How to be the Old Man, the Crone, the Spirit Guide, the Mentor

By Candy Gourlay

A few weeks ago, I received this mind-blowing video from Miriam College Middle School created by readers of my book Tall Story:

I was stunned. Every time I watch it, I feel a little bit tearful. How can I even begin to respond to such a mind-blowing message?

Thank you, with all my heart.

Someone, commenting on Facebook, said: 'This is success' ... and she is right. For someone like me who spends long, lonely days wracking her brains in front of a computer screen, your video is a validation. You are why I write.

Your video also makes me think of all the people who figured in my life, took my hand, and led me in directions that, on my own, I would never have taken. All the extraordinary people who mentored me and showed me that the world is more than just the tiny box I was born into.

When I visit schools, I give a presentation on the Hero's Journey, a universal motif that runs through virtually all the world's mythic traditions.

Writers from George Lucas (Star Wars) to Andrew Stanton (Toy Story) have been inspired by the Hero's Journey, outlined by the mythologist Joseph Campbell in his book The Hero With a Thousand Faces. 

Campbell writes that at some point in every adventure, the hero meets another character – often 'an old man or a crone' – 'who provides the adventurer with amulets against the forces he is about to pass'. It is the decrepit old woman of East African legend, who leads impoverished Kyazimba to prosperity, it is the Spider Woman of Navaho lore, who provides the charms that lead lost sons to their father, it is the fairy godmother who grants three wishes, it is Ariadne who brings Theseus safely through the labyrinth, it is Beatrice leading Dante through the inferno.

Does life reflect story or does story reflect life?

We meet gazillions of people as we journey through our own lives ... and we must pay attention. Because some very special people have that power Campbell described to lead us out of our ordinary worlds into adventure.

Will you take their hand and accept the adventure? Or will you refuse and remain in your familiar world?

Christopher Vogler – a screen writer who boiled Cambell's mythic template down to story structure for writers in his book The Writer's Journey – calls the wise old woman character the Mentor (Mentor was a character in The Odyssey who guides young Telemachus on his journey).  He writes:

Mentor figures, whether encountered in dreams, fairy tales, myths, or screenplays, stand for the hero's highest aspirations. They are what the hero may become if she persists on the Road of Heroes. Mentors are often former heroes who have survived life's early trials and are now passing on the gift of their knowledge and wisdom. Christopher Vogler in The Writer's Journey

There's Obi Wan Kenobi in Star Wars, teaching Luke how to use the Force. There's Jiminy Cricket in Pinnochio, teaching the puppet how to become a real boy. There's Merlin showing Arthur how to be a King.  There's the clever slave girl Morgiana who reveals the deceptions of the thieves to Ali Baba.

There's my primary school librarian, Miss Diaz, who gave me permission to read as much as I wanted. There's my friend Frankie who made me dare to leave home. There's my friend Mandy who showed me how to drive while eating a whole pineapple. There's Letty Magsanoc and Eggy Apostol, editor and publisher at my first job, who showed me that it was possible to tell the truth under a dictatorship. There's my husband Richard who literally extracted me from my ordinary world in Manila and took me to London.

Life is full of mentors, if you try notice them.

Vogler writes:

The function of Mentors is to prepare the hero to face the unknown. They may give advice, guidance or magic equipment ... However, the Mentor can only go so far with the hero. Eventually, the hero must face the unknown alone. Someties the Mentor is required to give the hero a swift kick in the pants to get the adventure going. The Writer's Journey

Interestingly, mentors don't often realise what they are. The amazing video sent to me by these readers told me things that I don't think about as I go about my daily job. It is wonderful to be thanked in such an extraordinary way. It is incredible. Because all I was doing was telling a story.

I think we are all mentors in our own ways.

We all have the power to light a spark in someone else.

So, thank you once more to the girls, who so kindly and imaginatively sent me this video. May the Force be with you. Now make sure you continue to pass it on.

With love to Erin Cacayorin, Zoe Donesa, Sophia Espaldon, Keira Evangelista, Alexis Gidaya, Clarisse Longboan, Mikaela Mendoza, Sam Ubay, Phylicia Abary, Jessica Bandol, Aly del Prado, Angelina Perez, Bianca Villarama and their Spirit Guides: Katrina Concepcion, Ida-Karla Manzo and Emil Pandy. With thanks to Isabela Aguilar who sent the video.

Candy Gourlay is a Filipino author based in London. Her debut Tall Story won the Crystal Kite Prize for Europe and the National Book Award in the Philippines. Her books have also been listed for the Carnegie Medal and the Guardian Children's Book Prize. Like what you see? Click here to subscribe to email updates from my blog