Learning things is hard! If only there was someone to teach us, a mentor of some sort. That’s the topic for this week, and perhaps we can even learn something along the way. We talk about why mentor characters exist, what benefits they provide, and why they’re often such a problem that authors are notorious for killing them off. Also, why are there two episodes of The Mandalorian in the middle of Boba Fett’s show?


Generously transcribed by Suzanne. Volunteer to transcribe a podcast.

Chris: You’re listening to the Mythcreants podcast with your hosts Oren Ashkenazi, Wes Matlock, and Chris Winkle. [opening song]

Oren: Welcome everyone to another episode of Mythcreants podcast. I’m Oren with me today is…

Chris: Chris

Oren: And…

Wes: Wes. 

Oren: Now settle down, young whippersnappers. I have to teach you about mentor characters only to die tragically. So I don’t steal too much of your thunder. That means you’ll have to do about the last third or so of the podcast without me. 

Wes: How are you going to die? 

Chris: And we can avenge your death. 

Oren: Well, probably the villain will be involved, but it’ll also be kind of frustrating. It looks like I probably didn’t have to die and the writer just didn’t know what to do with me at that point in the story. And so I’ll be like, Yay, I’ll hold off the villain, guys. And you’ll be like, you know, we could all stay and fight the villain and probably win. And I’m like, No, you guys go on. 


Wes: I bet you’re going to mentor us and lead the conversation down a particular direction and then die. But fake your own death only to swoop back in to find us at a complete loss for how to close out the podcast because you primed us to fail. And you come in to save the day. You’re actually the villain and the hero. 

Oren: Oh, so I’m like a stealth protagonist then. 

Wes: Yes.

Oren: I mean, that’s not something certain authors are above. 


Chris: I wish that was not a thing. 

Oren: Authors do really fall in love with mentor characters, and they are really obnoxious when that happens. I don’t like it. 

Chris: One of the unusual purposes of a mentor is to be the author’s voice box, which just happens because they’re a character with high credibility. Because if they’re teaching the hero, and therefore making the hero more effective, that means that they are right and they know what they’re talking about. So then any time the author wants to send a message, they just have the mentor say that. And that can get annoying if authors want to do too much preaching using their mentor. 

Oren: As with many characters, there will sometimes be cases where it’s a little fuzzy, like is this character a mentor or not? Gandalf follows a lot of the same tropes that you see with mentor characters, but he never teaches anyone anything. 

Chris: See, I would say that’s not just teaching that makes a mentor. Yes, if we follow the technical definition of the word, but I think that it’s a character that gets somebody, particularly the hero, ready to face challenges. It includes teaching, but isn’t just teaching. Oftentimes, mentors give them resources and equipment, general guidance, or just protection while the hero is still green. How you take that character and get them ready to fight the big bad, the sort of mentor does that. So I would use a broader definition that’s not just teaching. 

Wes: I like then Gandalf’s trial by fire is to invite a bunch of dwarves over to clean out your pantry and dirty your house to make you want to leave. 

Oren: All right. So the question then is first, why mentors? Why would you have them in your story? 

Wes: Well, I think on some level, a lot of us enjoy being taken under the wing by somebody just better and smarter. Not better, well, probably better. It’s comforting to have somebody tell you what to do and how to improve yourself. That’s great. If you’re lucky enough to have that person in your life currently, don’t let them go or let them die tragically, please. 

Oren: Yeah, that’s the wish fulfillment aspect, right? There is a heavy wish fulfillment aspect of a cool person supporting you and teaching you to do cool things or otherwise preparing you to do cool things, whether it’s giving you stuff or just showing you life lessons or whatever. That is a strong reason why there are often mentor characters in fiction. It is because people like that. 

Chris: I would just go with the logistical reason for having a mentor in the story, which is that we love underdogs. A hero that’s an underdog is often actually not ready to do the adventure. And then somehow we have to get them ready or if they don’t know anything, if they’re a fish out of water, we need tools to do that. 

