I'm writing a book series that involves people with various superpowers. One of these characters and is more or less the mentor of the protagonists. This character is the leader of the "good guy" superhuman faction, have a great deal of experience and wisdom (in their eighties, but biologically immortal), and is the most powerful superhuman around in terms of raw power and what they can do. This kind of "OP-ness" is a bit on purpose, part of the mentor character's arc is about how they cope with the power and responsibility that has been placed on them. They aren't a Superman-level flying brick, but they definitely come off as the biggest fish in the pond.
I've always hated mentor characters who seem to exist just to dispense cryptic wisdom and then die. Nothing says "don't get too attached to this character, they're just a side character" than this, and makes the character seem more like a plot device than a three-dimensional character. So part of my goal with this character was to create a dynamic mentor character with their own character flaws and arcs that notably does not die at the end of the story just to elevate the protagonists. However, I've been feeling like the world of my story is very stagnant and constrained in where it can go, and have been concerned that this mentor character might be part of the problem.
I've read that in the typical Campbellian hero's journey that it's necessary to remove any powerful heroic characters from the board by the beginning of the third act and make it so the main characters have to solve the problem by themselves and don't have any parental figures/mentors/greater heroes to rely on to do it for them. Removal of these authority figures basically allows the plot to descend into complete anarchy and removes any familiar sense of safety which increases dramatic tension and the need of the heroes to restore order (typically by them becoming the new authority figures in the traditional Campbellian storyline).
I don't agree with the strict Campbellian interpretation of how stories should go. I agree with the literary importance of removing the mentor character from the picture so that the main characters are forced to solve problems by themselves rather than relying on the mentor character to do everything for them. However, at the same time, outright killing the mentor character simply to raise the stakes and seems like a cheap move to me. Indeed, it seems like killing off mentor characters has become seen as increasingly cliche ever since Obi-Wan Kenobi did it well in Star Wars (to the point that such an act has been called "pulling an Obi-Wan"), and especially so after Dumbledore in Harry Potter.
However, I do kind of feel like the setting becomes overly "safe" after the mentor character is introduced, compared to earlier story arcs where the characters have to fend for themselves and have only themselves to rely on. Nevertheless, I don't want to kill the mentor character off because it doesn't add much emotional pathos to the story beyond that removal of any safety net. Their character arc does not benefit from having them die at the end, and it would basically mean removing one of the most interesting to read characters from the story.
Given this, how to I prevent the mentor character from removing any dramatic tension from the plot without simply killing them off? Some of the potential solutions I've come up with to try and get around the problem are as follows:
- The mentor character is not morally perfect, they can make mistakes and have their own flaws and character arcs that run throughout the story and force them to grow. Therefore, their purpose in the narrative is not simply to act as a source of wisdom for the protagonists. My intent was to make the mentor character as much of a main character as the other protagonists.
- The mentor character lives on the opposite end of the United States from the main characters (East Coast versus West Coast), and they can only get from one end of the country to the other about as fast as a normal person (read: the time and money it takes to get a plane ticket). As a result they can really only travel to help out the main characters if the situation is outright apocalyptic and even then the characters would have to fend for themselves for some time.
- The mentor character is not all-powerful, they have distinct weaknesses that can be exploited and prevent them from insta-solving every problem. One of their biggest weaknesses is that for all their power they are very slow, they have no "travel powers" like flight, super speed, or teleportation that can be used to get them to a site of crisis in a hurry. They're the most powerful, but they aren't Superman. Similarly, they do have a more traditional "Kryptonite-esque" weakness.
- The mentor character cannot be everywhere at once, and while they would love to protect the main characters, who they see as surrogate children, they have other responsibilities, namely acting as a liaison with the government to keep them from overreacting every time something goes wrong. In this respect they are treated as the Aragorn to the protagonist's Frodo and Sam. Normally their hands are pretty tied in how much they can do.
- There are a couple of events that potentially remove the mentor from the picture either via injury that puts them in critical condition or emotionally compromises them so they cannot act as a mentor or leader.
- Not everyone listens to them. They may be respected, but they aren't God, and there are many groups that either disagree with them or are outright antagonistic to them.
However, none of these solutions seem to alleviate the feeling that the setting feels stagnant and small rather than wide-open with potential for drama and adventure, so I feel as though I am not implementing them right.