Most fantasy fiction has at least one ‘mentor’; Harry had Dumbledore, the hobbits had Gandalf, and Luke Skywalker had Obi Wan (and yes I do count Star Wars as fantasy more than Sci-Fi). They all take the form of that perfect expert with all the knowledge/wisdom to ensure that the hero knows everything they need to.
Most of the mentors listed also come with glaring flaws (SPOILERS AHEAD): Dumbledore knowingly coaches Harry in preparation for the boy to sacrifice himself, Gandalf does much the same for Froddo, and Obi Wan neglects to tell Luke some pretty important stuff about his dad in the hopes that it would make it easier for Luke to kill Darth Vader.
In fact all of these mentors seem to share the exact same flaw embodying a shocking degree of ruthlessness. I didn’t want a ruthless mentor for Jack but I did accept that Fynn would eventually have to demonstrate flaws.
I waited till the second book to investigate those flaws and decided to tackle an issue that adults often shield kids from; us ‘grown-up’ types sometimes find it hard to cope with things. In Spark of Dreams I allowed the pressure of being the ‘expert’ to get to Jack’s mentor, specifically because I felt that Fynn’s reclusive nature wouldn’t have combined well with his new degree of responsibility. It made him crack a little, showing a side of himself we hadn’t met before.
I think it’s important for kids to know that sometimes they won’t react to challenges the way they’d like to. It takes you less by surprise if you can prepare for that. Life throws all kinds of stuff at us, sometimes we cope and sometimes we don’t. For a short while I wanted to see how my characters would react when their mentor didn’t cope.
Don’t worry, Fynn gets back to himself soon enough, but it allowed me to show all of the characters in a different light. Some became more fragile and others grew stronger and in the end they do what needs to be done.
We’re bigger then ourselves and our support network is more a part of us than we realise. I enjoyed getting the chance to experiment with that in Spark of Dreams but most of all I found it refreshing to see how well the younger characters coped.
Do you think it’s important for kids to learn a lesson like this? What other aspects of our lives do you think we hide from children unnecessarily?
As always thanks for reading, all the best, John