It’s been said that many authors have a lifelong theme they explore with their work. It’s an unconscious thing, not done intentionally, and really, unless someone is looking they might not even notice. It can be something like “best friends,” or “father-daughter relationships,” “setting as character” or “humans as monsters.” They are subtle, but can be telling as far as reading into the writer’s subconscious.
Once I learned about this, I looked at my own work to see if I could find anything like that. Sure enough, it didn’t take me long to find a pattern in my many seemingly unrelated works. Most of my stories have some sort of master/apprentice relationship in them, even if that relationship is not what is being explored in the book. Perhaps my main character was an apprentice to a person in her past, who made her who she is today. Other stories begin with a character starting an apprenticeship, while still others have characters who discover their masters are not who they thought they were.
In my short story, “A Whole-Hearted Halfling,” part of the Champions of Aetaltis anthology, my main character is the unlikely apprentice to a wizard. While writing this story, I realized the complicated dynamics that were possible with the master-apprentice relationship. Not only is the master a teacher of skills, but they set an example for someone less learned than they are as far as morals and values. They have the ability to shape and change a person. They can take a troubled person and teach them to be good—or they can take a good person and warp them to serve evil.
Sometimes, apprentices learn that their masters are not the people they thought they were. They are faced with making a choice. Do they follow their master and his teachings? Do they take a path unknown to them, but that their heart tells them is true? Other times, apprentices might discover they have outgrown their masters. Do they stay with their masters out of loyalty? Or do they continue trying to better themselves?
Here are some of my favorite masters and apprentices in genre fiction, movies, and comics:
1) Anakin Skywalker and Obi Wan Kenobi - Yes, Anakin chose the path of the Dark Side, but before this, the Jedi thought he was the Chosen One (yet another theme, one of many which are explored in the Star Wars series), and he was trained by Obi Wan Kenobi at the request of Kenobi’s master, Qui-Gon Jinn. Anakin didn’t always agree with his master, and was notoriously headstrong and a bit rebellious, but he and his master made a great team, as fans can see in the Clone Wars series.
However, a time came when Anakin’s heart was telling him one thing and his head another. He had to make a choice, and for better or worse, chose to follow his passion rather than that of detached justice. He forsook his master and chose another.
2) Jen Yu and Jade Fox (Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon) -This is an example of an apprentice outgrowing her master, and also forsaking her. Jen Yu trained to be a warrior under Jade Fox, who had stolen a combat manual from the famed Wudang Mountain temple. Jade Fox couldn’t read the manual, so Jen told her what it said. Yet Jen cleverly kept some of the information to herself, and soon her skill surpassed that of her master. At an impressionable point in her life, Jen met warriors Li Mu Bai and Yu Shu Lien, who are both on the opposite side of the law as Jade Fox. Betrayals are met with more betrayals, and eventually Jen leaves her master to serve others.
3) Batman and Tim Drake as Robin - Batman has had a few Robins over the years, and I definitely have my favorites (and least favorites, *cough* Jason Todd *cough*). I like Tim Drake’s introduction, however, because it came at a time when Batman was having a crisis. He had just lost another Robin (in the series Death in the Family, readers were allowed to vote whether or not Jason Todd should live or die…and while I had no great love for Jason Todd, I couldn’t help but look at the result and say, “This is why we can’t have nice things!”), and was grieving for him while the world was in danger.
Things looked dire. Yet Batman vowed he would never have another Robin. He’d never take that responsibility again, he’d never be responsible for a kid’s death like that. Tim Drake, however, came along with answers Batman needed. He persisted, even when Batman tried his best to send him away, and eventually the apprentice taught the master a lesson in accepting help when one needs it.
4) Sandor Clegane and Arya Stark - A Song of Ice and Fire is full of relationships of all sorts, and while it’s not a formal master/apprentice relationship, the match-up between the Hound and Arya is definitely one of my favorites, first in the book and then as it is portrayed in the HBO series. Sandor takes Arya as a prisoner, a hostage he hopes to exchange for gold after he has disgraced himself in King’s Landing. He needs to protect her so he gets a good price, but she certainly doesn’t make things easy for him. In spite of himself, he takes on the role of her master, teaching her to survive the cruel, harsh ways of the world of Westeros. She understands, also in spite of herself, that she needs the lessons the Hound teaches her to prepare her for when winter comes. Arya vows to kill the Hound every night, but by day, they struggle for survival together.
5) Merlin and Arthur - What would a list of masters and apprentices be without the the pair that practically founded the fantasy genre? Whether you are more familiar with them from The Once and Future King, or from Excaliber, The Sword in the Stone, or the Crystal Caves series, they are the quintessential master and apprentice. Merlin taught Arthur to be king, and depending on the telling of the tale, they had their various ups and downs during the teaching.
What are your favorite examples of masters and apprentices in fiction?
Melanie R. Meadors is the author of fantasy stories where heroes don't always carry swords and knights in shining armor often lose to nerds who study their weaknesses. She’s been known to befriend wandering garden gnomes, do battle with metal-eating squirrels, and has been called a superhero on more than one occasion. Her fiction has appeared in Circle Magazine, Prick of the Spindle, and in the anthology Champions of Aetaltis. She's the co-editor of the anthology MECH: Age of Steel and editor of Hath No Fury, and she is a blogger and general b*tch monkey at The Once and Future Podcast.