The hero’s journey – Death of the mentor

Death of the mentor

Joseph Campbell never listed this as one of his seventeen stages, however it is an extremely common step which usually occurs around the end of Act II. It’s significant because it marks the separation from the shelter of the mentor and that the hero must face the rest of the quest alone.

Star Wars – Darth Vader strikes down Obi Wan in front of Luke as they and now he must finish the journey without him.

Buffy the Vampire Slayer movie – Merrick is Buffy’s watcher, he’s killed by the vampire Lothos, at the end of the film Buffy had to face her mentor’s killer.

It doesn’t have to be a literal death either, it can mean that mentor has revealed his true self and is not someone the hero should follow.

Batman Begins – Henri Ducard was Bruce’s mentor and trained him to be the Batman. However when he revealed himself to be the true Ra’ Al Ghul at the end of the second act Bruce had to fight him and the League of Shadows.

Silence of the Lambs – When Hannibal escapes from his cell, Clarice is no longer able to call on him for the final act and must complete the search for Buffalo Bill without any more help.


Death – the act of dying or being killed

end, termination, cease, demise, release


Mentor – an advisor who trains

teacher, coach, authority, tutor, trainer


How to use it in your writing

If you want to make things really bad for your hero, kill off his teacher and then make him face that killer.

Flip the mentor so that the hero has learned the mentor was not just and righteous and make the hero go head to head with his former teacher who knows his weaknesses and his strength.

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The Hero’s journey – Atonement with the father

Atonement with the father

The hero must reconcile with the ultimate authority figure in his life. Reconciliation means to end the conflict. The authority figure needs to hand over approval or respect or the hero comes to the realization that the authority figure was right. In the same way sons rebel against their fathers when young but when they get older they understand their father was only trying to help him, they come to understand that the father was right.

The act of atonement brings with it a new level of maturity or understanding to the hero of himself. The hero may need to defeat or gain some sort of mastery over the authority figure or completely submit to it to complete this stage.

Sons have a conflicting relationship with their father, they are desperate for their father’s approval but at the same time they are trying to assert their own manhood over their father. When the child is ready to reconcile with his father he has proved he is ready to make a man out of himself. The atonement marks the end of being a child.

The story of the prodigal son.

A young man asks his father to give him his inheritance before his father has died so that he may enjoy it now. The father agrees and the son travels to a distant land and wastes all the money on extravagant living. He is forced through poverty to take to working as a swineherd, a filthy job, and eventually begins to envy the pigs. He decides to return home, expected to be treated like a servant in the eyes of his father. However his father runs to him and they embrace. All is forgiven.

This is what Joseph Campbell writes about this stage;

“Atonement consists in no more than the abandonment of that self-generated double monster—the dragon thought to be God (superego) and the dragon thought to be Sin (repressed id). But this requires an abandonment of the attachment to ego itself, and that is what is difficult. One must have a faith that the father is merciful, and then a reliance on that mercy. Therewith, the center of belief is transferred outside of the bedeviling god’s tight scaly ring, and the dreadful ogres dissolve. It is in this ordeal that the hero may derive hope and assurance from the helpful female figure, by whose magic (pollen charms or power of intercession) he is protected through all the frightening experiences of the father’s ego-shattering initiation. For if it is impossible to trust the terrifying father-face, then one’s faith must be centered elsewhere (Spider Woman, Blessed Mother); and with that reliance for support, one endures the crisis—only to find, in the end, that the father and mother reflect each other, and are in essence the same. The problem of the hero going to meet the father is to open his soul beyond terror to such a degree that he will be ripe to understand how the sickening and insane tragedies of this vast and ruthless cosmos are completely validated in the majesty of Being. The hero transcends life with its peculiar blind spot and for a moment rises to a glimpse of the source. He beholds the face of the father, understands—and the two are atoned.”


Atonement with the father Silence of the Lambs

She completely bares her soul to Hannibal in this scene and earns his gratitude. This is the wound she’s been carrying with her since she was a child, the reason she became an FBI agent in the first place, to silence the lambs. This is what has held power over her, all her life, by acknowledging this incident she is able to overcome it.

The authority figure could be a father, mother, god, system of laws, an ideal, an event that has power over the hero.


Whether or not the hero is aware of it, the journey has been leading to this moment. Once this new level of enlightenment has been achieved, the hero is able to complete the journey.


Reconcile – Cause to coexist in harmony, make or show compatible.

Conciliate, accommodate, conform, resolve, settle, bring together, bury the hatchet


How to use in your writing

What is the ultimate power in your character’s life?

What is the ultimate power in this adventure?

How is conquering, accepting, or submitting to this power going to lead to a new level of understanding for the hero?

