Literary Archetypes: The Wizard/Wise Man

28/08/2014 Literature 0

This is the second part of my ‘Literary Archetypes’ series. Check out the first here: ‘Literary Archetypes: The Dark Lord’.

Gandalf: ‘A wizard is never late, Frodo Baggins. Nor is he early. He arrives precisely when he means to.

From The Fellowship of the Ring (2001 film)

Since I looked at the fantasy Dark Lord in my last ‘Literary Archetypes’ post, I thought, why not look at its good guy equivalent? The typically white bearded, all-knowing and often cryptic Wizard or Wise Man can be seen as far back as the original Arthurian legends and Merlin, and is still a popular trope today.

As a character-type they are particularly useful in regards to the info-dump. Want to explain a whole load of stuff about your fantasy/sci-fi world or why the hero is so very special? Get the wizard or wise man to do a bit of explaining!

Let’s look at some examples…we have Gandalf explaining about the One Ring to Frodo, Dumbledore telling Harry how to kill Voldemort, Brom and Oromis teaching Eragon about dragon-lore, Kuglan explaining the rules of magic to Pug, Obi-Wan Kenobi and Yoda teaching Luke Skywalker about the Force (OK, so that one’s a film, but still)…the list goes on and on!

And remember that little series called A Song of Ice and Fire I mentioned last time as a prime example of where archetypes are avoided? Well even that has its own share of wise men, in Maester Luwin and Maester Aemon. And you know what? There’s nothing wrong with that. As they often fulfil a mentor role they are supposed to be explaining things, so (in most cases) it doesn’t come across as unnatural or contrived.

After all, someone’s got to tell us how to destroy the horcruxes/One Ring and become a Jedi!


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