Oren: That’s the practical reason or logistical, as you said, because the hero often doesn’t start knowing everything they need to know. So we need someone to teach them or they need to learn somehow. And that’s often easier if there’s a teacher. 

Chris: Writers can definitely go too far with that, though. If they don’t know how to have the hero use initiative to learn things on their own, mentors can be used much too quickly and just show up and like, here, this is exactly how to do things. This is exactly what you need to know. And the mentor is on an Escort Quest. 

Oren: Well, that is one of the core contradictions of the mentor character, which makes them a continual thorn in the side of many stories is if the mentor is teaching the character something and it’s important, which it should be if you’re including it, then why doesn’t the mentor just do the thing? Or even if the mentor, for some reason, can’t do the thing, it still very often creates a point in the story where the protagonist is just doing what they’re told all day and has no real agency. And that’s not fun either. These are things you need to be aware of when you’re adding mentor characters. 

Wes: I feel like then that means it’s done better when the hero has motivation, but no route to get there. I’m thinking of, I don’t know why I just thought of The Mask of Zorro with Antonio Banderas and Anthony Hopkins. 

Oren: That was a good movie. 

Wes: It was a good movie. Antonio Banderas had his own motivations. And Anthony Hopkins, the older Zorro, is trying to guide him in pursuit of that. But then you run into impatience or things not taking too long or conflicting motivations. And I think that is definitely a helpful thing to do. I guess Star Wars with Anakin is a less good, definitely less good movie. The same kind of situation with restrictions being put on you by mentor characters and making you wait and you’re impatient and you’re in love and all these things. 

Oren: Well, you can definitely have conflict with a mentor character, too. That’s something that most stories that have an extended training part of them will have some form of conflict with the mentor, just because otherwise it’s going to be more boring. In Star Wars, they were trying to go with that. The prequels, they’re not good, but they were trying. We also see that in the original movies with Yoda when Luke is like, I’m gonna go and get Vader. And Yoda’s like, don’t do it. And Luke’s like, oh, I’m gonna. Or even earlier where Yoda’s like, go into that cave. I happen to live near an evil cave. Go in there and don’t take your weapons. And Luke’s like, well, I’m taking my weapons. And that doesn’t go well for him. 

Wes: All in all, a series of failures on Luke’s part. 

Oren: Yeah, look, Luke didn’t do nearly enough flippy training while he was there. He needed to do way more flips. And then, of course, people also really like to subvert the wish fulfillment mentor and create a demanding, overbearing, or otherwise rude mentor. I like to go further and take it into the realm of an antagonistic mentor myself. 

Chris: I would just say that there’s a little bit of a difference between the tough love mentor and antagonistic mentor. Because in many cases, we’re doing the drill sergeant mentor. And as far as I know, drill sergeants aren’t actually that bad anymore. If we have a mentor that’s just an asshole, usually they’re not actually a good teacher and aren’t constructive. But a lot of times, the writer wants to frame this as constructive, and they’re just looking for ways to make their scene interesting and give their main character spinach and challenges. So they’re using just a complete asshole mentor. Whereas I think a good antagonistic mentor, there may be some conflict, but ultimately, at the end of the day, they have different goals than the hero. So they can seem perfectly friendly, but then the hero finds out that what they’re preparing for is something different than the hero thought, or what they want the hero to do is not what the hero wants to do. 

Oren: That’s a good difference. A mentor might be a jerk, but I would generally only classify them as antagonistic if they have a different goal than the hero. They have some kind of opposing goal as opposed to just being a hard ass. 

Wes: If you want to do a hard ass, caution. Like Chris was pointing out with the asshole mentor, they’re supposed to be teaching you things. So if you’re portraying abuse or not teaching, like do it again, harder, do it again, harder, do it again. 

Chris: Oh man, if I had a penny for every single scene, I saw that. 

Wes: You’d be rich. 

Chris: I would be so rich. 

Wes: Chris has written extensively about the influence of romanticism and how pervasive it is in our creative processes. That’s yet another example of it cropping up. It’s just like, I can’t teach you how to be the hero. I’m just, I’ll beat it into you until you realize that you’ve been the hero the whole time. There’s no education happening. 