The Hero’s journey – Silence of the Lambs

Silence of the Lambs

Ordinary World – Clarice is a small woman in a man’s world, an FBI agent in training.

Call to Adventure – A serial killer has the FBI stumped and her boss, Crawford wants her to take part in the case involving Buffalo Bill, a psychopath who skins his victims.

Refusal of the call – Refusal of the call is flipped onto Lector. When she turns up wanting assistance with finding the serial killer he wants nothing to do with her. He only changes his mind after she was polite to him and one of the other inmates violates her. However it should also be noted that sometimes the refusal of the call is a refusal to heed a warning accompanying the call. In this instance, Crawford warns her not to reveal anything personal to Hannibal Lector because “you don’t want him inside your head.” However, when she meets him, this is exactly what she does.

Supernatural Aid – Hannibal Lector possesses the knowledge she needs, but he’s not going to give it to her easily. Who knows psychopaths better than psychiatrist? Another psychopath, and Hannibal is both.

Belly of the whale – Descending into the dungeon prison where Hannibal and the other criminals lie. Her innocence is destroyed when she has semen thrown on her.

Crossing the first Threshold  – Making the most of a cryptic clue Hannibal gave her, she finds a murder victim which Hannibal reveals as Buffalo Bill’s first victim. The investigation has truly begun.

Road of the trials – back and forth between police investigation and interpreting clues from Hannibal.

Meeting with the Goddess – The Senator’s daughter is abducted by Buffalo Bill, she is the Goddess. Her capture spurs Clarice on and adds a level of urgency. Although Starling doesn’t actually meet her, she serves her purpose.

Woman as Temptress – Clarice is the temptress, she tempts Hannibal with offer of helping her with the case and in return he gets a cell with a view. The dilemma for him is if he helps her directly she will catch him and he will stop seeing her but if he doesn’t help her he will lose his cell with a view.

Atonement with the Father – Dr Lector makes her reveal the story of the silence of the Lambs. She completely exposes herself and gains both Hannibal’s respect and gratitude. Shortly after this, there is a Death of the Mentor moment, Hannibal escapes and she can no longer rely on him for help, she is on her own now.

Apotheosis  – She can see what no one else can see and deduces Buffalo Bill is killing his victims to make a skin suit of a woman.

Ultimate Boon – Crawford believes he has solved the case and is on his way to capture Buffalo Bill. Crawford thanks her and tells her they never would have found him if not for her.

Refusal of the return – Clarice wants to join him, to be one of the FBI officers who captures Buffalo Bill but Crawford sends her on another more junior mission.

The Magic flight – The Magic Flight means escape or fight, The Senator’s daughter devises a plan to escape by capturing Buffalo Bill’s dog. She holds the dog for ransom and demands a phone, Bill gets his gun.

Rescue from without  – Clarice follows the trail but it seems to go cold, until Stacey gives her the address of Buffalo Bill’s house.

The crossing of the return threshold – Enters Buffalo Bills house and works out he is the killer by seeing the moth.

Master of Two worlds – She was once a little girl running with a lamb, trying to save it from slaughter, she failed. Now she’s a FBI agent trying to save a girl in the den of a serial killer. She conquers her fear and kills Buffalo Bill.

Freedom to live – “I have no plans to call on you. The world’s more interesting with you in it.”

Hero’s journey – Supernatural aid

Supernatural aid

Help is given to the hero from someone who is endowed with abilities beyond the normal. They may or may not give the hero some talisman to help him on the journey.

For some reason, e.g. too old, this guide is unable to complete the job ahead, the journey must be completed by the hero.

Can be used to highlight how hopelessly unprepared and outclassed the hero is for the journey.

Experienced heroes

Experienced heroes often have no physical Mentor instead their mentor takes the form of their conscience and the code of honor they live by.


Definition – Mysterious, not of this world, something beyond our current understanding

Synonyms – unearthly, weird, miraculous, rare, secret, transcendental, divine, omnipotent, religious


Definition – Help, support,

Synonyms – Advancement, alleviation, encouragement, guidance, promotion


Definition – A charm believed to have supernatural powers and bring good luck

Synonyms – Amulet, mascot, idol, image, symbol


Definition – A wise and trusted councilor or teacher

Synonyms – Advisor, master, guide


This stage represents assistance and push. It is a stage which conflicts with the Rejection of the call stage.

In Silence of the Lambs, Clarice Starling is an FBI trainee and Jack Crawford is the head of the Bureau’s Behavioural Science unit. In a classic story he would serve as the mentor for Clarice, he does serve this function to a degree, however, in a masterful stroke of story telling, Hannibal Lector- the serial killer is her mentor. He’s the one who gives her advice and assistance to help track down the killer and at the same time, overcome her own flaws.