Trope Tuesday: Supernatural Aid

Getting back to our discussion of the Hero’s Journey, I think it’s important to briefly touch on one of the earlier stages: supernatural aid.  At some point between refusal of the call and crossing the threshold of adventure, the hero typically encounters a mentor figure from the unfamiliar world who gives him something supernatural or otherworldly to help him on his quest.  While the mentor often dies (as we saw last week), the supernatural aid that the mentor gives later proves to be a key to defeating the big bad and passing the ultimate test.

Often, this is an actual object.  In Lord of the Rings, for example, Galadriel gives each member of the fellowship a specific object.  She gives Sam a magical vial, which he uses later to defeat Shelob and save Frodo and the ring.  In The Lion, The Witch, and the Warderobe, Aslan gives each of the kids a weapon item specially suited to their characters (except Edmund, who was a prisoner of the queen at the time).  In Star Wars IV: A New Hope, Obi Wan gives Luke his father’s lightsaber–though for the purposes of this trope, we can also count his special training with the force, since Luke doesn’t use the lightsaber until episode V.

In discussing this trope, Joseph Campbell said the following:

Having responded to his own call, and continuing to follow courageously as the consequences unfold, the hero finds all the forces of the unconscious at his side. Mother Nature herself supports the mighty task. And in so far as the hero’s act coincides with that for which his society is ready, he seems to ride on the great rhythm of the historical process.

So if the mentor is supposed to die (or get put on a bus) in order for the hero to stand on his own feet, why does the hero need some kind of supernatural aid?  Isn’t that just cheating?

Not exactly.  Often, the aid is itself part of the ultimate test, and the hero doesn’t figure out how to use it properly until after he’s already experienced everything from the adventure that he needs.  The silver slippers from The Wizard of Oz are a good example of this.  So is AURYN from The Neverending Story.  The hero doesn’t fall back on the supernatural aid until after he’s completed his growth arc.

That’s not the only reason, though.  In order for the adventure to have meaning and impact, the stakes have to be really high.  Having some sort of mysterious character from the outside world grant the hero something supernatural is a great way to do this, especially at the beginning.  If the hero is part of something bigger than himself–saving the world, for example–then it makes sense that he would get some kind of help from the people depending on him, especially if those people have something supernaturally powerful to give.

The Force from Star Wars is one of my favorite examples of supernatural aid.  I hear that when episode IV debuted in the theaters, the crowds jumped up and screamed when Obi Wan said “use the force, Luke!” in the clip at the top of the post.  Just because it’s so awesome, here’s the full scene (more or less):

“Remember–the force will be with you. Always.”

Author: Joe Vasicek

Joe Vasicek is the author of more than twenty science fiction books, including the Star Wanderers and Sons of the Starfarers series. As a young man, he studied Arabic and traveled across the Middle East and the Caucasus. He claims Utah as his home.

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