Archetypal Character Arcs, Pt. 7: The Mage Arc

The final two archetypal character arcs in the life cycle deal primarily with questions of Mortality—and thus inevitably with the ultimate questions about the meaning of life.

Throughout this series, we’ve viewed the six “life arcs” as part of a unified story structure, or Three Acts. The First Act—featuring the Maiden and the Hero—focused on overcoming challenges of Fear in integrating the parts of oneself and individuating. The Second Act—the Queen and the King—focused on challenges of Power and on integration within relationship to others. Finally, the Third Act—the Crone and the Mage—turns its attention to Mortality and to the integration of soul and spirit.

As we discussed in last week’s post, the Crone Arc represented the complete transition of the character from the “outer” world struggles with one’s self and other people into the “inner” world struggles with more existential and spiritual crises. Although anyone who lives long enough will reach the Crone Arc at least chronologically, not everyone will accept her challenge and fulfill her difficult arc of embracing her own mortality. Therefore, even fewer among us will even get the opportunity to truly take on the deep mysteries of the powerful Mage Arc.

In part because of that fact itself, the Mage Arc is mysterious. We see it most plainly in the metaphor of fantasy stories that offer up a supernatural Mentor to a world in need. But rarely is this character the protagonist (perhaps because almost all of us relate more obviously to the younger archetypes who mirror our own positions in the cycle). Even more rarely is the Mage fully embodied in a “realistic” story (although to my mind Atticus Finch in To Kill a Mockingbird seems a possible example from a symbolic viewpoint).

To Kill a Mockingbird (1962), Universal Pictures.

Even when the Mage shows up in a real-world story, his deep, almost otherworldly wisdom inevitably brings with it a touch of the magical—as, for example, with Will Smith’s wise and mysterious caddy in the golf movie The Legend of Bagger Vance.

The Legend of Bagger Vance (2000), DreamWorks Pictures.

In Sacred Contracts, Caroline Myss notes:

The … Magician produce[s] results outside the ordinary rules of life….

This doesn’t necessarily mean the character is magical in any way. But it does mean the character has not only glimpsed but assimilated truths about life that most people don’t even know exist. By accepting his own mortality back in the Crone Arc, he has now reached a new level of transformation, objectivity, and wisdom.

In Women Who Run With the Wolves, Clarissa Pinkola Estés speaks to this archetypal wisdom:

The mage, or magician [is] whom the king brings with him to interpret what he sees…. Such things as the split-second recall, the thousand-league vision, the hearing over miles, the empathic ability to see from behind anyone’s eyes—human or animal— … the magician … shares in these and also, traditionally, helps to maintain them and enact them in the outer world. Though the mage can be of either gender, here it is a powerful male figure similar in fairy tales to the stalwart brother who so loves his sister that he will do all to help her. The mage always has crossover potential. In dreams and in tales, he appears as a man as often as he shows up as a woman. He can be male, female, animal, or mineral, just as the crone, his female counterpart, can also affect her guises with ease.

For the Mage, who has already accepted Death, what is there left to transform? What is left, of course, is the final threshold to cross in earnest. But there is also the final temptation—to use his great power and wisdom, the riches of his entire well-spent life, not to guide those he loves but to control them in ways he has no right to. Will he surrender—or become Sorcerer?

Reminders: Once again, before we officially get started, I want to emphasize two important reminders that hold true for all of the arcs we’ve studied.

1. The arcs are alternately characterized as feminine and masculine. Primarily, this indicates the ebb and flow between integration and individuation, among other qualities. Together, all six life arcs create a progression that can be found in any human life (provided we complete our early arcs in order to reach the later arcs with a proper foundation). In short, although I will use feminine pronouns for the feminine arcs and masculine pronouns for the masculine arcs, the protagonist of these stories can be of any gender.

2. Because these archetypes represent Positive-Change Arcs, they are therefore primarily about change. The archetype in which the protagonist begins the story will not be the archetype in which he ends the story. He will have arced into the subsequent archetype. The Mage Arc, therefore, is not about becoming the Mage archetype, but rather arcing out of it into the beginnings of what I’m calling “the Saint” archetype—but basically just indicating his final ascension into a “good death.”

The Mage Arc: Joining God

Although the Mage can be played by a younger character, the arc itself is representative of the final chapter of one’s life. The Mage represents a person who has successively and positively completed all six life arcs. This is, in fact, an unusual and extraordinary achievement. Merely reaching the end of our lives doesn’t mean we’ll get to go out as Mages. The Mage, then, is someone who put in an unfailing amount of work throughout his life, someone who has consistently sought light and truth—and been rewarded in that search.

