Nathan over at Fantasy Review Barn gave us a nice, easy one today, and I’m happy about it because I get to discuss how Cob ended up with three mentors — and ran away from all of them.
(The short answer: he is a difficult young man.)
The entry is as follows:
Mentor. A Tour official who will be at your service until halfway through the Tour, when you will unaccountably lose him. Before that he will guide you, tell you what to do in the face of strange customs, and even sometimes instruct you in how to perform minor Magics. He will be several hundred years old and probably have a long white beard; this will give him the right to be bossy, smug, tiresomely philosophical, and infuriatingly secretive about all-important facts. You will be glad to see the back of the old idiot. Unfortunately, you won’t have. He will reappear, smugger and bossier than ever, near the end of the Tour, just when you thought you were doing rather well on your own.
So! Let’s talk about Ammala, Jasper and Morshoc. This might get a bit spoilery for Book 1.
I consider Ammala to be the first Mentor-type figure Cob meets. While many of the specifics are obviously not applicable to her (like the beard), she’s the first person he meets who actually tries to explain the world to him and provide some direction. She’s neither very effective nor very enthusiastic about it, but I chalk that up to it being her first Mentor experience. She didn’t seek him out to hint about the ways of the world or reveal his destiny — he stumbled into her, and if not for her faith’s requirement of hospitality, she’d probably have kicked him right back out.
Despite that, she teaches him the earliest (and most necessary) lessons: that the ‘heretics’ around him are just people, and that the Empire has done awful things to him. He’s not willing or able to believe her yet, but she plants the seeds, and though they part ways quite quickly, I hope that readers understand that she had a big influence on him. Even if only accidentally.
Compared to the other two, I like to think of her as the Voice of Reason.
Second is Jasper, the traveling tinker who picks Cob up almost immediately after Ammala lets him go. (Picture over there is a screencap from the Aion character creator, because we have a sketch of him but it’s not done yet!) I think of him as the Voice of Adventure, because he starts out as fulfilling the traditional Mentor role, even down to the beard — though it’s not long. Quite closely trimmed, actually.
He hits a lot of the other marks, though, like introducing Cob to strange customs (visiting in Bahlaer), trying to provide guidance through cryptic insinuation, showing a bit of magic, and disappearing rather suddenly. Cob is even a bit glad to see him go, because Cob in Book 1 is easily aggravated and deeply suspicious about everyone.
Jasper doesn’t just vanish for fun, though. He leaves because he’s been elbowed out by the third would-be mentor: Morshoc, aka the Voice of Mayhem. I admit I was probably being a bit too self-indulgent when I wrote the dialogue between these two. They’re both old characters of mine, and old frenemies toward each other, so they talk around Cob like he’s a piece of furniture. I could have done that part better. But the point of their interaction was to hint that both were well aware of their Mentor status, both were operating under a pseudonym, and both had probably done just this kind of thing before. It’s the continuation of an old war.
Morshoc is, physically, not the Mentor type. A snarky young-looking redhead? Not even a hint of a beard! (And alas, another Aion snapshot, because we have no sketch of him either.) But those characteristics are Gandalf-level old, so variations shouldn’t be surprising. His Mentor-based issues are that even though he likes to harp on Jasper for being cryptic, he isn’t any better; he tells Cob a bit about the world and the thing inside him but won’t explain what any of it means, or how it hooks together. And he is lost at almost exactly the halfway point. And he comes back, unlike the other two. And he is definitely the bossiest, smuggest and most infuriating of the three, whom Cob would wish to never see again.
So, in story terms, Morshoc is probably the most Mentor-like of Cob’s three encounters. Ammala could have aided him best, perhaps, but she was unprepared for the role. Jasper is the most experienced and the most purposeful, but gets forced out by Morshoc, who has the most enthusiasm for the job — if enthusiasm is synonymous with crazy.
How would Cob’s story have been different if he’d been guided by Ammala or Jasper? Due to the timing, staying with Ammala would have been a doomed choice, and she would not have been able to help him much — if at all. In different circumstances, though, he might have stayed for a while and learned how to be a civilized person instead of an Imperialist jerk. Ammala had the experience and the grit to manage a surrogate son, just not a hunted hero.
With Jasper? The story would have been slower, less catastrophic. They might have gone to ground in Bahlaer from the start, or otherwise stayed west of the Rift instead of going up the Climb like Cob and Morshoc did. Perhaps they would have turned north, to Kerrindryr, and it would have become more about Cob finding himself in his homeland, walking his father’s footsteps — dealing with his personal issues first, rather than carrying them along with him as he blazed his way into the Empire.
Better stories? Worse? I’m not a fair judge, since Morshoc is one of my favorites. And why have three Mentors? Isn’t one enough? — Well, no, not for the tale I want to tell and not for the way the world works, with a million meddling hands all trying to latch onto the few best game-pieces. For the sake of the story at large, both Jasper and Morshoc had to make a play for control of Cob — and I would argue that the groundwork Ammala laid before they got there was what helped Cob shake them both off.
Most importantly, the options were there — and now they’re gone, and Cob is left with the Mentor he wouldn’t normally choose, but maybe the one he deserves.
*cough cough Batman paraphrase cough*