Oren: Yeah, if I have to see another magic training sequence where the mentor just says concentrate over and over again, I will lose it. No, I hate that. Yeah, I mean, those are two different but often related problems. People have a hard time writing mentors or teachers to be hard asses without just going into abusive territory. That’s not to say that there are never reasons to make your mentor abusive. That can happen and it’s possible that your story could be about that in some way. But often that isn’t what the person actually wants and they just want their mentor to be a hard ass, but they just go too far. And as a result, they can end up validating or excusing that behavior. That’s a problem. The other half is just depicting actual teaching as often kind of boring or just hard. Instead they just shout, concentrate. 

Chris: On the flip side of that, if your teacher is going to do more than shout concentrate, you need to actually think through what are the skills that this takes that the teacher has to develop. It takes a lot more time and thought, especially if you have a situation where it’s like point the wand, say the word, a spell happens. Coming up with something else, since it looks so effortless, that’s actually going on inside takes some time and thought and probably brainstorming. 

Oren: Yeah. And that’s extra hard for magic. At least if you’re training in a real skill, then you can look up how that’s actually done, whereas there aren’t really any good ways to look up how to teach magic. 

Wes: And coming up with magic systems alone is hard enough. 

Oren: Yeah. Oh, man. I really hate it when some young fantasy kid is going to learn sword fighting and he’s never picked up a weapon in his life and the mentor is like, here, tosses him a sword. I’m like, oh, God. They make you do like three weeks of footwork in fencing before you ever get to hold a foil. And those aren’t actually sharp. 


But that’s obviously a personal thing. Not everyone has taken fencing and will have that personal experience to be annoyed with. But you can still do better than that. 

Wes: If you’re wanting to do more training situations with the mentor, I’m kind of trying to think about the balance here. You want tension, like some meaningful conflict. But how can you put that into a mentor education? I don’t know. I guess that’s the mentor saying, climb this cliff without any ropes. It’s the only way you can become the hero. 

Oren: The inherent challenge of creating conflict in a mentor student teaching sequence is that in theory, the mentor is there to help. The mentor is supposed to teach you. If you can’t learn, that’s partly on the mentor. Not entirely, but partly. So in theory, the mentor is trying to work with their student. So that creates some dissonance. That’s why so many authors will have the mentor doing things that are actively detrimental to the student’s learning, like yelling at them and humiliating them every time they make a mistake or something like that. That’s actually bad for learning. If you don’t acknowledge that in your story, it can be very frustrating to anyone who’s been in those real life situations. 

Chris: We talked about this a little bit in our training episode. Basically, if you want a little arc, you have to come up with something that is holding your character back. And then in a moment that kind of unlocks that for them, whether it’s this is a magic that requires confidence, for instance. So, OK, why aren’t they confident? You create a specific character arc with an issue for them, then resolve that. Then they can do magic. 

Oren: Just think of it in terms of remembering your ABSPs. Always be solving problems. 


It’s a problem to solve like anything else. If you want your mentor to be a hard ass, they can do things like not cut the student any slack when they’re tired or just demand a grueling schedule or not care about excuses for late work, things like that. Those are all things that a hard ass teacher could be that might or might not be good teaching, but are not abusive or actively detrimental. 

Chris: Right. Overly high standards or harsh grading can be hard ass and be fine if they’re just very, very picky. But they should not be insulting the student or doing anything that would tear down the student’s confidence. 

Oren: Unless part of your story is that they’re bad at teaching or have these problems with their teaching, which you can do, but most stories don’t have the time for that. 

Chris: We mentioned before that mentors have a tendency to take over. Perhaps it would be good to go over ways to keep that from happening. 

Oren: Kill them. Kill them dead. 


Wes: Kill them super dead. 

