Posted by Chris
Week four of our series is here! This will be the last one, and next week we will be tying up archetypes in general.
The Mentor is probably the single most common archetype in my opinion. No matter where your protagonist falls on the moral scale, they almost always need a little help learning the ropes before they achieve their goals.
You’ve heard the saying “When the student is ready the master appears” or something to that effect. While you can trace the wisdom/proverb to an origin point, proverbs are by nature true long before anyone utters them. So that is where our mentor archetype comes in.
In my first novel “The Crystal Seal” you can also find this displayed in Mistar appearing very early in Cyan’s journey. This is very common in Fantasy, and several other genres as well. But why is it so common? And why (in the Crystal seal) was Mistar at that inn at the precise moment Cyan was there?
The commonality of the mentor is a bit paradoxical if I’m being honest. A story needs flow, and characters need growth. A teacher, or mentor, is the easiest explanation we can accept. Why do they grow in knowledge, strength, status, etc? Because, they had instructions from someone else who knew how.
This is something we all have experienced ourselves. None of us have lived by ourselves, on an island with no contact to anyone, for our entire lives (I know because the wifi there is terrible). We had people teach us a fair bit of what we know and can do. And not all mentors are kind and well meaning. Even bullies, and villains can be mentors too. Oh sure we picked up some things on our own along the way, but a story without any mentor at all tends to enter the dangerous waters of bad story telling.
I’m not saying you HAVE to have a mentor figure take up valuable time that could be spent on awesome X or exciting Y, but you do need to have some sort of consistent and understandable method of gaining new knowledge or character growth. A mentor has already gained said knowledge and growth, and is able to lead the student towards the goal. This is why mentors make poor protagonists (normally, but of course there are exceptions) because there is little room for them to grow.
Now back to Mistar. Why was he in that inn anyway? How long was he staying there? Well the story gives us clues, such as how familiar people seem to be with him, and his tab on the inn is also somewhat covered, so you can guess longer than a night, less than a month? Foreign currency is hard to judge the value of, especially when it’s fictional. Anyway, the story also asserts he wanders, and Mistar himself states he does teach, albeit not often.
In most cases the reason a teacher is standing at the ready doesn’t matter too much. Even so, there should be a reason right? In “The Candescent Vessel” (book two of the trilogy), we get more clues and reason for Mistar being there. Why not tell the reader up front though? Well, if I’m honest, my favorite teacher’s are the ones you don’t fully understand. They don’t need extensive backstory to be effective, just enough to hint at previous growth to show they aren’t completely crazy. But being a little crazy allows the reader some wiggle room in imagining said backstory, which is always fun.
This time I used some examples out of my own books, hopefully that helps explain what a mentor’s role in the story is. They aren’t the protagonist (normally), they are a powerful tool to facilitate growth both in knowledge and understanding for the student and the reader.
So why is it that a teacher appears when the student is ready? Quite simply, it’s because the student is finally open and ready to be taught. There is almost always someone ready to teach, if only the student is open to the lesson. And in my in the case of Mistar with my trilogy? Well, you’ll just have to read and see for yourself.