And now he has almost reached the end. Not only is the end of his life on earth incumbent because of his great age, but he has transcended many of the challenges that weigh us down in our earlier acts. In The Hero With a Thousand Faces, Joseph Campbell speaks of this stage:

The ego is burnt out. Like a dead leaf in the breeze, the body continues to move about the earth, but the soul has dissolved already in the ocean of bliss.

But however wise the Mage may be, he is still a body on this earth, and he has not yet surrendered everything. There remain things he cares about, causes in which he passionately believes. And however burnt out the ego may be, there is still a flickering spark. He has the ability and the insight to not just guide those who come behind him, but to shape and even control certain outcomes. How he uses his power and how ready he is to truly shed the things of this world and step willingly into death will be the mark of his final successful arc.

Stakes: Leaving Behind a Good World for Those Who Follow

As with all good stories, life has a tendency to come full circle. Grandparents often become increasingly focused on the “legacy” they will leave to their beloved descendants. Physically, they sometimes even return to the very same hearth at which they themselves leaned on their own grandparents’ knees, hearing stories of adventures long past.

It is no wonder we most prominently find the Mage in his Flat-Arc form of Mentor. The deeper we get into the life arcs, the more frequently we see previous archetypes showing up in some version of their own stories. And so the Mage Arc inevitably runs concurrently with the younger arcs, particularly those of Hero and King. The Mage is the wise voice in their ear, initiating them and guiding them to see what they have not yet the maturity or the experience to see for themselves.

The Mage cares deeply about whether these younger characters will fulfill their arcs. Will they be able to face the same challenges he did? Will they overcome? How will they be able to resist the temptations of sloth and power present in their counter-archetypes if the Mage does not take care to protect them from themselves?

The Mage’s challenge is very much represented in the anecdote about the boy who waited and waited for his caterpillar to emerge from its cocoon. When the time came and he witnessed how terribly the butterfly struggled to free itself, he “helped” by clipping open the cocoon. He did not realize the butterfly’s struggle out of the tight cocoon was what forced the blood into its beautiful wings. This butterfly emerged with its wings impossibly swollen and limp—and, to the boy’s chagrin, it died.

The Mage, who holds so much power to shape the lives of those he loves, faces the primary challenge of letting them go. He must let them face their own struggles and make their own mistakes. Not only is this crucial to the continuance of healthy life-arc cycles after him, it is also his final challenge in shedding his remaining burdens of this world—and stepping freely into the next.

Antagonist: Understanding the Nature of Evil

Within the Mage’s story, the external conflict may be represented by relatively mundane threats. This is because what now threatens the Kingdom is necessarily a threat “of this world” and rightly pertaining, in fact, to the conflicts of earlier arcs. The Kingdom is under dire threat—perhaps by the Hero’s Dragon, the Queen’s Invaders, or the King’s Cataclysm—but that threat will ultimately be faced by the younger archetypes. The Mage is there to help them understand their duties, but more than that, he is there to combat an even more archetypal antagonist the others cannot yet see.

Campbell puts it:

They fight the demons so that others can hunt the prey and in general fight reality.

This can be seen in the beautiful fantasy stories of The Lord of the Rings and Harry Potter, both of which feature Mentor/Mage characters—Gandalf the White and Dumbledore, respectively—who use their power against a much greater evil, while also guiding the younger archetypes as they take on more corporeal antagonists.

The Lord of the Rings: The Two Towers (2002), New Line Cinema; Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix (2007), Warner Bros.

Theme: Journeying On

However epic the stakes may (or may not) be in the story’s external conflict, the Mage’s story is ultimately one of tying off loose ends and ending the tale. It is about ending one’s life well and dying a good death. Campbell references this finale in a quote from Dante Alighieri’s spiritually metaphoric poem The Inferno:

So it is that when Dante had taken the last step in his spiritual adventure, and came before the ultimate symbolic vision of the Triune God in the Celestial Rose, he had still one more illumination to experience, even beyond the forms of the Father, Son, and Holy Ghost. “Bernard,” he writes, “made a sign to me, and smiled, that I should look upward; but I was already, of myself, such as he wished; for my sight, becoming pure, was entering more and more, through the radiance of the lofty Light which in Itself is true. Thenceforward my vision was greater than our speech, which yields to such a sight, and the memory yields to such excess.”

The Mage need not literally die in your story (especially if he is represented by a younger character). But he will almost certainly journey on in some respect, even if it is just walking off into the sunset like Bagger Vance (or, in a more symbolic version, Galadriel’s “diminishing into the West” after resisting the final temptation of the Ring’s power).

The Lord of the Rings: The Return of the King (2003), New Line Cinema.