Oren: At this point, killing the mentor is something that I’m not going to say you can’t do. I’m going to say you should look at other options first, because it happens so often that it’s sort of like arranging for all of the adults to be out of commission or somewhere else at a magic school. Yeah, you can maybe get away with it, but people are going to be really focused on your justification. And if something about it feels off, they’ll be like, oh, he’s killing the mentor again, everybody. We’ve all seen that one before. And then they’ll laugh at you. 

Chris: It’s a little cliché. The other issue is that if we have a lot of mentors who, for instance, are older characters, then we end up killing off all of the older characters, which is just not a great thing for us to be doing. That’s less of an issue if you have an unconventional mentor who is still not a marginalized character. But I think that’s the other issue with it. Again, I wouldn’t say never kill off your mentor, but look at what else you can do first. 

Wes: Yeah, keep them alive. And make it very clear at the onset why they can’t do it. Maybe they tried before and physically are no longer capable and are, yes, I will mentor you to exact revenge for me because I need this to happen. I think if that’s clear at the start, you don’t have to kill them. You just make it clear that they can’t lunge anymore for the fencing move that is the only bad guy’s weakness. 

Oren: That one is something that I think you can generally use old age in that because if you’re assuming this is a physical type story, this is a story with a lot of physical conflict. Old age is a pretty good one, unless you’re like an avatar type setting where being older just makes you more badass. That’s going to be a problem, but you can decide what kind of setting you want. I do want to advise caution on using disabilities in that regard, which I’ve seen some people do because you can just get weighed into all kinds of potential issues of saying that having a disability means you can’t do X or X. And that’s just not something you want to engage with unless you’re really prepared. 

Chris: I would say people who are not knowledgeable consistently underestimate how much a person who is disabled can do and think they can’t do all kinds of things that they actually can in fact do. So, yeah, we just don’t want to go there. 

Oren: You mentioned The Mask of Zoro earlier, Wes. That’s actually a perfect example of a story where the mentor does not take over. Now granted, he does die, but not as a way to get him out of the way. His death is for other reasons. He dies at the very end. 

Wes: Yeah, and we didn’t directly mention this, but that’s a good example of why do we like mentors in our stories. That is very much a student has become the master storyline. And the master in this case is just Zoro. Zoro is bigger than the both of them. 

Oren: And that’s a case where the thing that they need to do is big enough that they both need to do stuff. It’s not just like, well, this is a thing where we only need one person, so we’ll just have Anthony Hopkins go do it. It’s like, this is a big problem. He needs help. Then we can focus on the missions that he sends younger Zoro to do until the climax. That works quite well. In that story, it’s kind of funny because they’re doing a little bit of a switcheroo there where they are showing that, sure, younger Zoro is more capable because he’s physically younger and in better physical shape, but we’re also kind of magicking how quickly he learns to be an expert swordsman. You could usually get away with that, especially in a movie. In a book, you might need to be a little more robust about how long that takes. 

Chris: I also think it is workable to have a mentor who has other responsibilities that are important. It might be a little cliché if the mentor suddenly gets a message that they’re needed elsewhere and then rushes off right before the climax happens. But you can have a mentor that people depend on, that has other special skills that are indispensable or for whatever reason simply cannot, for instance, drop what they’re doing to go adventuring. So the hero could train with them and then the hero travels alone would be one way to do that. 

Oren: You can also set up situations where the protagonist, despite having some skill that the mentor needs to teach them, has some special quality that the mentor doesn’t have that allows the protagonist to do whatever it is we need the plot to do. Or it can also be that the protagonist needs multiple skills and they’re learning one from this particular mentor, but that’s not the only thing they’re going to need. Avatar the Last Airbender, of course, does both of those where Aang’s the Avatar and you’ve got to deal with it, but he can learn all four elements. No one else can do that. So he needs to do Avatar stuff. He also has all the Avatar powers, but he still needs to learn the elements from other benders. He has to learn a little bit from each of his friends, from Katara, Toph, and Zuko. Hey, Zuko here. And so that’s a very good setup where obviously none of those characters are going to take over the story, at least not on the virtue of being too strong, except maybe Toph. They each have something vital to teach him and he has his own thing that he needs to do. So that’s a pretty good setup right there. 

