Sunday, September 2, 2012


Most adventure stories have certain types of characters that typically appear.  The hero, the ally, the foil, the love, the villain, the henchman, etc.  But one that almost always appears is the mentor.  The mentor is someone who is wiser than the hero, and usually someone that has conquered what the hero is having to go through already.

The mentor usually does five things:
1.  He introduces the hero to the story world
2.  He teaches the hero the physical and mental skills he will need to know to conquer the story
3.  He shows us, the reader, what the hero will have to become plus more to defeat the villain.
4.  He tests the hero to see if they are worthy.
5.  He usually has been faced with the same task the hero must complete, but did not achieve it.

1.  He introduces the hero to the story world.

"When the hero is ready, the mentor appears."  Not exactly the cliche, but it fits for the story world.  So the hero has faced the inciting incident, and he has decided to tackle the story and take on the villain (embracing destiny).  But who is going to teach him what to do?  The mentor of course!  The mentor might be in the story from the very start, but he does not become the mentor until the hero decides to take on the story.  Then the hero is willing to listen to what the mentor has to say.

For instance, in "Captain America: The First Avenger"  Dr. Erskine introduces Steve Rogers to the world of training for war, Hydra, and World War II.  He teaches Steve why it is better to be a good man than a strong man.

2.  He teaches the hero skills.

As I said before, the mentor usually has faced the same problems as the hero.  That means he knows what the hero will need to know to win.  These can be physical or mental skills, or both.  Haymitch Abernathy, from the "Hunger Games" is a perfect example of this.  He has entered the Hunger Games and won, and he has been a mentor for the Games for 23 years.  He knows the mindset that will be needed to win, and he saw that in Katniss.  He also knew how strong and smart the tributes wold have to be, and he taught Katniss that too.

3.  He shows what the hero will have to become to defeat the villain.

This one is a tad confusing, so I will just use an example.  In "Star Wars: The Empire Strikes Back," Luke is training with Jedi Master Yoda on the remote planet of Dagobah.  We see Luke doing some pretty impressive stuff like levitating rocks with the Force, doing triple flips, and becoming stronger.  While he is training though, his X-wing ship sinks into the swamp.  Yoda challenges Luke to raise the ship with the Force.  Luke tries, and is rewarded with a few very unimpressive bubbles.  He turns to Yoda and says, "You ask the impossible."  Yoda sighs, and then proceeds to raise the ship with what appears very little effort.

This is one of my favorite scenes in the entire Star Wars series.  Luke is obviously no match for Yoda, and Yoda is no match for Darth Vadar.  To make things worse, Darth Vadar is no match for the emperor.  This scene shows just how much Luke will have to learn to become the hero he is supposed to be.

4.  He tests the hero to see if they are worthy.

The scene I used above could work here as well.  But sometimes, the hero passes the mentors test.  In "Once Upon a Time" Henry challenges Emma to stay in Storybrooke to find her destiny.  Emma fights this for awhile, but eventually she agrees to stay, at least for a little.  She succeeds as a mother and as a hero in this test.

5.  He has usually been faced with the same tasks the hero is faced with, but did not achieve it.

This does not mean the mentor failed necessarily.  They just could not complete the task.  In my story "Shadow's Fire" the heroine, Julia, is forced to take on a leading member of parliament, and an English privateer.  Herman Smith, a former privateer, was faced with the same task but he was not strong enough to withstand both forces.  He was forced to quit being a privateer and fade into obscurity.  But when Julia comes along, he trains her with the knowledge he did not have to face the villains.

A far more famous one (lol) is from "Star Wars: The Revenge of the Sith."  Obi-Wan was forced to fight Anakin in one of the most epic battles in all of the Star Wars series.  Technically, Obi-Wan won.  But he did not kill Anakin because it hurt too much.  Because he did not kill him, the emperor came and turned Anakin into the cyborg, Darth Vadar.  Obi-Wan did not fail.  Pity is a good moral.  But he did not finish the task. The task was left to Luke.

Mentors are some of the most memorable characters in all adventure novels.  In my opinion, every story ought to have one.

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