There is a class of people that gets its kicks luring unsuspecting young people out of their safe homes and into ADVENTURE! Clucking their tongues, stroking their beards, they encourage the young heroes, doling out bits of crucial information, hard technology and/or enchanted cutlery, often while keeping their own culpability in The Big Problem well under wraps.
The Mentor comes in many shapes and sizes, although it would appear only one gender. Here we look at famous mentors and consider both good and bad things that they bring to the table.
Classical British Actor:
There is something remarkable about a really good British actor. I think it has to do with body language. Alec Guinness (Sir Alec Guinness to you, yank) is the paragon of this concept.
Looking for Trouble: When Obi-Wan says: “This little one’s not worth the trouble," Sir Alec’s body language has Obi-Wan saying this: “Are you sure you want to go down this path? I’ve been in the dune sea for eighteen years. Eighteen f-ing years!"
When Obi-Wan says “Let me buy you a drink." Sir Alec’s body language has Obi-Wan saying, “I'm a busy man. You gonna throw down or not?"
When Obi-Wan stands over the severed arm of one of his defeated enemies (the other enemy cut up so bad they couldn’t even show it in 1978) and doesn’t say a word, Sir Alec Guinness’ body language has Obi Wan say “Fill your hands, you sons of bitches! Who else wants some?"
Gandalf The Gray (aka Gandalf the White)
Rankin/Bass version (The Hobbit, 1977).
Bilbo’s mentor and official bad influence, this Gandalf gets bonus points for being stately at all times.
Too much of a good thing: After you watch Chinatown, John Huston’s voice acting takes on a sinister turn. You expect him to say “Under the right circumstances, Mr. Baggins, you’d be surprised what you are capable of."
Ralph Bakshi Version (The Lord of the Rings, 1978). Really, Gandalf (voiced by British working actor William Squire) isn’t so much a mentor as an odd traveling companion. When he shows up to travel at all.
Fully Animated: Gandalf’s primary color scheme and solid animation make him an anchor of sanity in an otherwise terrifying world of roto-scoping.
At Least They Read the Book: Bakshi’s Gandalf is not all that powerful, but he is fairly representative of the character from the book. Mostly he has knowledge, but getting to where his knowledge will be useful without everyone around him dying is the challenge.
Peter Jackson Version. Ian McKellen. How can you go wrong? As mentioned above re: British actors, you can’t.
Action Jackson! Gandalf has a lot more firepower in this version, engaging in fisticuffs (or the magical equivalent) with Nazgul, Saruman, orcs and trolls. Really can’t go wrong, except . . .
That’s Not in the Book! Gandalf never fought with Sarumon, or with the troll (that was Frodo). Nor did he have to be told how to get into Moria. Took him a while, but he figured it out on his own. Do you hate us, Peter Jackson?
urSu from Dark Crystal
Kind Hearted Soul:
UrSu, the mystic mentor to penultimate Gelfling Jed, drove away the Garthim that were slaughtering Jed’s village, and raised him in the safety of the Mystic’s hidden valley. These are the Good Times.
Tough Love: urSu is on his deathbed that looks more like an ironing board, before he mentions anything about Jed’s big dangerous mission. What does he tell him? Basically, it’s in that direction. Big help, urSu.
Ynyr from Krull
Prince Colwyn lies dying, failed to protect his people from the Slayers. His life is saved and hope rekindled by the seer Ynyr, who, in a rare fit of plain communication for a Mentor, lays outs their task crisply in the Queen’s English.
Too Much Drama: Ynyr keeps it to himself, but it’s pretty obvious that all the Seers on Krull know each other. Like they all went to college together. And there is some baggage. Like giant-spider-queen-seer baggage.
Ulrich from Dragonslayer
Ynyr's odd personal history can't hold a candle to the detritus of a lifetime that Ulrich, mentor to Galen in Dragonslayer
Kickin' it Old School: The crazy old coot dies early on, letting a warrior stab him in the chest on a dare, leaving Galen to flail, Gelfling-like, on his own.
Taught You Everything You Know. Didn't Teach You Everything I Know: Ulrich returns from the dead to get the job done. Let me be clear: He doesn't rely on more powerful beings to "send him back" like certain wizards I could name. Nor does he "speak from beyond the graaaaave" like other mentors that come to mind. People, All Caps are called for: THE MAN KILLED AND RESURRECTED HIMSELF TO SAVE THE HASSLE OF TRAVELING.
Merlin from Excalibur
Getting His Hands Dirty:
While many mentors are content to prowl around the edges of events, Merlin takes more of an active role in history. He’s picking incompetent kings and getting them to the throne.
Can’t Get it Right: He absolutely botches things with that crazy guy Uther. And Arthur? He’s just a hair better. And Morgan? Get your mind out of the gutter, you creepy old wizard.
Morpheus from The Matrix
You Want Him On Your Side:
Dude! He’s Laurence Fishburne. He’s got the flying ship, and the edgy group of rebels, and does the cyber-fu.
You Want Him With a Mute Button: Man, Morpheus could sure talk some shit, couldn’t he? Was his plan to bore the Matrix into sleep-mode?