Guest post by Elizabeth Kobayashi
Where would Frodo be without Gandalf? Where would he be without Samwise Gamgee? Heroes and villains face off in stories, but they rarely do so alone. As we continue to explore the archetypes that make up the stories we know and love, lets examine the roles of The Mentor and The Hero.
Mentors appear to give the hero crucial information or tools, or to provide guidance and training. Popular examples are Ben Kenobi and Yoda to Luke Skywalker, Dumbledore (but also Remus Lupin and Sirius Black) to Harry Potter, Gaius to Merlin (in the BBC show Merlin–in the myths, Merlin is the mentor to Arthur). Like heroes, mentors come in many flavors. A mentor may be a shadow to teach the hero a lesson. The mentor may be dark, the inversion of the hero, or fallen and struggling in his or her own heroic journey. A hero may have multiple mentors (such as Harry’s many teachers at Hogwarts) or an ally may take on the role of a mentor (such as Katara when she advises or teaches Aang). The key is that the mentor teaches and enables the hero, driving them forward when they are hesitant and giving them what they need to succeed.
Allies are the sidekicks or friends who help the hero through the journey. Frodo has the Fellowship at first and later only Sam, supporting him in many ways and walking by his side as he journeys deeper into the heart of Mordor. Harry has Ron and Hermione. Korra has Mako and Bolin and Asami. People do not exist in vacuums and the people who share the hero’s experiences are invaluable. Sometimes the hero needs a comforting hug or a swift kick in the rear to get through a difficult point, and the ally is the one there to do it. They differ from the Mentor in that the Ally typically does not have any authority over the hero, but rather, they interact more as equals. The Mentor stands behind or ahead, guiding the Hero forward, whereas the Ally stands beside the Hero, going forward together.
It is very difficult to tell a story about a person in total isolation. Providing mentors and allies for a character creates fertile ground for crucial relationships and lessons the hero could not learn alone.