They say there are two important relationships everyone must, and will, have in their lives. To have a mentor, and then to later be a mentor. This statement made sense to me immediately when I heard it. It brought to mind all those other universal pieces of wisdom you hear in the world.
“It’s not what you know, it’s who you know.”
“Experience is the greatest teacher.”
and the list goes on.
Sadly, in this day and age, and maybe from the beginning of time, schooling really doesn’t get you anywhere. I don’t know why they structure things like that, but 90% of degree programs are great at teaching you theories, ideas and formulas, but once you get out into the real world, that’s when you actually start to learn to do your job. Whatever it may be.
And while I think that is a major failing of the educational system as a whole, honestly that’s outside the realm of this post and my experience in general so it’s really none of my business.
Back to the mentor, this archetype is rarely used as the main protagonist. At least starting out. Half of the pleasure in a story is watching someone grow and change, and if someone’s in a position to be a mentor, then chances are that character will not have to change enough to apply that kind of appeal on a big enough level.
What this does give you though, is an excellent frame-work to set up one of your secondary characters, and it gives you an excellent jumping off point to make that character a solid co-lead.
What’s great about mentors is that these characters are still people too. At the end of the day their own personal quirks help shape a person, let alone your protagonist. Don’t you see the endless amount of ways this can be used?
What if the protagonist’s mentor is a little more jaded and cynical?
Will this cause conflict between the optimistic protagonist, or will it work to crush their optimism?
Is the mentor everything they said they are? Could they be lying about their identity? Could the mentor really be the villain? Are they manipulating the protagonist for their own gain?
There are endless possibilities. Hell, you could make the villain even desire to be the protagonist’s mentor like in the Harry Potter series by J.K. Rowling.
How many times did Voldemort make Harry an offer of joining forces? I’m not going to go back and look, but if I remember correctly it was in at least the first two books, and maybe the fourth as well.
Imagine if Harry had taken that offer? What evil would have befallen the Wizarding World? What measures would it have forced other characters to take just to stop the twisted Dynamic Duo? How would not only the story line have changed, but all the characters affected by that choice as well?
It’s quite a thing to think of, and it’s something I purposely put into No Rest for the Wicked, just because I like the dynamic. Granted, I dressed it up a bit and threw in a dash of this and a spritz of that, but you get my point.
Now, imagine that dynamic between Harry and Voldemort bouncing off the idea of Harry and Dumbledore. It’s not hard to see how Dumbledore was a mentor to not only Harry but a vast amount of other characters in the series. What if Harry had felt that Dumbledore had sent him back to the Dursley house one too many times?
What if Harry had felt that Dumbledore didn’t have his best intentions at heart and figured he’d be better of joining the enemy instead of fighting him?
The possibilities are endless, just because this archetype is present.
The reason for this is because for someone to either mentor, or be mentored by another person a relationship built on trust must be formed.
Betrayed trust can make people do very, very crazy things. And who can’t relate to a little betrayal in life.
The other side of that coin is I dare you find me one person who can’t relate to having a mentor.
The whole dynamic is something that happens quite often in the real world, and playing with those ideas and situations will definitely pull a heart string or two.
So what do you think? Agree? Disagree? Think I’m crazy? Whatever you think, please leave your thoughts in the comments below.
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