In What is the What, Valentino’s life experience may be examined as correlating with stages of the Hero’s journey. The function of the mentor is to prepare the hero to face the unknown, to...

In What is the What, Valentino’s life experience may be examined as correlating with stages of the Hero’s journey. The function of the mentor is to prepare the hero to face the unknown, to accept the adventure, and to protect the Hero. Identify an encounter in Valentino’s life when he encounters a mentor.

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teachsuccess | High School Teacher | (Level 1) Educator Emeritus

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Hello! In What Is The What, we are introduced to Valentino, one of the Lost Boys of Sudan.

You asked about Valentino's life experience and its correlation to stages in the Hero's journey. First, let's set the context for what we are about to discuss: you can read about the stages of the Hero's journey here. The twelve steps of a Hero's journey usually begin with a foundation step, an introduction to the Hero's world before his adventure begins. What Is The What does not follow the Hero's steps exactly, but we can see a natural progression through the steps. Book 1-Chapter IV is where Valentino recounts to TV Boy what it is like being six years old in his childhood village in Sudan, Marial Bai. He talks about seeing a bicycle for the first time with his best friends, and about his infatuation with the beautiful Amath, even though she is too old for him. In Book 1-Chapter VI, we are introduced to the Dinka Creation Story that Valentino's father, Deng Arou, politely tells Sadiq, an Arab.

In a nutshell, the Creation story tells of God creating both a man and a beautiful Dinka woman and giving them a choice between the gift of a cow (which will provide meat, milk and wealth) or the What. The Dinka man asks "What is the What?" but God asserts that He cannot tell him. Yet, He expects the Dinka man and woman to decide which they will choose without knowing what the latter holds. The man and woman choose the cow and God is pleased with their choice. This proves that they are thankful for what they receive instead of lusting after unknown rewards.

Yet Valentino feels that his father has left out the real truth to Sadiq: that the Arab Muslims stole their land and cattle, perpetrating abuses on his people because they were jealous of the Dinka. It is they, Valentino silently asserts, who have chosen the unknown, and in the process brought grievous suffering to his people. You can read more about the VAD Foundation, started by Valentino himself (this is the last step in the Hero's journey when he returns with the Elixir/knowledge that he has gained, ready to share with others) here.

As you can see with the stages of the Hero's journey (link is above), Stage 4 is about the Hero meeting with his mentors. As you mentioned, mentors prepare the hero for the unknown journey ahead and protect the hero. Sometimes the Hero meets his mentors along the journey. In Valentino's case, Dut Majok, the leader of the Lost Boys, becomes a sort of mentor to all the boys. He leads them to the Pinyudo Refugee Camp. Along the way he provides the stability of his leadership to the boys. When the boys encounter a lion along the way, he screams at all of them to sit down. One boy, Angelo, refuses because he is afraid. He runs and is hunted down by the lion. Valentino and the boys see the wisdom of Dut's commands although they blame Dut for Angelo's death. Dut steels himself to the grumbling and steers the group steadily; his leadership style is authoritarian but he cares about the survival of the group and this is apparent when he insists they stop and sleep for the night.

He sensed there were government army soldiers in the area; we needed to sleep and learn more in the morning about our whereabouts.

Later on, when the boys try to cross the Gilo River, it is Dut Majok who keeps Valentino steady. Dut's voice is always in the background, guiding Valentino to safety; at one point, he tells Valentino to close his eyes so that he does not have to witness the senseless slaughter of the Dinka:

Thousands of boys and men and women and babies were crossing the river, and soldiers were killing them randomly and sometimes with great care.

When darkness falls, Achor Achor, Valentino's best friend, appears out of nowhere; Dut hands Valentino over to Achor Achor and turns back to look for injured and lost boys. He tells them he will see them in Pochalla, but that is the last time they see Dut. As a mentor, Dut guides Valentino to safety and shepherds him through the hardest portions of their journey.

Hope this helps. Thanks for the question!

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