From the book Emotional Structure – Creating the Story Beneath the Plot by Peter Dunne
The mentor represents the protagonist’s highest aspirations.
He personifies the kind of moral person the protagonist wishes he could be and mirrors the protagonist’s spiritual center. While the mentor is allowed to give the protagonist all the encouragement in the world, he isn’t allowed to give him any answers. And the reason is simple. The mentor’s answers are HIS answers. The protagonist has to find his own.
Learning how to find the answers is the lesson being taught.
OK, of course I can’t think of any examples offhand (that terrible memory, ya know), but my sense is that I generally hate mentors in a novel. They (to me) often come across as smug and superior. And they often seem as if they could help the mc, but they don’t. I don’t know, maybe I’m just not a Yoda fan.
My favorite books come from the characters *without* mentors, the kids who find their way on their own, without any good examples being set.
I know I’ve had exceptions to this (like Adam in the L’Engle books). I suppose, like everything, it all depends on how it’s done. In the case of mentors, I want tons of sublety.
Interesting post–I love it when you write about things that make me think about the writing and reading process!
Oh isn’t this interesting, Laura? I do love a good mentor, perhaps because I’ve never had one in real life. But this brings up something I wanted to post to our grouop so expect an email shortly. 🙂