Chris: I also want to mention that besides killing the mentor, they can just get injured. You can just injure them and then they’re in recovery and they’re out of action for a while. 

Oren: It’s worth noting that depending on the kind of conflict, there are other things you can do. We’re kind of assuming a physical-type training scenario, but if you have a political story where the mentor is some old politician who’s teaching an up-and-coming congressperson how to navigate the political scene, you have other options. You could have the mentor be no longer welcome in political circles because their career ended in some big scandal. So they can’t just go and be like, well, I’m the congressperson now, because that’s not how that works. It depends on what kind of story and what kind of conflict you have, what kind of skills are being taught. We’re also assuming a very plot-important mentor. There are always possibilities that you might have some more flavor-type teaching, like when Taran is going around in the fourth Prydain book and he learns a bunch of crafting. None of those characters are ever in danger of taking over the plot because they’re like teaching him weaving or blacksmithing, not evil Death-Lord slaying. 

Wes: Some nice practical things. 

Oren: Yeah, he gets to make his own little cloak. 

Chris: I will say it might be easier if you have a less conventional mentor. For instance, you could have two characters that are both mentors to each other and have different skill sets. Instead of having the super wise guy, you could have some asshole on the streets who is worldly. And so they are the mentor to your protagonist because your protagonist is not used to being on the streets and needs somebody to teach them. But ultimately, that asshole is not going to be the hero. 

Oren: You can also get kind of creative with it. A book that I’m reading right now is called The Art of Prophecy and it starts with the protagonist, who is this lady named Taishi, becoming the mentor to a supposed chosen one whose training has been really badly handled and he’s bad at fighting. She’s trying to make him better at fighting. That’s an interesting premise. That’s a high novelty premise. We could argue whether or not she technically counts as a mentor archetype anymore in the same way that Dr. Horrible isn’t really a villain even though he has the aesthetics of villainy. But you’re going to get some benefit out of that. Of course, the story does require a little bit more of a robust plot than 500 pages of her telling him to do martial arts forms until he gets it right. But it’s a cool concept. So you can do a lot of things by experimenting with what kind of mentor character you’re using. 

Chris: We also have Glinda. Glinda’s a mentor. 

Oren: Glinda?

Chris: The Wizard of Oz. 

Oren: Oh, Glinda the Good. Yeah, the murder-mentor. 


Go knock off all of my political rivals, Dorothy. So that’s what I hate. The meme of people doing the reductionist version of the Wizard of Oz about how Dorothy’s a murderer. But that’s not true. Dorothy isn’t murdering anybody. She’s being manipulated into eliminating political rivals by Glinda. That’s the reductionist Oz plot. 

Chris: I would also classify the fairy godmother in Cinderella as a mentor. She shows up, gets Cinderella what she needs to go to the ball, instructs her to get home by midnight, and then she disappears again. 

Oren: Yep, there’s a strong mentor case right there. Just don’t be like Luke from The Book of Boba Fett and be like, You can’t have any friends, Grogu. You’re not allowed to have friends anymore. What happened to you, Luke? 

Chris: They needed some conflict for the Jedi, I think is the problem. And also the prequels are still canon. 

Oren: Yeah, I honestly think it’s because they feel beholden to the prequels, which had their whole no attachments idea, which the prequels are incredibly inconsistent about because it was a terrible idea and didn’t make any sense. But it really seems like the new Disney Plus live action Star Wars shows feel like they can’t contradict things that were established in the prequels. Or maybe the person in charge just likes them. Filoni, I think is his name. He’s apparently a big Star Wars fan, so maybe he just thinks those are cool. I don’t know. 

Chris: I think I should specify for anyone who’s confused: The Book of Boba Fett has a Mandalorian episode in the middle. And that’s what we’re talking about. Why? Are they a crossover? So to get people to watch this awful show? I guess? 

