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Okay, so we're betting you've never been to the year 2194 (just a hunch—correct us if we're wrong, and whisper your time travel secrets in our ears). But just because this is when Tendai, our thirteen-year-old protagonist, is growing up doesn't mean we can't relate to him. After all, robot maids aside, he's just a young teen who yearns for adventure and has overly strict parents. So let's take a closer look at this classic kid from the future.
When we first meet Tendai, we get to see what it's like for him to kick butt in martial arts. Er, sort of:
Tendai liked the skill involved, but his imagination was a little too active. As he sent a spear into a bag of sand in the garden, he thought, What does it feel like to drive a spear into a person? And he thought of it happening to him. (2.6)
There's nothing wrong with having a wild imagination, but we can see how it would get in the way on the battlefield. There are times when letting your mind wander is awesome—the thick of battle isn't one of those times, though. Tendai's martial arts instructor notices his propensity for imagination and fills the General in on the fact that Tendai will never be a warrior. The kid's more of a thinker.
Importantly, this bums Tendai's dad out. He runs his house like a miniature branch of the military, so having a son who doesn't have warrior potential isn't exactly a dream come true for him. And because of this, Tendai is bummed, too. Fortunately, however, as Tendai heads out on adventure, it becomes clear that thinking is incredibly valuable. Time and again, Tendai's mind is the tool he and his siblings rely on.
By the time he escapes the She Elephant, Tendai has already matured a bunch. When a bus driver casually asks his name, our main man hesitates. Check out why:
A few weeks before, Tendai would have given him the information without thinking. Now he no longer trusted the outside world. Fuzzy blue monkeys turned into vicious brutes. Sweet old ladies turned out to be Grannies. And the Masks would soon be hunting them. Who knew who their allies might be? (13.72)
Way to flex those mental muscles, Tendai. Now, thinking is getting him somewhere. Tendai realizes he has to be cautious if he's going to outsmart the Masks. With two younger siblings in tow, it's up to Tendai to suss out situations and utilize his mental matter to find the best way through for them all. Whereas before, he was only interested in having a cool adventure and getting a Scout's badge, now he's protective and guarded, his brain sifting through the lessons he's learned in his crash course in the real world to decide how to act.
While Tendai's brain is the source of his might, this doesn't stop the lion spirit mhondoro from using him to fight the Masks. While this sounds terrible, it's actually a big honor to be chosen by such a powerful spirit. When the mhondoro possesses Tendai, he is relieved—not only did some spirit use him, the spirit did. This stands in stark contrast to Tendai's lament early on in the book:
You didn't have a choice about who possessed you: when a spirit wanted you, he or she generally got his or her way. […] Rita, now, clearly showed that her great-grandmother, a gifted mathematician, had decided to pass on her skills. […] Kuda was too young to be possessed. Tendai was certain some warlike ancestor would be delighted with his little brother when he was older. But what about me? he thought. He didn't have any special skills. Quite a lot of dull, ordinary people weren't ever possessed by anybody. They weren't worth it. Tendai sighed. (3.25-27)
Tendai starts out feeling unworthy of possession, so when mhondoro comes along, it's huge for our main man. It's a moment of recognizing himself as valuable, plus a good reminder that the supernatural works in mysterious ways. Tendai might be smart, but even his mind can't fully appreciate the workings of spirits.
As mhondoro leaves him, he tells Tendai, "You ought to think about becoming a spirit medium. You have a real talent" (39.51). Excuse us while we pick our jaws up from the floor. Say what? Looks like Tendai hasn't only become worthy of possession; he excels at it. Couple this with his mental might, and it looks like Tendai has a bright future ahead of him.