Idols, Friends and Mentors: Alexander von Humboldt’s Influence on Writing and Science

I actually wrote this post several weeks ago, before the corona virus crisis hit on a world scale… but given it’s about the importance of scientists and human beings connecting with and inspiring each other, be it in person or from afar, it actually feels somehow appropriate. So in case anyone’s looking for a positive break from reading about pandemics, here it is:

___________________

I don’t normally read a lot of non-fiction, but I recently picked up The Invention of Nature by Andrea Wulf. Aside from informing me about a brilliant scientist and author called Alexander von Humboldt – who I knew very little about – it got me thinking again about a topic I’ve found myself mulling over often in the past year: namely, how much writers are influenced by the work of other writers who’ve come before them, or even those who are writing at the same time.

In the past, I’ve tended to to look at famous historical figures in isolation, focusing on the unique feats they achieved and how different it was to everything that had come before. Last year, however, when researching for a blog series about popular fantasy books in different decades, I was repeatedly fascinated by how many writers had been inspired by, or even been good friends with, other writers on my lists. Continue reading

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.

Continue reading

Where Are All The Female Magical Mentors?

Earlier this year I was hunting for examples of good fantasy beginnings for a Tough Travels post. The topic for that month’s feature was inspired by a quote from Diana Wynne Jones, which pointed out that the typical fantasy protagonist usually starts out in poor circumstances until they are contacted by their Mentor:

“you will be contacted by your TOUR MENTOR (normally an elderly male MAGIC USER with much experience) who will tell you what to do, which is almost certainly to discover you are a MISSING HEIR.”

In my hunting, I tried to find an example of a book that flipped the cliché a little bit, and had a magical mentor character that was neither elderly nor male. The elderly part I managed, but finding a female magical mentor? Harder than I thought it would be. Continue reading