If he does die, the death may either be a voluntary choice in some sense (such as Obi-Wan Kenobi’s sacrificing himself to Darth Vader in A New Hope or Dumbledore’s plot with Snape in The Half-Blood Prince) or at least a death to which he goes without regret or reluctance (as does Yoda in Return of the Jedi and Garth and Hub McCann in Secondhand Lions). He represents someone “who has fought the good fight and finished his race.”

Star Wars: A New Hope (1977), 20th Century Fox.

Key Points of the Mage Arc

For easy reference and comparison, here are some scannable summations of the arc’s key points:

Mage’s Story: A Mission.

Mage Arc: Sage to Saint (Liminal World to Yonder World)

Mage’s Symbolic Setting: Cosmos

Mages Lie vs. Truth: Attachment vs. Transcendence

“My love must protect others from the difficult journey of life.” versus “True love is transcendent and allows life to unfold.”

Mages Initial Motto: “I, the knowing.”

(This is via Spiral Dynamics’ “Yellow” Meme. If you’re not familiar with Spiral Dynamics, this probably won’t mean anything, but I was fascinated to realize that the six positive archetypal arcs line up perfectly with the “memes” of human development as found in the theory of Spiral Dynamics.)

Mage’s Archetypal Antagonist: Evil

Mages Relationship to Own Negative Shadow Archetypes:

Either Miser finally opens himself up through his Wisdom to gain Transcendence.

Or Sorcerer learns to surrender his worldly wisdom in exchange for true Transcendence.

The Beats of the Mage Character Arc

Following are the structural beats of the Mage Arc. Even more than ever for this arc, I am using allegorical language (in keeping with the tradition of the Hero’s Journey). However, it is important to remember the language is merely symbolic. None of the archetypes or settings need to be interpreted literally.

This is merely a general structure that can be used to recognize and strengthen Mage Arcs in any type of story. Although I have interpreted the Mage Arc through the beats of classic story structure, it doesn’t necessarily have to line up this perfectly. A story can be a Mage Arc without presenting all of these beats in exactly this order.

1st ACT: Liminal World

Beginning: Powerful But Limited

The Mage is an enlightened person—-someone who has understood and accepted the vast and paradoxical partnership of Life and Death. He walks the Liminal World—an existence that is neither Life nor Death but between them. He has no particular home, but roves the land, moving from problem spot to problem spot, helping resolve magical hang-ups or simply solve disputes via his otherworldly wisdom.

He is greatly revered and loved, seen by some as an avuncular friend and by others as a fearsome mystical force. He loves others, but really he loves all—living in a calm neutrality that sees the greater purposes at work in Life’s systems.

He is a friend of Death—but not of Evil, which he has learned to distinguish as not Death itself but the death urge or the addiction to power (being the power over Life and Death). As such, he is careful of his own power, recognizing himself not as a master but as a servant. In overcoming his fear of Death, he has also largely transcended his ego.

In The Legend of Bagger Vance, the mysterious caddy and golf expert shows up, seemingly out of nowhere, seemingly in need of a job—from the one person who most needs his help. (The Legend of Bagger Vance (2000), DreamWorks Pictures.)

Inciting Event: Revelation/Rise of Evil

At one of the stops along his pilgrimage, the Mage learns of “a disturbance in the Force.” He learns Evil has returned or is lurking, waiting for the alignment of events. The Mage is deeply disturbed, not only because he stands opposed to Evil, but because he fears for the suffering and misguidance that may be inflicted on the Kingdom and its children, whom he loves.

He may here encourage a Hero to help him, either to hold the fort while he’s gone or to accompany him on his mission to seek out the source of this threat of Evil and hopefully cut it off at the pass. But the Hero dawdles, and the Mage must start the action on his own.

In The Miracle on 34th Street, Kris Kringle agrees to take a job as Santa Claus in Macy’s Department Store when he realizes the true spirit of Christmas has been forgotten amidst all the commercialism and cynicism. (The Miracle on 34th Street (1947), 20th Century Fox.)

2ND ACT: Yonder World

First Plot Point: Climbs the Mountain

The Mage climbs the Mountain, bravely ascending to the Yonder World because only he has the power and insight to do so. He is allowed to understand the full threat of the Evil.

He may confront a Sorcerer corrupted into a conduit for Evil, or he may witness Evil itself. He may wrestle with his own dilemma, fighting against the need to surrender and the idea that true love is transcendent.

The Hero may accompany him or may go off on his own Quest. He is unlikely to ascend the Mountain with the Mage, but if he does, he will not see the full extent of the supernatural that the Mage does.

In The Ten Commandments, Moses ascends Mt. Sinai to receive the Ten Commandments from God. (He leaves his protege Joshua halfway up.) (The Ten Commandments (1956), Paramount Pictures.)

