The Big Idea: Jeff Wheeler
With great power comes great responsibility. But what if you don’t know what those powers are, or how to use them? What if you had to figure everything out on your own? Author Jeff Wheeler explores the idea of what it’s like to go through things alone, read on to see how this shapes his protagonist in his newest novel, Knight’s Ransom.
After having his butt kicked by Tusken raiders, Luke Skywalker is saved by the enigmatic Obi-Wan Kenobi, the strange old hermit he’d always known as Ben. That’s when he learns about his father, the Jedi order, and starts the path of using the Force that will bring him to his destiny.
Having a wise mentor to guide a hero on the journey is a trope that’s been around for a long time and a prominent feature of Campbell’s Hero with a Thousand Faces. We’ve seen this type of character in Gandalf, Dumbledore, and Haymitch to name a few.
I used it myself in the original Kingfountain trilogy, where the child Owen Kiskaddon is tutored in Fountain magic by the reclusive poisoner, Ankarette. He learns how the magic is strengthened (by performing repetitive tasks that fill his reservoir, so to speak), how he uses it to trick the king into believing he knows the future, and how those who possess these gifts of the Fountain are rare and special.
When I decided to go back to the world of Kingfountain in my new series, The First Argentines, the big idea I wanted to tease was not having a mentor character to explain the important details to the hero, a knight-in-training named Ransom Barton. He’s got to figure things out all on his own.
That idea caused some delicious tension throughout the story. Ransom begins to realize he has unusual powers after an incident in the training yard when he’s ambushed by some of his peers because he’s out-classing a duke’s son. Instead of getting bullied into subservience, he nearly kills them all. But there’s no one to explain to him how he can do what he does. The stories of the Fountain-blessed, at this point in Kingfountain’s collective history, haven’t been written yet and aren’t as obvious as they were in Owen’s day.
To make things worse for Ransom as he grows older, the enemy of his future king has someone who is Fountain-blessed in their employ. Ransom and this mysterious cloaked lady can sense each other. Again, Ransom doesn’t know why this is, but he knows the other person is dangerous. And she know the rules whereas he doesn’t.
I loved writing this book with the main character so hindered by ignorance. He has to figure out his powers, how to replenish them, and more important what feeds them and makes them stronger. His loyalty to the Argentine family plays an intriguing role, which he only starts to figure out in the first book. And when he finds out who his nemesis is, let’s just say it’s not his father offering him a chance to rule the galaxy.
For me, not having an Obi-Wan-style mentor made this story more interesting to tell. The hero is in the dark but he senses that things aren’t the way he sees. That there is an undercurrent going on between the rival kingdoms that has more at stake than he can possibly realize.
A hero without a mentor who faces off with a villain who believes they are the hero of the story. It was just the right twist to add more magic and suspense to this story.