The Sage Archetype - Everything You Need To Know
This is the seventh article in our fifteen-part masterclass on archetypes. Learn more about archetypes in our first article.
It seems like every hero needs some sort of mentor to help them grow into their full potential. For every Harry Potter, there’s a Dumbledore helping them along. For every hobbit leaving the Shire, there’s a wizard helping them reach their full potential. These knowledgeable, helpful characters are known as the Sage archetype.
Like all character archetypes, the Sage represents a set of traits, actions, and patterns that make them recognizable and familiar across almost any story, regardless of culture, language, etc.
In this article, we’re going to discuss:
- What the Sage archetype is
- What Sages do (and don’t do)
- Typical traits of a Sage
- Sages in popular culture
And while this article discusses the Sage more in-depth, this is the seventh article in our fifteen-part masterclass on archetypes. To learn more about character archetypes and all the ones you should know, click here to check out the first article.
What is the Sage Archetype?
Similar to the Magician, the Sage is a character that is extremely powerful. Just like their counterpart, that power could come in a variety of forms: magic, power, wealth, influence, etc.
Unlike the Magician, however, a Sage is all about helping others. They are the charities and nonprofits of the character archetypes, where Magicians are more like private corporations.
What the Sage personally seeks, however, is knowledge and the truth, sometimes to an extent that puts them in danger. Once they have acquired this knowledge, they use it to shape their understanding of the world and assist others with it.
In stories, Sages are often shown as teachers, professors, experts, scientists, detectives, and philosophers.
What Do Sage Archetypes Do?
Obsessed with understanding the world and finding its truths, Sages often wholly devote themselves to research. For this reason, they often get bullied and called nerds (just kidding, I love research).Because of their pursuit of the truth, no matter how crushing that truth may be, Sages might end up hurting themselves or others. Like the old saying goes, the truth hurts. Sages are dedicated to finding answers, even if those answers stink.
That said, the knowledge they gain from all those days spent in libraries (or ancient ruins, wizard towers, and so on) allows them to process events logically, bring unparalleled wisdom to decision making, and be an invaluable source of information to whomever they're advising.
To that end, the Sage is sort of like the Explorer archetype. But where the Explorer looks outwards to fulfill themselves, the Sage looks inwards.
What the Sage doesn’t do is tell the hero exactly what they need to be successful. Some might argue this is because that would make a boring plot, but it actually fits right in line with the Sage mentality. A Sage can tell our hero how to get to their destination, but no one can know what will happen when the hero gets there or what choices that hero will make.
Due to that unknown, a Sage will advise but won’t tell the hero what to do, because they themselves can’t know.
What Are Typical Sage Archetype Characteristics?
Like all character archetypes, Sages don’t have to share the exact same traits. There will be traits that are common across Sage characters, since that’s how an archetype becomes relatable and familiar, but a Sage is like any other character: they are unique.
So, when thinking about your own Sage, here are some traits you might want to consider incorporating:
You don’t want someone as smart and powerful as a Sage to be without their flaws though, nor should they be picture-perfect. Their obsession with the truth can lead to pitfalls like them being:
- Overly Cautious
- Passive—to the point where they will not act
The truth can consume a Sage so much that it drives them to inaction. Instead of helping the hero, they can only think about the task at hand and not the bigger picture. Once they finish that task, they can apply the knowledge they have gained to the big problem, but not until then.
Some call that dedication. But if the world is on the verge of blowing up and the Sage is so focused on one single problem, that could spell disaster for… well, everyone.
Examples Of The Sage Archetypes in Popular Culture
Sages have become an important part of modern-day storytelling as a powerful way to train our future hero or guide them on their journey. Because of that, this archetype most often appears in fantasy and science fiction, though Sages are not exclusive to these genres.
Here are some of the more recognizable Sages in pop culture:
Uncle Iroh from Avatar: The Last Airbender isn’t just one of my favorite characters from one of my favorite shows of all time (no bias in this list, I swear), but he is a perfect example of a Sage. Iroh is beloved for being the voice of reason, logic, and wisdom to his nephew, Zuko, and is a perfect foil to the usual portrayal of the Fire Nation. However, his lack of action sometimes leads to characters making poor decisions, even if they learn something from it.
And I know that singing gut-wrenching songs isn’t a trait of Sages, but Leaves from the Vine gets me every time.
Professor McGonagall is another well-known Sage. She is the embodiment of this archetype: a wise, powerful character who mentors young witches and wizards. When you look at our list of Sage characteristics, McGonagall basically checks all the boxes.
To flip things around a little, Hannibal Lecter is also a Sage. Even though he eats people (and let me be clear, that is a resoundingly negative trait), Lecter is essential in guiding Clarice Starling during her pursuit of the serial killer, Buffalo Bill, even though his own version of “guiding” involves directing her to a jar with a man’s heart in it.
One important thing to point out about this archetype is the lack of diversity in Sages in pop culture. The vast majority of Sages are men, and this archetype is even sometimes referred to as the wise old man.
Even Professor McGonagall is dwarfed by Dumbledore in the Harry Potter series as the most recognizable Sage.
So if you can come up with a great Sage that adds some diversity to the literary world, we look forward to reading about them.
Craft a Superb Sage in Dabble
A Sage is a powerful character archetype to use in your writing. Whether you introduce a classic, true-to-form Sage like Uncle Iroh or Professor McGonagall, or your story calls for a more twisted Sage like Hannibal, these characters can easily pull your reader and immerse them in your story.
Creating such believable characters and integrating them into your story can be difficult, though. That’s why Dabble keeps all your character and world building notes just a click away from your manuscript, making it incredibly easy to bring your story to life.
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