Heroes and mentors: WOT vs HP

This essay contains spoilers to both Wheel of Time and Harry Potter.

A crucial element in epic fantasy is the relationship between the hero and his or her mentor. As the typical fantasy hero is unaware of his importance and hence lacks the experience required for his quest, the hero is in need of some guidance from a wise man or woman. However, the mentor disappears when the hero has to face his destiny.

In this essay I will compare the hero/mentor relations in two popular fantasy series: Wheel of Time and Harry Potter. In the latter Harry is the hero and Dumbledore his mentor. In WOT these roles are taken by respectively Rand al’Thor and Moiraine Damodred.

Though Dumbledore and Moiraine play a similar role, their relationship with their respective heroes is quite different. Both characters are primarily driven by their desire to vanquish the embodiment of evil (Voldemort respectively the Dark One).

Dumbledore’s relation with Harry is, at least in the first four books, more than just good. In fact Harry adores his headmaster. However, Harry’s loyalty is quite remarkable if you think about it.

In the Philospher’s Stone there’s little interaction between Harry and Dumbledore. There are only two cases where both have a direct converation with each other, the one in scene with the Mirror of Erised and at the end when Harry is at the hospital wing after having fought Voldemort. In the Chambers of Secrets they speak each other only thrice and yet Harry shows complete loyalty to Dumbledore when he meets Tom Riddle.

Though Harry has numerous reasons to question Dumbledore’s decisions, it is not until to the Order of the Phoenix he develops a more critical attitude towards his headmaster. It seems that Harry’s opinion of Dumbledore is mostly due to the latter’s reputation, not the least because Hagrid’s almost literal worship of Hogwarts’ headmaster.

In contrast Rand’s relation with Moiraine is rifled with tension from the start. Though she earns some credits by saving Rand’s father from lethal injuries, their relationship remains cool. And as the story progresses, Rand and Moiraine became even more hostile to each other and hits its very bottom in the Shadow Rising. Though they finally reach an agreement in the Fires of Heaven, it is more a truce than friendship.

Their strained relationship is not because Rand hates Moiraine as a person, but he hates the way she is pushing him in a direction she believes is the right one. He does not like to be told what to do and in addition he is reluctant to accept he is the Dragon Reborn and hence destined to save the world.

Dumbledore, however, is as manipulative as Moiraine as we find out in Snape’s memories in the Deathly Hallows. Like Moiraine, Dumbledore sees Harry primarily as a mean to get rid of Voldemort once and for all, this is not to say he does not care about Harry as a person, but that is of secondary importance.

So why does Harry accept Dumbledore as mentor almost blindly, whereas Rand spends much effort to get rid of Moiraine? I believe there are a few explanations.

First of all, Dumbledore has unlike Moiraine over fifty years experience as a teacher and consequently he quite understands how teenagers such as Harry think. More generally, Dumbledore has a far better understanding of human psychology than Moiraine does. Therefore he is better capable to steer Harry in the direction he wants.

For instance, Dumbledore wisely takes some distance from Harry and leave the more day-to-day aspects of his education to McGonagall and to lesser extent, Snape. This prevent friction between Harry and Dumbledore. Of course, the setting of Hogwarts makes this easy to do, a luxury not available to Moiraine.

Another important reason is, in my opinion, the different backgrounds of Harry and Rand. Both heroes are orphans who have never knew their biological parents, but save from this their youths are almost opposites.

Rand was raised by his adoptive parents as their own son and he even did not know Tam was not his real father, until their village was attacked by trollocs. Before he met Moiraine Rand had a happy youth and the only really bad event was the death of his (adoptive) mother at age five. So he had no reason to desire to leave his town for a dangerous adventure.

Harry on the other hand, was treated badly by the Dursleys and he could not wait for going to Hogwarts. Also he is more comfortable with being a wizard than Rand is with being a channeler.

A third reason is that Harry had a strong, personal reason to finish off Voldemort, as he had killed his parents. So he was more willing to accept help with his ultimate goal of defeating Voldemort. Rand on the other hand, is forced by external events to take up his role to fight a more abstract evil.

A last but not least reason, would be that Dumbledore is willing to admit to Harry he makes mistakes, fatal ones at times. Though Moiraine does not claim to be infallible, she is too strong an Aes Sedai to show such weakness. Additionally Dumbledore uses humour to smooth his conversations with Harry.

It takes five books for Rand and Moiraine to work out a way to get along with each other. So it is quite sad that once he finally accepts her guidance, she disappears. Rand believe she is dead and blames himself for her death, even could not have done anything to prevent this.

When Dumbledore is killed by Snape, Harry finds himself in a similar situation. He has to face his destiny on his own.

The demise of the mentor is a standard feature of fantasy, but WOT and HP also differ in this respect. First of all, Dumbledore is killed quite late in the series (at the end of book six, out of seven), while Moiraine disappears midway (at the end of book five, out of fourteen). Perhaps more importantly, Moiraine returns at the end of the series and is actively involved in Rand’s final battle with the Dark One.

Yes, Harry does speak with Dumbledore in the Deathly Hallows but their conversation takes place in limbo and the former headmaster is absent from the final confrontation with Voldemort.

Nevertheless I think it would be unfair to state that Dumbledore is a better mentor than Moiraine. Such a claim would ignore that both characters operate in quite different circumstances. The headmaster of Hogwarts had nearly sixteen years to work out his plans, where Moiraine had to spend nearly two decades to find Rand in the first place and she did not expect the situation would deteriorate as fast once she had found Rand. So Dumbledore was much better prepared than Moiraine.

I have the impression Moiraine did not have a plan how to deal with Rand, before she found him. But could she? The idea was to bring him to the White Tower and there the Amyrlin Seat should take over. However, the course of events forced her to change her plans and things turned worse afterwards. No surprise she lost control of the situation.

Next time I will compare the magic in Wheel of Time with that in Harry Potter.

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4 responses

  1. Next time I want to write a review, I will sit down with you first.
    This is excellent piece of writing

    1. Thanks for your appreciation 😉

  2. I sorta skim read your essay and the first line “A crucial element in epic fantasy is the relationship between the hero and his or her mentor.” I read as “A crucial element in epic fantasy is the relationship between the hero and his or her MOTHER.”
    The hero is doomed before he gets a chance to be heroic. 😦

    1. LOL.

      But sometimes the hero’s mentor is indeed his mother.

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