First Pinch Point: Evil Infiltrates the Camp of Man

The courage of man begins to fail. In the face of the great Evil, some waver in their goodness when confronted by their fear of Death. Compromises and deals with the devil are made. The Hero is abused for his efforts and also tempted from his path. The Mage returns to scold and advise the people of the Kingdom. Even in his profound wisdom, he is deeply invested in their fate. He doesn’t want them to suffer or to choose the wrong path. He mentors them.

In To Kill a Mockingbird, Atticus insists his son Jem spend a month reading to a crotchety old lady after Jem destroyed her flowers in a fit of rage. (To Kill a Mockingbird (1962), Universal Pictures.)

Midpoint: Confronting Evil—and Also Evil in the Heart of Man

The Mage loves his world and his people. He wants to help them as a good Father/Grandfather should. But he is beginning to realize he cannot help them. They must help themselves. In a great battle or time of need, he may confront Evil itself to clear a path for them (to help keep it a “fair fight”), but he cannot defeat the evil inclinations in their own hearts. He can only stand by and wait—and hope.

But even his hope is a source of inner conflict. He is caught between the urge to save them and the need to access the surrendered love of detachment.

Thanks in part to the Mage’s intervention (and also his counsel), the Kingdom escapes destruction even though it may be defeated in this battle. The Hero rallies to his true identity and strength, in no small part because his love for the Mage causes him to want the Mage to be proud of him and pleased by his efforts.

In Mary Poppins, Mary maneuvers the children’s neglectful father into taking them with him to his job at the bank. (Mary Poppins (1964), Walt Disney Pictures.)

Second Pinch Point: Heart Is Broken by Man’s Suffering

Man is betrayed by Man. The Hero is in bad straits, broken, doubting, suffering. The Mage is deeply wounded by his love for them all. He is challenged in his growing realization that true Love is transcendent and cannot make choices for others in order to protect them from their own mistakes. The Mage comforts the Hero and others but hasn’t much else to offer. He rages within himself, struggling and angry that it should be so.

In Miracle on 34th Street, Kris is incensed when he hears that his young ward who enjoys playing Santa Clause for younger children has been told by the store psychiatrist that something is wrong with this desire. (The Miracle on 34th Street (1947), 20th Century Fox.)

3rd ACT

False Victory: Refuses to Interfere with Man’s Choices—and Man Chooses Wrong

The Mage wins his inner battle and makes the hard choice to let the Kingdom dwellers, including his Hero, go forth and make exactly the wrong choice. There is tremendous fallout, but the Mage must stand back, seemingly callous, and watch, trusting that it is part of a bigger plan, which he is now coming into alignment with.

In Doctor Strange, the Ancient One allows herself to die. (Doctor Strange (2016), Marvel Studios.)

Third Plot Point: Brink of Annihilation

The Kingdom faces death in the external conflict. The Mage, however, faces transformation—the choice to finally and fully step into the Yonder World (i.e., death).

In The Return of the Jedi, Yoda recognizes it is his time to return to the Force. (Star Wars: Return of the Jedi (1983), 20th Century Fox.)

Climax: Meeting With the Divine

In the midst of his annihilation/transformation, the Mage is confronted by the Divine and is thus raised above the mortal world of men, including their limited insight and emotion. He will finish what he started as the Crone, this time literally leaving Death for Life.

Galadriel passes her final test of refusing the One Ring’s power, even though she knows it means she “will now diminish” and “pass into the West.” (The Lord of the Rings: The Fellowship of the Ring (2001), New Line Cinema.)

Climactic Moment: Evil Redeemed/Destroyed

The Mage does not directly interfere in the great battle against Evil, but the Hero and others see him and are inspired to seek Good against Evil whatever the cost. He inspires them to seek Hope. Through his inspiration and their efforts, Evil is either redeemed or destroyed.

On the last hole, Bagger Vance steps back to let his student make his own decision about whether he will win the game by cheating. (The Legend of Bagger Vance (2000), DreamWorks Pictures.)

Resolution: Kingdom Renewed for Another Cycle

The Mage says his goodbyes, engulfing the sorrow of his children in great love, as he prepares to journey on to the Heavens.

Mary Poppins leaves the Banks family, sad to go because she loves them but knowing it is best for them to make do on their own now. (Mary Poppins (1964), Walt Disney Pictures.)

Examples of the Mage Arc

For reasons already mentioned, I found it difficult to discover many examples of a Mage Arc undertaken by a protagonist, so many of the following examples include characters who are more properly “Mentors” in someone else’s story. Click on the links for available structural analyses.

