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This essay is from Austin Johnson
Published on November 21, 2002

Frodo and the Force:
A Comparison of Modern Epic Stories

Heroism and the Warrior-Mage

Traditionally, heroes can be divided into two areas. The lower area belongs to heroes who perform small deeds. A hero of this caliber may discover the chink in the Black Knight's armor, but he would not kill him. He leaves that to the higher-level heroes. These heroes perform great deeds of heroism in the tradition of Beowulf and Saint George, slaying dragons and monsters. Above these heroes reside savior characters like Frodo, Aragorn, and Arthur, and above them are the gods. But Luke Skywalker fits none of these characteristics. He does not kill Vader or the Emperor, and he uses magic, in the form of the Force. While his weapon is a sword, the traditional weapon of a knight, it is missing the symbolic crosspiece of Arthurian knights. While he is on a journey to become a knight, he also learns to use magic.

Throughout traditional literature there is a strong differentiation between the characters that can and cannot use magic. Wizards are able to use magic. Demons are able to use magic. Normal humans can not use it. Merlin was able to use magic as a result of being half spirit, or perhaps even half demon. Arthur, on the other hand, never uses magic. Here, in Star Wars, is the first institution of a new class of hero, the Warrior-Mage. Now this character is common throughout modern fantasy and science fiction literature. A warrior-mage, or paladin as they are sometimes cast, is a knight-like character who is capable of using magic. In Shigeru Miyamato's The Legend of Zelda, Link takes on this role with the acquisition of a magical sword and the mystical Triforce. In The Matrix all of humanity awaits the arrival of "The One" who can use the powers of the Matrix against the powers that be. But while this character is common today, it is very difficult to find him in works that date before the early 1900s.


 

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