The hero thinks he can handle any adventure on his own. (Duh, he’s a teenager.) But there’s one authority he actually respects, and that’s the voice of the “Wise One.” This archetype is effective because the reader is left begging the hero not to let the Wise One down (and it’s always a plus when the reader cares).
The bestselling YA novels all include this older, sage-like Wise One: Harry Potter has Dumbledore, Twilight has Alice, and The Hunger Games has Cinna. Check out this list of 7 traits they all share (and one bonus, mystery trait that I can’t figure out).
1. The Wise One radiates goodness.
- In Harry Potter, Albus Dumbledore represents everything that is good. Hagrid explains that Voldemort never tried to recruit Harry’s parents because Voldemort “probably knew they were too close ter Dumbledore ter want anythin’ ter do with the Dark Side.” (HP Ch.4).
- In Twilight, Edward explains that Alice is a rare vampire because she “developed a conscience, as we refer to it, with no outside guidance.” (TW Ch.14) .
- In The Hunger Games, Cinna is “not surgically-altered and grotesque like the rest of the Capitol.” Katniss appreciates his natural hair color, simple clothes, and voice that lacks the Capitol’s affectations. (HG Ch.5).
2. The Wise One is very perceptive, bordering on “all-knowing.”
- In Harry Potter, Dumbledore knows everything that is going on at Hogwarts. Hermione explains that she and Ron were “dashing up to the owlery to contact Dumbledore when we met him in the entrance hall — he already knew — he just said, ‘Harry’s gone after him, hasn’t he?’ and hurtled off to the third floor.” (HP Ch.17).
- In Twilight, Alice has psychic abilities. “She sees things — things that might happen, things that are coming.” (TW Ch.14).
- In The Hunger Games, Cinna says, “How despicable we must seem to you.” Katniss wonders, “Has he seen this in my face or somehow read my thoughts? He’s right, though. The whole rotten lot of them is despicable.” (HG Ch.5).
3. The Wise One encourages the hero.
- Dumblebore congratulates Harry after a quidditch game: “— then Harry felt a hand on his shoulder and looked up into Dumbledore’s smiling face. ‘Well done,’ said Dumbledore quietly, so that only Harry could hear. (HP Ch.13).
- Alice is the most supportive of Edward and Bella’s relationship: “Alice caught my eye on a turn and smiled in encouragement — I smiled back. I was surprised to realize that I was actually enjoying myself . . . a little.” (TW Epilogue).
- Cinna encourages Katniss: “Remember, heads high. Smiles. They’re going to love you!” (HG Ch.5).
4. The Wise One gives good advice.
- Dumbledore gives Harry instructions regarding the Mirror of Erised, which foreshadows the climax scene. “I ask you not to go looking for it again. If you ever do run across it, you will now be prepared. It does not do to dwell on dreams and forget to live, remember that.” (HP. Ch.12).
- In Twilight, when everyone is panicking about how to protect Bella, Alice takes control: “‘Let’s just look at our options for a minute,’ Alice coaxed.” (TW Ch.18).
- Katniss is instructed to follow Cinna’s advice. She thinks, “If it was anyone but Cinna, I might be tempted to ignore him. But after last night’s triumph, I don’t have a lot of room to criticize his choices.” (HG Ch.7).
5. The Wise One calms the hero.
- “Harry could have laughed out loud with relief. He was safe. There was simply no way that Snape would dare to try to hurt him if Dumbledore was watching.” (HP Ch.13).
- In Twilight, Bella says, “‘Alice is going to be there?’ That comforted me slightly.” (TW Epilogue).
- Katniss turns to Cinna when she is nervous about her interview. “I look to Cinna for reassurance. He gives me a subtle thumbs-up.” (HG Ch.9).
6. The Wise One is protective of the hero.
- Dumbledore sends Harry to live with the muggles to protect him from his fame. “Can’t you see how much better off he’ll be, growing up away from all that until he’s ready to take it?” (HP Ch.1).
- Alice carries Bella out of danger: “She lifted me in her slender arms . . . shielding me protectively, and then we flew out the door, leaving the lights bright behind us.” (TW Ch.19).
- After the Games are over, Katniss thinks, “It’s a relief to be alone with Cinna, to feel his protective arm around my shoulders . . . .” (HG Ch.26).
7. The Wise One encourages honesty but is not sure if the hero is ready for the truth.
- Dumbledore speaks about truth: “It is a beautiful and terrible thing, and should therefore be treated with great caution. However, I shall answer your questions unless I have a very good reason not to, in which case I beg you’ll forgive me. I shall not, of course, lie.” (HP Ch.17).
- Alice is not sure whether to tell Bella about how humans turn into vampires. “‘Alice, as a friend, I’m begging you.’ And we were friends now, somehow — as she must have known we would be all along. She looked at me with her splendid, wise eyes . . . choosing.” (TW Ch.20).
- Cinna instructs Katniss: “‘When you’re asked a question, find me, and answer it as honestly as possible,’ says Cinna. ‘Even if what I think is horrible?’ I ask. Because it might be, really. ‘Especially if what you think is horrible.’ says Cinna.” (HG Ch.9).
*Bonus: The Wise One gives the hero something to wear.
- In Harry Potter, Dumbledore gives Harry a cloak that makes him invisible. “‘Ah — your father happened to leave it in my possession, and I thought you might like it.’ Dumbledore’s eyes twinkled.” (HP Ch.17).
- In Twilight, Alice dresses Bella for the prom. “I’d spent the better part of the day in Alice’s staggeringly vast bathroom, a helpless victim as she played hairdresser and cosmetician. . . .Then she’d dressed me in the most ridiculous dress.” (TW Epilogue).
- As Katniss’s stylist, Cinna dresses her many times throughout the story. “Then Cinna enters with what I assume is my dress, but I can’t really see it because it’s covered. ‘Close your eyes,’ he orders.” (HG Ch.9).
*I made “dressing the hero” a bonus trait because, honestly, I just am not sure why it is a common element of the Wise One: perhaps it shows the utmost trust the hero places in the Wise One, or maybe it’s just coincidence. Do you think it’s significant?
Why it Works:
The Wise One inspires the hero to make the right choices, and the reader roots for the hero not to disappoint him. But, the fact that the hero DOESN’T make all the right choices increases the tension and provides interest to the story.
Everything would be so much easier if the hero just listened to the Wise One or asked him for help. Harry could have just talked to Dumbledore earlier about the stone; Bella could have avoided a lot of drama if she just let Alice in on her plan. But if the Wise One had been involved, how would the hero grow?
Like the Hide-N-Seek scene, the relationship between the Wise One and the hero is essential to highlight the hero’s efforts to find his own moral compass and to handle authority.
For more information on this archetype generally, check out this fun article, “Archetypes 101: The Sage” by the Character Therapist.
Finally, the Wise One is mostly a flat character– he doesn’t need to undergo any change of his own because he’s already more-or-less perfect.
Because he does not change with the hero, the Wise One’s biggest scenes are at the beginning and end of the hero’s adventures. Let’s place the Wise One’s character card in Chapter 5 and Chapter 19 of the master outline, though he should have many smaller appearances throughout the story.