Star Wars: A New Hope (1977), 20th Century Fox; To Kill a Mockingbird (1962), Universal Pictures; Star Wars: The Empire Strikes Back (1980), 20th Century Fox; The Miracle on 34th Street (1947), 20th Century Fox; Secondhand Lions (2003), New Line Cinema; The Legend of Bagger Vance (2000), DreamWorks Pictures.

Stay Tuned: Next week, we will begin studying the Negative or Shadow Archetypes.

Related Posts:

Wordplayers, tell me your opinions! Can you think of any further examples of stories that feature the Mage Arc? Tell me in the comments!

Go on the journey with your characters! Check out the Archetypal Character Guided Meditations.

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About K.M. Weiland | @KMWeiland

K.M. Weiland is the award-winning and internationally-published author of the acclaimed writing guides Outlining Your Novel, Structuring Your Novel, and Creating Character Arcs. A native of western Nebraska, she writes historical and fantasy novels and mentors authors on her award-winning website Helping Writers Become Authors.


  1. Katie, I am loving this series. Thank you so much for sharing it! Been waiting on this one, it’s helping me get through a plot issue I’m having with a short screenplay I’m working on (and going to film once safe to do so), so the timing is perfect!

  2. More awesome stuff, and don’t fret, I will do my long, rambling attempt at an application of this, but I was struck with a few movies I think may be examples of this.

    Elwood P. Dowd (Jimmy Stewart) in “Harvey”.
    Clarence the Angle in “It’s a Wonderful Life’
    Crash Davis in “Bull Durham”

  3. I’m loving this series! While I love Joseph Campbell and find the traditional Hero’s Journey good for what it is, it’s refreshing to see a greater spectrum of character journeys. So many of my favorite books and movies did not exactly fit into the HJ structure, but now I see that there is so much more. Thank you for sharing this. It’s helping me big time with my current fantasy project.

    • K.M. Weiland | @KMWeiland says

      Yes, I think there’s a special affinity between fantasy authors and “mythic story structure.” It fits right into our wheelhouse. 😉

  4. This fits any story where the protagonist is trying to inspire a person or change a dark situation in an inspiring or teaching role. Also roles where the protagonist perhaps hero worships some other figure (with the Mage being the central character in the story but not the protagonist).
    Stories about school teachers going to difficult classes (many examples), psychiatrists trying to find out how to save their patient.
    sixth sense where Bruce Willis is the protagonist trying to help the boy (although we know the twist in that one and in fact he’s the one being helped).
    Dead Poet’s Society Robin Williams teacher role
    Hilary Swank Freedom Writers.
    Finding Forrester (hate this though, punch those keys! Because that’s how you get to be a great writer hey kids?)

    The man without a face (Mel Gibson)
    Educating Rita?
    The prime of miss Jean Brodie is a negative arc of this type

    • K.M. Weiland | @KMWeiland says

      Some “teacher” roles are more properly that of the static arc of Parent (which is the “flat” archetype between Hero and Queen and will be discussed later). To me, the characterizing feature that distinguishes Parent from Mentor is that the Mentor is teaching otherworldly or “deeper” lessons.

  5. Thinking about arcs moving across a series, I started seeing Spock in his movement from the King who gives his life for “the good of the many” in ST2 Wrath of Khan, to the Crone’s integration of soul, spirit, and body at the end of ST3 Search for Spock through ST4 The Voyage Home.

    Then in ST5 The Final Frontier, Spock, now the Mage, meets his half-brother, the Sorcerer, who uses his power to manipulate people; but, thanks to Spock’s standing firm in his beliefs, his brother changes and is ultimately redeemed at the end. Then finally, Spock chooses in ST6 The Undiscovered Country to give his best wisdom, then let the heroes in training make their choices, trusting that what should be will be. And we are not surprised that he does this for we have seen his struggle and hard work, growing from that young Vulcan sold on Logic in the early episodes into the wise Vulcan who says “Logic is the beginning of wisdom, not the end.”

    Since this was the final Original Crew story, there are literary references to endings and deaths and new beginnings sprinkled throughout. Spock has the painting of the Expulsion of Adam and Eve from the Garden in his quarters, saying, “It is a reminder to me that all things end.” The dinner party with the Klingons quoting Shakespeare’s “to be, or not to be…” (in the original Klingon, of course). Even the title, Undiscovered Country, is from that same scene where Hamlet contemplates death. And their final ending, as they see Sulu fly away in a ship bigger than the Enterprise, and they fly off to the “second star to the right and straight on to morning,” all point to journeying on. (And yes, I’ve seen ST6 far too many times. But I wonder now if I have loved this story because of its rare focus on the Mage.)

    Looking forward to the next portion of this series!

