Tough Travels: Mentors

I’m a little slow off the mark with this month’s tough travels, but better late than never!

This feature was originally created and run by Nathan at Fantasy Review Barn and is now hosted by Laura Hughes at Fantasy Faction. Inspired by Diana Wynne Jones’s humorous classic The Tough Guide to Fantasyland, every month it puts the spotlight on a particular fantasy trope, theme or cliché, and invites bloggers to list stand-out books related to that week’s theme.

This month’s theme is mentors:

A Mentor will be at your service until around halfway through the tour of Fantasyland, when you will unaccountably lose him. Before that he will guide you, tell you what to do in the face of strange customs, and even sometimes instruct you in how to perform minor MAGICS. The Tough Guide suggests that the mentor will be several hundred years old, probably with a long white beard, which will give him the right to be bossy, smug, tiresomely philosophical and infuriatingly secretive about all-important facts.

The “unaccountably lose him” bit in that paragraph cracks me up. It’s true that fantasy mentors often show up to launch the main character into action, then conveniently disappear… I know it happens so that the heroes have to face challenges by themselves, but sometimes the departure is so weakly justified I have to roll my eyes a little. The same goes when the mentors are “tiresomely philosophical and infuriatingly secretive”. That said, I do still love a great magical mentor.

As for the part about being hundreds of years old with long white beards– a few months ago I wrote a post about the relative scarcity of female magical mentors in fantasy fiction, inspired by a similar description from the Tough Guide. However, in doing so I did think of a few great female magical mentors, as did many commenters, so a couple of them will be on my list today. If you want more examples of magical mentors of the non-bearded variety, you can go check out the comments on that post.

So here are my five favourite fantasy mentors:

Granny Weatherwax (Discworld)

Book Cover: Equal RitesI’m going to cheat a little here, because while I encountered and loved Granny Weatherwax in the Discworld novel Wyrd Sisters, it’s only really in Equal Rites and the ‘Tiffany Aching’ sub-series that she takes on a more prominent mentor-like role (as I learned from several commenters on a previous post), and I confess I haven’t read either of those in full yet.

However, since I love her brusk, no-nonsense, amusing approach to things, and am looking forward to seeing how she mentors the young witches in those other novels, I am including her in my list.

Orea Pullawr (Lightbringer)

Image: The Broken EyeI know I’ve mentioned the Lightbringer series a few times for these Tough Travelling features, but I have to do it again, because Orea Pullawr, a.k.a ‘The White’, is one of my favourite magical mentors to date. She’s the old, seemingly frail head of a powerful magical government. In the first books I didn’t give her much thought, but by the third book the depth of her wisdom, skill, foresight and humility is revealed, as is her excellence at out-manoeuvring her enemies and her willingness to make sacrifices for the good of others. She becomes an incredible mentor to two characters I won’t name (because spoilers!), and provides sage advice and guidance to so many others.

Father Chains (The Gentleman Bastards)

Book Cover: The Lies of Locke LamoraWhen I first encountered Father Chains in The Lies of Locke Lamora he was a suspect character – a professional con man purchasing young orphans to add to his own private band of thieves – but I soon came to love this unorthodox mentor. He gives Locke and the others a home, a family, and an education so extensive that they have every advantage in life… albeit in a life of thievery. Even the thievery, however, seems noble, as it is only the grotesquely rich and powerful the Gentleman Bastards prey upon. Father Chains is humorous and intelligent (and well narrated in the audiobook version), and as his young protégés encounter people more cruel and evil than they could ever be, you realise he gifted them not only their skill, but the decency and good-hearted-ness that makes you love them… and that is a rare gift in the corrupt world of Camorr.

Gandalf (The Lord of the Rings)

Book Cover: The Lord of the RingsI had to mention Gandalf, not only because he is one of the most renowned fantasy mentors of all time (perhaps second only to Merlin), but because he is a character I loved, and who won my heart thoroughly in The Fellowship of the Ring when I first read it. I particularly liked his humour and humility, and the friendships he formed with the hobbits. I also liked that he was not the most powerful or influential wizard from the outset, but became so when faced with betrayal and evil. He’s also just so darn wise that he is endlessly quotable:

“Many that live deserve death. And some that die deserve life. Can you give it to them? Then do not be too eager to deal out death in judgement. For even the very wise cannot see all ends.”

