Wizardly Goodness

Posted by Unrepentant Escapist

Non-Cliche Wizards (Wyzzzardz)

We're a little late coming into this one because my computer takes freaking 15 mintues to log on.

Panelists: Julie Clegg, Paul Gilette, Brandon Sanderson, Scott Parkin (sp?)

Q: How do we depart from the Gandalf archetype? Especially since stories reuqire a wise mentor?

BS: Taditional story focusses on someone young who doesn't know much about the world. Thus, they need the mentor as a rock, something to latch onto, the hang to. "It fulfills a great story function." Novel is a young form of literature...depending if you count the tale of Genji or not...scholars point to the birth of the novel in modern form in 1700s. Now, we're more mature. We want knowable protagonists instead of unknowable characters who stand above. We write the wizard's POV, make him fallible, instead of having the young mentor-needing presence.

SP: Keep him if you need 'em, lose him if you don't. No need to jettison him if it works for your story. Other side of ancient mentor is evil mentor. Wise crone can be good or evil.

BS: Jafar.

JC: Evil has a bigger evil.

PG: Subverted in my Iron Dragon series by filling different roles--religious priests, warriors. In the second, use a young mentor. Martial artist. Mentor doesn't need to be as weak as Raistlin. He can be stronger than a warrior. The wizard is the tough guy. Studying since a small child, got knowledge. No beard. Twist the wizard!

BS: I like to dig at the roots of these sorts of questions. One of the things that's bothered me is when people use Hero of a Thousand Faces as a guidebook. Even Lucas didn't work...shoe-horned it into the prequel triology. For example, the virgin birth. It was meant as a checkbox. NOT FOR THE STORY OF ITSELF. It didn't fit the story, it was shoe-horned it. Don't do that. If you're going to use the Campbellian characters, use it to make it a greater story, not just because "you have to have one." This mono-myth is what happens when people tell stories. They told the story that came naturally. They did not shoe-horn this stuff in. Look at the roots of the story--why do people like the wise mentor? What does it reprensent? Wonder Mystery Magic--he's the symbol of this. Where he works--the main characters aren't using magic in the same way. Dumbledore/Gandalf says: hey, hero, go do this and then he wanders off. It strains disbelief a little--why doesn't Dumbledore do it himself? Why not remove the character?

SP: What are you trying to accomplish with this character? Simple wisdom, power, magic. Common filler techniques--ancient prophecy. Serves the place of the quest-giver. (I hate ancient prophecy. I think it's overused.) Don't paint by numbers. Tell the story you want to tell. That's the problem with these panels, we're not going to hand you a script of a story that works without these wizards. Come up with the great story first.

BS: These are tools, not rules. Know what the wise mentor does and why people like them. He's part of your toolbox, but do them your own way if you need that where you told.

Survey: Are we trying to fing alternatives to the wise mentors (quarter of audience raise hands) fresh look at the genre (about the same amount)

BS: I think the same ppl raised their hands twice.

JC: You have to know the rules to break the rules. Talks about how you start with the stereotypes, write them, understand them, then once you know, you break it. So the next fantasy I'm going to write has the "old squirrel mentor" and as long as he has a nice long wells.

Dan Willis walks into the room and joins the panel...15 minutes late. Go Dan!

BS: Maybe we should talk about the fact that fantasy as a genre has gotten very tired of the same kind of stories. Then heard in fantasy genre that people are tired of vampires. He was wrong. Read Rob Newcomb--who flopped for reasons the publishers don't understand. Sanderson thinks he fails because telling the same story fails in comparison to Tolkein/Robert Jordan. But then again, Eragon worked. You never can tell what's going to be really big. Advice: stay away from architypes. This is a large genre that is largely unexplored.

JC: Is it ever okay to write it? Yes, if you're beginning. Try to twist them, after you've written and learned.

BS: Even before I was teaching beginning writers, I grew very tired of people saying "My Elves are different." My response: I've read lots and lots and lots of elves. Tad Williams has elves. Really good elves. But I, personally, am sick of them. (Note: there are a lot of people who will not read books with elves.) Same thing with wise old mentors. You can subvert it. For example, Wheel of Time: Gandalf shows up and Gandalf is a girl. Thom Merilin is Merlin with a mustache. And no magic. (I totally did not catch that until now.) Don't think you're being fresh and original just because your orcs do red skin.

SP: Look at American Gods--well known archetypes but made fresh. For example, make powerful but stupid. But they;re not what a novel is built on--they're things to help a story, not the story yourself.

Hands up on who's read American Gods. (SERIOUSLY?????? You guys need to broaden your literary horizons. There's like five of us.)