  6. Jenny Chasteen says

    I’ve been looking forward to Mondays just because of this series! I’d be really sad about the conclusion of the 6 positive arcs if the Shadow and Flat arcs weren’t coming.

  7. Katie,
    Fantastic podcast! The Mage Arc is successfully navigating through codependence, not an easy task. Grandparents letting go of adult children and grandchildren may be the hardest apron string to break.

  8. Wow, it’s hard to think of examples of this, especially in terms of the protagonist. You had a question on an earlier entry about works that contain all six of these arcs, and maybe that’s another way we’d see a protagonist in a true Mage arc. And I suppose a likely scenario for that would be a work that follows a character through his or her entire life, right up to the end, facing and embracing death.

    Maybe Les Miserables would give us a six-arc story that ends with the Mage? I kind of get this vibe from the last scene of the musical, when Valjean reveals his secrets to Cosette and Marius before Fantine leads him to the afterlife. Maybe there’s more to it in the later chapters of the book than in the musical, but I’m only about 40% of the way in, so ask me again in another year or two.

    • K.M. Weiland | @KMWeiland says

      Ah, yes, I was just asking myself, “What archetypes are in Les Mis?” But I never got around to answering it. I’ll have to think on it more, but I think you may be right!

      • Of course, now you’ve got me wondering if the beginning of Valjean’s story — his impoverished time as a tree-cutter, his imprisonment for stealing a loaf of bread to feed his sister’s family, his failed escapes and extended punishment, his release, recidivism, and finally his salvation through the mercy of the bishop — constitutes a Maiden arc, since it’s what brings him to sovereignty within society (albeit in the disguised form of Monsieur Madeline).

        It’s a long book, so it would take a long time to break it down enough to figure out whether Valjean really does run the entire life-arc circuit.

        • K.M. Weiland | @KMWeiland says

          Yes, I think the beginning is a good example of how older people can get stuck in younger archetypes when the necessary initiations are unavailable or blocked by an unhealthy society.

  9. I l like the otherworldliness of the wisdom of this arc, the knowledge that there is more to the world than the world itself, and that we can gain this wisdom only after having completed the other arcs. The Mage Arc gives new meaning to the phrase Senior Moment. 😉

  10. Katie, I’ve been reading you for a while and I’ve become mesmerized, lovestruck. I’ve started blogging not so long ago and I realized that you have become the template I’ve been incidentally using. But, in a way, I can’t blame myself, because your pacing and editing are a perfect information highway for me. It’s like the perfect example.
    I think I just wanted to tell you that I don’t know you, you don’t know me and probably won’t ever know me, but i love, you’re great. You are a milestone in your profession. I hope I can get such clarity some day.
    Keep up the good work as I’m sure you will.

  11. Oh, and great article serie. I’ve been writing fantasy for a while but I never connected the “wizard” with such archetypes of wisom or religion, but it makes sense.

  12. P.I. Barrington says

    I am reminded of Merlin’s Mage before he himself becomes the Mage to King Arthur in Mary Stewart’s The Crystal Cave. This is so close to that story, it’s almost a retelling of that Mage’s Arc.

  13. Ok, here’s my attempt at applying this in a slightly unusual way.

    Setting: Sports story. Meet Jimmy the D, fifteen-year pro basketball player known as a point guard and defensive player. Now losing a step. Dominated last year by his nemeses, Rory Kirstein. Known as a great teammate.
    Beginning (Powerful but Limited): Traded to Middleton where he is asked to mentor their new point guard, Samuel. Reunited with old teammates who love him, and accepts his playing days are ending, but hopes for one more good season while Samuel catches on. The Coach is an old friend from a previous team, a nice guy but probably not tough enough for the job.
    Inciting Event (Revelation/Rise of Evil): Sees major problems in Samuel’s game, particularly on defense. Samuel is not interested in taking advice and gets lit up by Rory. Jimmy comes in at end of the game and looks great in limited time.
    First Plot Point (Climbs the Mountain): Owner pulls Jimmy aside and tells him he’ll make it worth his while to get Samuel straightened out. Coach asks for his help too, but Samuel doesn’t want to listen to him. Jimmy works with other team members, making sure Samuel sees it.
    First Pinch Point (Evil Infiltrates the Camp of Man): The losses are piling up. Samuel is putting up all-star numbers, but at the expense of his teammates and his defense isn’t there.
    Midpoint (Confronting Evil): Showdown with Samuel. Samuel tells him to mind his own business and calls him a has-been. Owner loves the PR Samuel gets the team.
    Second Pinch Point (Heart is broken by Man’s Suffering): Owner fires the coach for not producing wins. Brings in New Coach who is old school – all about wins.
    False Victory (Refuses to Interfere with Man’s choices-and Man chooses wrong): Jimmy made the starter and the team wins more, but he knows this is not the best they can be. He takes Samuel aside and talks to him about how he could fit in the team. Samuel still doesn’t listen.
    Third Plot Point (Brink of Annihilation): Team is playing better and on a winning streak before Rory comes to town and blows them out twice. Owner and New Coach talk about a complete rebuild for the next season. About this time Samuel comes around and he and Jimmy start doing lots of extra practice together.
    Climax (Meeting with the Divine): Rory’s team comes back in town for the last game of the season and Jimmy knows Samuel is ready. He also knows that for this team to have a chance of being what they could be in coming seasons, Samuels got to have a shot, but New Coach isn’t having any of it. Jimmy commits himself to giving Samuel and the team a chance.
    Climactic Moment (Evil Redeemed): Jimmy twists an ankle a minute into the game. Samuel comes out and makes him proud. In a hard-fought game, Roanoke wins.
    Resolution (Kingdom Renewed for Another Cycle): Owner decides he wants to see what this will turn out to next year, but he cuts Jimmy to bring in a big man to dominate the boards. Original Coach calls Jimmy and asks how he’d feel about being a college assistant coach and Jimmy jumps at the opportunity.

