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)
I’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)
I 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)
When 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)
I 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)
While 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!).
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!