Oren: Yeah, it’s really not clear why there’s a Mandalorian episode in the middle of The Book of Boba Fett. The joke is that they put that in there because nobody liked The Book of Boba Fett. But they already had all those episodes before they aired the first one. They had no knowledge of how much people would hate that show. I suppose maybe they showed the first episode to focus groups and the focus groups hated it. But that still seems like they would have made some changes. I don’t know. It’s very confusing. 

Wes: I think they just realized that they messed up at the end of that Mandalorian season because they’re like, wait, oh crap, we just split up Grogu and Mando. Wait, oh no, we can’t do that. We have to start the next season with them together. 

Oren: Yeah, that might have just been it. It might have been that they were like, we don’t want to waste valuable Mandalorian episode time getting Grogu back with Din. So they’re just like, we’ll just stick that in The Book of Boba Fett. It’ll be fine. Don’t worry about it. 

Chris: It’s fine. Nobody watches The Book of Boba Fett. 

Oren: It does seem like they were remarkably unsure what that show was actually about. It wouldn’t surprise me if they were like, yeah, it doesn’t matter. No one in this room has anything that they’re passionate about doing with The Book of Boba Fett. 

Chris: Well, as Oren knows from the new trailer for the third season of Mandalorian, Mando has some very wise words for Grogu. 

Oren: [Laughs] Oh, God, I love that trailer. He’s like, Grogu, you have to learn to navigate the galaxy. That way you won’t be lost. And it’s like, yes, yes, Mando, that is what navigation is for. You have to learn to cook. That way you won’t be hungry. You have to learn to wash your clothes. That way your clothes won’t stink. 

Chris: This is what Mando is like as a mentor, apparently. 

Wes: That’s a good moment of caution is once you tune into, those are called tautologies, once you start paying attention to them, they are everywhere. We are drowning in them. You can say so many things without saying anything at all, or you’re just saying something completely obvious. Like, Oren has a bad day and it’s talking to me and Chris about it. And then I say, well, Oren, it’ll be okay. Tomorrow is another day. 


Oren: I guess if you write a lot of tautologies, there will be a lot of tautologies in your story. Eh? Eh?

Chris: [Groans]

Oren: I’m very clever, is the point. 

Wes: Any mentors from media that you all favor or quite enjoyed? 

Oren: We already mentioned them, but it’s hard to do better than Team Avatar. I was looking, I was like, are there any problems with the mentors of Team Avatar? Those being Zuko, Toph, and Katara. The only one I could find is that we had to retcon Katara being worse at waterbending than Aang, which was a weird storyline that didn’t make any sense anyway. So I’m fine that they retconned that. 

Chris: Yeah, there’s definitely some good training arcs in Avatar. 

Oren: Some of the other mentors, like Master Pakku, I think is his name. The guy from the Northern Water Tribe, eh, could take or leave him. But that’s more to do with his weird sexism that doesn’t really work well in the episode than it is to do with his training style. 

Chris: I don’t remember him actually teaching them. I don’t think there was a real training arc there. There was just an arc of Katara getting past sexism. 

Oren: There was like some off-screen training and some very brief training that we saw bits of. Oh, I did love Jeong Jeong, I think is his name. Aang’s first firebending teacher who was terrified to teach Aang firebending. I thought that was a neat concept. But yeah, Team Avatar. I mean, hot take. Avatar, the Last Airbender. Pretty good show. 

Wes: It’s Oren, ladies and gentlemen. 

Oren: I’ll be here all week. 

With that, I think we’re going to have to call this episode to a close. 

Chris: If you enjoyed hearing about mentors, consider supporting us on Patreon. Just go to patreon.com/mythcreants.

Oren: Before we go, I want to thank a few of our existing patrons. First, there’s Callie Macleod. Then there’s Kathy Ferguson, who’s a professor of political theory in Star Trek. Next, we have Ayman Jaber. He’s an urban fantasy writer and a connoisseur of Marvel. And finally, we have Danita Rambo. She lives at therambogeeks.com. We’ll talk to you next week.

P.S. Our bills are paid by our wonderful patrons. Could you chip in?

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