    • K.M. Weiland | @KMWeiland says

      Again, good subversion of the trope with such a young protag.

      • Thanks. The thing I realized after this approach is that at the end of this story, the MC has retrieved to another “child’s” arc, maybe a Maiden, maybe something else. It speaks to people whose lives move onto second stories, which tips a hat to the aspirations of quite a few in the author community.

  14. Lila Diller says

    This whole series has been fascinating, especially how the story arc mirror the lives of people I know. My parents are facing the Crone stage. I’m facing the Queen stage. My kids are in the Maiden stage, my oldest getting ready to start his Hero stage. I will be pondering on this for a long time. And writing, of course.

  15. Thank you so much for this article! I had a story that I abandoned long ago because I just couldn’t figure out the plot. Now I see that it was because my main character was actually following the Mage arc, which I’m not as used to writing. I knew she was a mentor of sorts to a younger character, but I wasn’t sure how to have her be mentor *and* main character. Now I have this template to use!

  16. Amazing and mesmerizing! The Mage in you held me spell bound. I have read you for years. You are now writing out of a depth that only living in that depth can produce. ” They that go down to the sea in ships, that do business in great waters;These see the works of the LORD, and his wonders in the deep.” Psalm 107:23-24 Thank you.

  17. K B Tidwell says

    If my name was Atticus I would automatically be the mage in any story in which I happened to show up. My name would be spoken every time in the voice of James Earl Jones.

    Every. Time.

  18. Really loved this series, super cool! Thanks for writing! 🙂 Cool to see that there are way more arcs out there than just the hero’s arc.
    I actually think Harold Finch from the show Person of Interest could possibly fit this arc? Not quite sure. Fun to try and line up what characters I know fit where. 😀 (and some TV show characters actually can cover multiple arcs if the writers keep their game together, just since it’s a longer story arc.)

    • K.M. Weiland | @KMWeiland says

      That’s a TV show, right? I haven’t seen it, so can’t comment. Glad you’re enjoying the series!

      • Usvaldo de Leon says

        Absolutely love Person of Interest and I highly recommend it to all seeking thought provoking TV.

        I don’t think Harold is a Mage for a couple of reasons but primarily because he is stunted emotionally. What he does in the show is definitely magical – he is a literal wizard in that sense – but I think the arc is his redemption from maybe a shadow archetype back to positive change.

  19. Nancy L Coiner says

    I have another examples of the Mage arc: Ursula LeGuin’s final story about Ged (from Wizard of Earthsea). I can’t remember the name of it, but it won the Hugo or Nebula for short fiction that year. For the Crone arc, I love Louis McMaster Bujold’s Paladin of Souls — much less well-known that it should be, especially among middle-aged women.

    I’ve enjoyed this series — thanks!

  20. David Snethen says

    I got my birthday presents early this year. (It’s not until Sunday.)
    I got a very nice edition of LOTR which I will begin reading to my kids (starting with The Hobbit) on Friday AND the Joseph Campbell and Kate Hudson volumes which I am looking forward to reading on my own!
    This series has been sensational!! (I put two exclamation points even though I know it’s faux pas. Link to your punctuation guide.) Thank you so much for sharing your insight. I can’t wait to begin applying it to my story. God bless you, Ms. Weiland!

  21. Surely ever good wordplayer is now dreaming up a six-novel series that tells one protagonist’s story from youth to death. I know I am!

