It does seem like the majority of mentors are old guys with white facial hair or no hair at all. There are a few that don’t fit that description like Halt from Ranger’s Apprentice and Phil from Disney’s Hercules. You have a few women too like Professor McGonagall, but there is a severe lack of female mentors in literature. So, why is it typically the old man that is either wise or strange?
The Mentor is one of the oldest character archetypes in existence. You see them in mythology alongside the main heroes. In fact, I think the term comes from a Greek myth character named Mentor. He was a caretaker of Odysseus’s son Telemachus and Athena took his form to convince the kid to fight his mother’s suitors. He’s actually the old guy in the top left picture above. Anyway, this is how it started and it’s changed very little over the years.
The point of a Mentor is to impart wisdom and skills to the hero before either being left behind or killed. For example, Obi Wan taught Luke Skywalker the ways of the Force before dying. Then Yoda did a better job of it. So, you can go from one mentor to another in some stories. This isn’t unheard of and makes sense because in real life, we need more than one teacher for a variety of skills and better depth. This requires that your Mentor be experienced, which where the old age comes from. It’s hard to believe that a Mentor will be a character who is only 5 years older than the hero.
I’m circling the big issue here, which is female Mentors. Again, there aren’t many of them and most are rather modern. Part of the reason might be because the Mentor concept stemmed from the wise advisor to the ‘hero’. It’s really only recently that female characters are being drawn out of the damsel in distress. Yet, they always seem to be anomalies and trained by a guy. Looking at my bookshelf, I see very little with female heroes and mentors. The closest thing I see from where I sit is Buffy, but she had Rupert Giles as a mentor. I hate to say it, but the Mentor is a role that women have yet to crack into. Personally, I really hope they do it in a way that isn’t a simple gender-switch of the old male mentor.
So, what do people think of the Mentor role that appears in stories, especially fantasy? Any opinions on the miniscule amount of female Mentor roles? Am I opening a can of worms that I’ll regret?