DW: (Dan Willis) The problem is with any story unless your protagonist sprung fully formed from the head of Zeus, your hero needs some training up. Someone needs to do that, and that's usually the mentor. But then the mentor needs a fatal flaw so the hero still has a role. Wizard replaces Google, as a world of knowledge. You can, of course, skip that part of the story, but then you have that. You still need the world's wikipedia (Hermoine) and that's what the mono-myth wizard does. (That's why mentors often die! Because the heroes lose the crutch). The best thing is to make the character a character with a capital C. Say...Yoda. We meet him, the goofy flake, we know he's powerful, but he doesn't show that face. "If you can make that guardian threshhold character interesting, you'll go much further than just taking the beard off."

JC: But Yoda's disguise was also a archetype, the fairy crone who hides in the forest and tests heroes to decide if they're worthy of their gifts. The old woman at the well. Yoda at the well.

BS: Roots of storytelling--two roots, told to people who weren't educated, so educated people represent something different, because there are more educated people. A weird thing happened right after Tolkein--wizard/science is hard to understand. We're not interested in him, we're interested in the mortal man who's like us. Not the godly people. Cinderella, not the fairy godmother. But after Tolkein, we become educated and we empathize more with Gandalf. Then you see the apprentice stories...the wizard. David Eddings, Terry Brooks. The young apprentice becomes Gandalf rather than Gandalf gives the quest and we go on it. But where is it going now? What's the next step? Start with the character already learned. We're going to start with the character right now. Because we're in the society where we have access to so much information.

SP: Once upon a time, the mentor character was the substitute for god. Not interested in local politics, relies upon the lesser creatures to make the world better. Now, we're not replacing god or seeking power from god. Do you require god to be an external power, or not? Does god have a speaking role in your stories?

PG: Actually, in the mythology, he's an angel. He's there to inspire men and elves. I didn't know that for years--I just thought he was an old man. When I understood what he was, that kind of blew my mind. He's the mouthpiece of a god as a why.

DW: I remember when I first read lord of the rings I was 12 or 13, I was struck by the fact Gandalf didn't do much. He never really did much magic. It's the difference you talk about--in the old tales, you have the guardian character who won't do what needs to be done because it needs to be done by the hero. In the modern series, its the guardian can't do the great thing because he can't. Dumbledore dies because of his own fatal flaw.

SP: Harry Potter--transcended the world of Voldemort and Dumbledore at the end, turning things into something more mundane.

BS: Another convention in MG is that you remove the authority figure so kids can have adventures. So there were extra constraints on Harry Potter--the kids have to have the adventure. Dumbledore usually has no good reason not to solve things but its a kid's book so Harry has to do it.

JC: Can you all think of some classic novels or recent stuff that breaks the boundaries well? The Riddlemaster Triology is the one he likes. As you go through the series, you're revealing more and more. He isn't a stereotype.

DW: Lloyd Alexander -- he does a great thing where he makes the wizard character a pig.

BS: Liked Robert Jordan's Moiraine. She was really interesting, followed some of the new paradigms later in the series, but in the first she was the weird, wise unknowable mentor. (I liked her better as the weird and wise). Part of the archetype: THE WIZARD ALREADY DIES. Told his sister Gandalf was going to die in book five or six.

JC: At least Lloyd Alexander's wizard made good bacon.

BS: All the wise archetypes kick the buckets during the climax. One thing I've tried to do with characters like this is I like getting into his head. I always wanted to get into Gandalf's POV. It changes the story if you do the POV because you have to make them flawed and interesting. We have these people in our lives--parents and scout masters and that--and their stories are interesting. At least to me.

You see a lot of Merlin stories in post-modern. That's kind of doing the same thing. (I loved MAry Stewart!)

SP: Alternative--look at eastern myth, or Greek And Roman, where the gods are advanced men but not advanced morally.

BS: But watch out for the "wise negro" / minority characters.

PG: Harry Dresden. He's broke. He's pretty interesting. Yet he should be the CEO of some major company or something. He's got skills, people, but he's the bottom of the barrel. He's got to survive.

BS: Yep, Harry Dresden is an awesome wizard but not Gandalf.

Comment: Dragonriders of Pern. The bard! He was very human, although he was a mentor. (He was my favorite character.)

SP: Human-driven power versus god-driven power.

DW: But when you have a protagonist as the magical character, you must develop the rules of magic well. Dresden--rules, like technology doesn't work around him. If you get into the Asian stuff, resist the temptation to end the books where the Asian books end. Your American audience will not be happy.

Shameless promotion! They do it!

Hey, Brandon knows what he's doing this time. He's doing two different readings from Way of Kings. Neato! He's doing the Superstars workshop. See more about it on his blog. Too pricey for me...

And yet ends another interesting episodes of Jennifer's blog.

DW blames the parking gods for his lateness. The parking is pretty difficult here--I got here a half-hour early to make sure I had a seat.


  1. Luisa Perkins said...

    Thank you, bless you. I love this.

    I can't believe no one is reading Gaiman or GRRM. What ARE they reading out there?

  2. Lee Ann Setzer said...

    I'm liking this format--esp. your editorial comments, and the ability to skip a certain set of self-promoting and not very interesting contributions.

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