hero’s Position
Though the hero is starting an unusual journey, the mentor has been exactly in the hero’s shoes before.
- Hagrid was a Hogwart’s student. “Oh, well — I was at Hogwarts meself but I — er — got expelled, ter tell yeh the truth.” (HP Ch. 4).
- Haymitch was a tribute in the Hunger Games. “‘Haymitch. How do you think he won the Games?’ I say. ‘He outsmarted the others,’ says Peeta.” (HG Ch. 23).
2. The Mentor Appears Disheveled
The mentor’s appearance gives us the feeling that the hero might be doomed right from the start.
- Hagrid does not look like a tidy, proper wizard. “He looked simply too big to be allowed, and so wild — long tangles of bushy black hair and beard hid most of his face. . . .” (HP Ch. 1).
- Haymitch is not taking care of himself, let alone another person! “His breath reeks of liquor and it’s been a long time since he’s bathed.” (HG Ch. 2).
3. The Mentor is a Misfit of Society
The mentor does not fit in to the very society that he is helping introduce the hero to.
- Hagrid is not allowed to do magic. “I heard he’s a sort of savage — lives in a hut on the school grounds and every now and then he gets drunk, tries to do magic, and ends up setting fire to his bed.” (HP Ch. 5).
- Haymitch is too unrefined enough to fit in with the Capitol residents. “But we rarely get sponsors and he’s a big part of the reason why. The rich people who back tributes . . . expect someone classier than Haymitch to deal with.” (HG Ch. 4).
4. The Mentor Lives Separately from the Other Characters
In fact, the mentor is a literal “outcast” from society because he does not live among them.
- Hagrid does not live in the castle with the students and professors. “Hagrid lived in a small wooden house on the edge of the forbidden forest.” (HP Ch. 8).
- Haymitch lives in the Victor’s Village. “He lives alone, no wife or children, most of his waking hours drunk.” (HG Ch. 23).
5. The Mentor Drinks More than Any Other Character
To round out the mentor’s aura of unreliability, the mentor drinks a lot of alcohol.
- Hagrid is often seen drinking. “Listen, Harry, would yeh mind if I slipped off fer a pick-me-up in the Leaky Cauldron?” (HP Ch. 5).
- Haymitch is clearly an alcoholic. “’All right, I’ll make a deal with you. You don’t interfere with my drinking, and I’ll stay sober enough to help you,’ says Haymitch.” (HG Ch. 4).
6. Everyone knows the Mentor
The mentor is highly recognizable and looked at fondly by society, even if he doesn’t fit in.
- Hagrid is recognized at The Leaky Caldron. “Everyone seemed to know Hagrid; they waved and smiled at him, and the bartender reached for a glass, saying, ‘The usual, Hagrid?'”(HP Ch. 5).
- Haymitch appears on TV every year as the District 12 coach. “He has been around so long, he’s practically an old friend to some of them.” (HG Ch. 23).
7. The Mentor is Charged with Keeping the Hero Alive
Despite the mentor’s outward appearance, outcast status, and drinking habit, he is somehow the one who is supposed to take care of the hero.
- Hagrid brought Harry to the Dursley’s after Voldemort attacked Harry as a baby. “Took yeh from the ruined house myself, on Dumbledore’s orders.” (HP Ch. 4).
- Haymitch is responsible for getting sponsors while Katniss is in the arena. “You know your mentor is your lifeline to the world in these Games.” (HG Ch. 3).
8. The Mentor Is Not Very Reliable
The stories drive home the point that the mentor is unreliable by having other characters assume that the mentor will mess up.
- Professor McGonagall worries that Hagrid is too careless. “You think it — wise — to trust Hagrid with something as important as this?” (HP Ch. 1).
- Katniss relies on Effie at the training center “because at least she can be counted on to corral us around to places on time whereas we haven’t seen Haymitch since he agreed to help us on the train. Probably passed out somewhere.” (HG Ch. 6).
9. The Mentor Forces the Hero to Acknowledge He is Talented
Without the mentor’s help, the hero wouldn’t have realized that he had talent. Notice that both heroes have to “think about it” before accepting the truth.
- Hagrid helps Harry realize that he already has magical qualities. “’Not a wizard, eh? Never made things happen when you was scared or angry?’. . . Now he came to think about it . . . ” (HP Ch. 4).
- Haymitch helps Katniss realize that he has survival skills. “’And you’re good?’ asks Haymitch. I have to think about it.” (HG Ch. 7).
10. The Hero Trusts the Mentor
Perhaps because of the mentor’s honest presentation of himself, the hero almost immediately trusts the mentor and begins following his advice.
- Harry decides to leave the Dursleys with Hagrid. “[Y]et somehow, even though everything Hagrid had told him so far was unbelievable, Harry couldn’t help trusting him.” (HP Ch. 5).
- Katniss follows all of Haymitch’s advice even though she doesn’t like it, including not resisting the stylists, staying by Peeta’s side during training, and not showing off her archery skills during training. “We both start to object, but Haymitch slams his hand on the table. ‘Every minute! It’s not open for discussion! You agreed to do as I said!'” (HG Ch. 7).
Why it Works
The mentor (and the wise one) fill the void of the hero’s missing parents. However, the mentor is much more flawed than the saintly and serene wise one– compare Haymitch with Cinna, and Hagrid with Dumbledore.
Sure, the mentor knows all about the awesome-awful land, but he’s certainly not the ideal teacher. That would be too easy! The mentor’s flawed character helps us see the hero as even more of an underdog.
I’m undecided on what role the alcohol plays– perhaps it’s part comic relief or maybe it just stacks the deck against the hero’s success.
In a follow-up post on the roles of the mentor, we’ll see that the mentor will usher the hero from his homeland, to awful-awesome land, and back again (with a few tricks up his sleeve). I will add index cards for the mentor’s scenes to the master outline in that follow-up post.
What other famous literary mentors are out there? Are you using one in your novel?