Welcome to Trope Time, the blog series where I talk all about tropes: the good, the bad and the ugly!
This is a bi-weekly series in which I take an in-depth look at various types of tropes, from character tropes, to world-building tropes and plot tropes.
Today’s trope is actually more of an archetype: the mentor character. As one of the eight character types identified in the classic ‘hero’s journey’ story formula, they appear over and over again in books, TV shows and films, and can come in a huge variety of different types. However, the one thing they all have in common is their relationship to the main character: they serve as guidance, often in the form of a teacher, and are generally older, wiser, and more experienced.
So in this post I thought I’d take a closer look at a few different types of mentor character, and provide a few examples. There are literally so many spins on the mentor character, but here’s just a few that I think are the most common, or just the coolest:
Old and Wise
The Old and Wise mentor is probably what first springs to mind when we talk about mentor characters. We’re generally talking about old, bearded wizards (although they don’t technically have to be that old…or have a beard…or be a wizard!) with an insane amount of knowledge and wisdom to pass on to their mentee, to help them achieve their goals.
For example, we have Gandalf from Lord of the Rings and Dumbledore from Harry Potter, both of whom steer the main character on their dangerous journey, and essentially ‘pass on the torch’ to their mentees.
Other examples: Brom from Eragon, Father Chains from The Lies of Locke Lamora, Commander Mormont from A Song of Ice and Fire.
Gruff and Reluctant
This is one of my favourite types of mentor! They often start out the story by being stuck with some annoying kid they have to train and they just cannot be bothered! But over time they start to reluctantly care for their mentee, and want wants best for them…and it’s just so heart-warming to watch!
One of my favourites is Sandor Clegane from A Song of Ice and Fire (and I loved how ‘Game of Thrones’ portrayed their relationship!) who initially gets himself stuck with Arya after kidnapping her to sell back to the Starks. However, they gradually grow to have a mutual respect, and he isn’t above teaching her a thing or two, even if it is mostly harsh lessons about life.
Other examples: Haymitch from The Hunger Games, Logen (to Jezal) in Before They Are Hanged (First Law #2).
The Cool Teacher
This is another one I love! The Cool Teacher is undoubtedly a mentor character, but he’s less far removed from his mentee, and is also more of a friend.
The best example I can think of for this one is Remus Lupin from Harry Potter: he is literally Harry’s teacher in Prisoner of Azkaban, but he gets to know Harry on a personal level, and their friendship (and mentorship) continues throughout the rest of the series.
Other examples: I feel like Tony Stark is this to Peter Parker in the later Marvel films.
Perhaps it’s just a side effect of being super wise and competent, but many mentor characters also happen to be a little on the eccentric side! This eccentricity often baffles and frustrates their students, but beneath their slightly foolish exterior, they’re generally excellent teachers whose unusual methods get the best out of their proteges.
In many ways I think that the Doctor from Doctor Who is a good example of the eccentric mentor, even though he doesn’t necessarily take on his companions to mentor. He does teach them all about the places they visit though, and is often incredibly odd while doing it, so I think he (she in the new series!) counts!
Other Examples: Bayaz (initially, anyway!) in the First Law series, Master Roshi from Dragon Ball, Jiraiya from Naruto.
Badass mentors are cool, but super tough, especially on their students. They don’t care if you’re struggling, their tough training methods are for your own good…but if anyone else dares to mess with their students, then there’s going to be trouble!
I feel like most of the teachers from Mark Lawrence’s Book of the Ancestor series are like this, and Eraserhead and All Might from My Hero Academia are also great examples.
Other examples: Syrio Forel from A Song of Ice and Fire, Professor McGonagall and Mad-Eye Moody from Harry Potter.
The ‘Surrogate Parent’ mentor is one of the most heart-warming mentor types in my opinion! Fiction often has a bizarre lack of parents, so mentees coming to see their mentors as parental figures is very common.
Manga and anime in particular seems to be full of these kinds of relationships… I mean, every other character in One Piece seems to have a surrogate parent! To name a few, Shanks is Luffy’s surrogate parent, Zeff is Sanji’s, Doctor Hiluluk is Chopper’s, Tom is Franky’s, Whitebeard is Ace’s…and the list just goes on and on!
Other examples: Iruka from Naruto, Kelsier in Mistborn, Sirius Black in Harry Potter, Thomas Cromwell in Wolf Hall, Murtagh in the Outlander series.
So what are your favourite types of mentor characters? Who are some of your all time favourite mentors?