Albus Dumbledore (Harry Potter)

Book Cover: Harry Potter and the Philosopher's StoneWhile I know this is another predictable choice, I believe Dumbledore is my favourite fictional mentor, and holds a nostalgic place in my heart. I confess I may have shed a tear or two because of him. He was inspiring, powerful, wise and complex, and while he may have put his young students and mentees through a great deal of stress and danger, it was all for the good of fictional enjoyment and I don’t begrudge him one bit of it! (Please note: I am talking about book Dumbledore here, not film Dumbledore… I’ll save the rant and simply say I liked his character more in the books!).

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For links to more Tough Travelling posts, or to join in yourself and see next month’s theme, check out the host page on Fantasy Faction.

And if you have your own favourite fantasy mentor, feel free to mention them in the comments!

< Last Month’s Tough Travels: ‘Minions’

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20 thoughts on “Tough Travels: Mentors

  1. Gandalf is definitely up there for me too, although I am very biased as my father (being 60 when I was born and therefore having a white beard) was nicknamed Gandalf by many of his friends. He also passed our family’s almost genetic love of Tolkien to me, and I am planning a Gandalf tattoo in his memory. As far as books go, Ogion from Ursula LeGuin’s Earthsea series would also be up there for me. I love Granny Weatherwax too! I’m going to have to go back and re-read Equal Rites soon!!!

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    • Oh that is such a great nickname to have! Especially if your father loved Tolkien. I can see why you are biased – that’s a wonderful family connection to share. Ogion is a great choice too, it’s been ages since I read Earthsea but now you mention it I remember really liking him as well. And I really must finally read Equal Rites!!

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  2. It seems like the most memorable mentors are the ones that actually stick around throughout the story or the series. Gandalf comes back often in Tolkien’s stories, Granny Weatherwax is always around somewhere. I’d add the wizard Zedd from the Sword of Truth series as another one that stick in my mind, primarily because he is always present and his mentor-ship, and friendship, of the protagonist of the story never really ends, no matter how powerful the hero becomes.

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    • Yes actually I realised many fantasy mentors die in dramatic sacrificial moments, but if they do so too early (and don’t get resurrected) they are not as memorable because they don’t stick around long enough. The one exception that comes to mind is Father Chains – he has actually already passed away at the start of the Gentleman Bastards series, but the books have so many flashbacks, and he is so present in the characters minds, that funnily enough he feels like he is there still anyway! I haven’t read Sword of Truth yet but I will keep my eye out for wizard Zedd when I do.

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  3. hahaha yes they always seem to go missing and to be infuriatingly secretive!! I’m really really curious about the White and Father Chains (great name!) And of course I love Granny and Gandalf 😀 hehe I think Dumbledore’s a great choice (though I do begrudge him for a few things 😉 ) And oh gosh, don’t get me started on film Dumbledore! Great post!

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    • Yes Gandalf really is the archetypal grouchy-but-kind-hearted old wizard – I do love him (I also cried when I thought he was gone!). But Dumbledore still holds the top spot for me – I think because I grew up reading Harry Potter, and didn’t tackle LOTR till my late teens (theres too much nostalgia & familiarity evoked by those half-moon glasses!)

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  4. You are so good at these lists! I definitely agree with Gandalf and Dumbledore. I’m sure I’d agree with the others if I had read those books. Why are there so many amazing books to read?! So little time…

    My contributions? If we count them, Yoda and Obi-Wan from Star Wars also come to mind. Moiraine Damodred from The Wheel of Time, for sure. And Alfred Pennyworth from Batman– but he doesn’t really have the magic. 😉

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  5. Orea was great and is one of my favorite characters in the Lightbringer series. I also liked Durzo in Weeks’ Night Angel series for similar reasons; both characters, while quite different, have a lot of conflicting and fascinating motives.

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    • So glad you liked her too! I haven’t read the Night Angel trilogy yet but I am keen to. Weeks does seem to excel at creating characters with interesting conflicting motives and secrets. I still can’t entirely tell who is on the “good” and “bad” side in The Lightbringer series… each time I think I’ve got it figured out something happens to make me doubt my presumptions!

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