From ancient epics to modern thrillers, heroes and heroines often depend upon mentors and guides to provide knowledge, experience and to help overcome weighty quests and decisions. Mentors must have strong personalities and they usually (along with the hero’s group) leave the hero to tackle certain tasks alone. These five mentors exemplify the hero archetype and complement the personalities of their heroes.
Giles from Buffy the Vampire Slayer
As a slayer, Buffy requires a watcher–the person responsible for training, protecting and preparing her. Giles works as the librarian at Buffy’s high school. The two don’t have much in common at first–Buffy is more interested in hanging out with her friends than slaying or studying. As she grows into her role as a slayer, Buffy also depends upon Giles as an advisor and father figure (her own father being absent).
Giles serves as mediator between Buffy and her mother, friends, Angel and even other teachers. At times he has to limit his involvement to let Buffy learn on her own; he constantly makes sacrifices to ensure that Buffy succeeds.
Gandalf from The Hobbit and Lord of the Rings Trilogy
Gandalf mentors both Bilbo Baggins (in The Hobbit) and Bilbo’s nephew Frodo (in the Lord of the Rings trilogy). As an old, wise wizard, the Istari researches esoteric lore and provides information about the One Ring and other issues. Gandalf also does his best to ensure that the Hobbits travel with companions whose skills may protect and benefit the quests.
Gandalf’s role is not fulfilled without a great deal of sadness. He confronts a Balrog and falls to ensure the safety of the Fellowship of the Ring and the fulfillment of the ring’s destruction. It also saddens Gandalf to see Frodo bear the burden of the ring.
Moiraine Sedai from the Wheel of Time Series
Moiraine finds and guides Rand–the Dragon Reborn–though she has her own agenda. As a member of the Aes Sedai, Moiraine is part of a social and political power structure. Moiraine provides Rand with companions who can help him succeed and offers him information and direction. As Rand and his companions grow older and wiser, they become aware of the plans Moiriane has arranged for them.
This represents a more complicated relationship between hero and mentor. It’s undeniable that Rand and his friends likely wouldn’t have survived without her intervention, but in this case the hero also sees the mentor as a source of change–and he often blames her for the changes in his life.
The Oracle from The Matrix
The Oracle represents multiple archetypes in The Matrix. She is the kindly grandmother (like Grandma Moses in The Stand) in addition to being the guide. The Oracle provides Neo with key information that is impossible for him to find elsewhere. Despite the dangerous nature of seeking her out, he does so not only to gain the information but also because he values her view of him and his chosen path.
Guinan from Star Trek: The Next Generation
Guinan is a fan favorite when it comes to regular non-cast Star Trek characters. A member of an ancient race scattered throughout the universe by the Borg, Guinan imparts her knowledge to the crew members of the Enterprise. Younger crew members like Wesley Crusher recognize her wisdom and constantly seek her. Data constantly inquires about being human.
Captain Picard is humble enough to consult Guinan as well. Guinan is a bartender, but like Giles, she is much more important than her regular profession indicates. She plays an integral role in the Generations movie, explaining events which bring together two of Star Trek’s greatest captains. Guinan’s mentoring of Picard is particularly interesting as most crew members also consider Picard to be a mentor.
Each of these guides is physically older than the heroes. Guides like The Oracle and Gandalf could likely appear in different forms, but choose to appear as the wiser, older mentor. In sci-fi and fantasy, the archetype of mentor and mystic often overlap–this in fact applies to all of the mentors listed here.
Who is your favorite mentor? Please leave your comment below!