    It’s also been interesting to parse these as actual life advice. Comparing the various arcs to my own very incomplete life story has led me to admit that my own hero’s journey is actually over–successfully, though–and I’m now working through my queen arc. For me–and I think this can be extrapolated to some sort of generic “adulthood in the 21st century” thing–the hero’s journey was about finding a career, and the queen’s is about accepting my new identity as a parent.

  22. Katie this series has been just the thing I needed to get my imagination going again– well, maybe running in third place behind 1) an actual shot in the arm and 2) spring in Ohio… 🙂

    I just re-read Rosamunde Pilcher’s classic novel, The Shell Seekers, and I had the entire plot of her arc in my mind as you were talking. The story literally starts with her coming home from the hospital after surviving a heart attack… and the rest of it is her trying to leave her three grown children with something of what she’s learned over her long life, but failing to do so. She is frustrated by this, but in the end comes to realize that she cannot make them accept the wisdom she has for them. But two younger people (both in their maiden arcs) arrive in her life, and those are the two people she passes on her wealth and wisdom to, so that when she dies, they can start their hero journeys. It was really something listening to this podcast after recently re-reading this novel and finally figuring out why it was so special. And she is truly the main character–but there are flash back sections that help fill out both her maiden arc and her hero arc from earlier in her life so you know where she’s come from.

    Anyway, thank you so much for all this, you have really helped so much!

  23. Feels like a final piece of the puzzle sliding into place, and yet there is so much more to come!

    Once upon a time I theorized male arcs were about temptation and female arcs were about betrayal. In a way I could still see that being true, but that might be just the surface level. I’m curious what role you see temptation and betrayal playing in all this, and perhaps are they more part of flat or negative arcs rather than the positive arcs?

    • K.M. Weiland | @KMWeiland says

      I actually like that a lot, and I do feel like it fits with the idea of the feminine arcs being about moving from integration to individuation (which can be seen to be prompted by a “betrayal” of sorts, even if it is simply that the life circumstances that were once comfortable and enabling have become constricting and potentially damaging) and the masculine arcs being about returning from individuation to integration (which could be seen to be an “overcoming” of the challenges of certain temptations).

  24. Ohh, just recalling the three emotional focuses of the enneagram system of personality is anger, shame and fear. I can see shame being the focus of maiden and hero arcs, leading to questions of identity; anger being the focus of queen and king arcs, leading to questions of power and control; and fear being the focus of crone and mage arcs, leading to questions of death and existence, but also of larger focus on on meaning and purpose.

    • K.M. Weiland | @KMWeiland says

      Bam. That’s awesome. I’ll have to mull on that some. I *knew* the Enneagram fit in here somehow. :p

  25. To follow up on my comment the other day regarding the Seer character of Kim Ford in the Fionavar Tapestry, based on this article she’s on a Mage arc. She eventually gives up immense power and makes a key choice to allow others autonomy, that does inspire others to make choices that wins the war against the dark god.

  26. This continues to be such a powerful and insightful series. Thank you so much!

  27. I wonder if the Mage Arc is one artists and writers find themselves confronting at a certain point in their calling, particularly if their work involves the spiritual. When does creation of art that sends a message become a device for manipulating the audience “for their own good”? Especially these days of social media it seems that there can be a close crossover between marketing and propaganda techniques and artistic/spiritual messaging. I hope you don’t take this as a snarky comment directed at you in particular (I find yout work very conscientious as far as these things go), but I certainly see it as something I grapple with myself.

    • K.M. Weiland | @KMWeiland says

      Actually, this is something I’ve been pondering lately. I hadn’t quite framed it from a “Mage Arc” perspective, but I like that and find it helpful. Thanks!

  28. Bob Woods says

    Bravo Again! But,this is getting a little weird…I never heard the word “Mage” before and, as I read about it, I realized you described the main supporting character for my Protagonist…T.P’s and all. Could I be doing something right?

  29. I am drawn to think both on Jean Valjean and Scrooge as personifications of the Mage.

    Jean faces and must succumb to death when his soul is “purchased” by the Bishop and then must nurture everyone around him to “pay” for the lessons he has learned, eventually facing the judgmental evil personified in Javier, and then welcomes his old friend, death, at the end, having allowed the younger hero and heroine to inherit the world, and come free of their chrysalis themselves.

    Regarding Scrooge, I think he has already gone through the other arcs (we see how he has failed in each as he looks back on his life) and in the travels with the spirits as Miser overcoming his own shadow, faces the evil. And that evil, as it turns out, is himself. He is the sorcerer whom he must overcome. He is almost Crone and Mage at the same time and comes out “dead” to his own self. A very highly internalized Mage arc for sure.

    • K.M. Weiland | @KMWeiland says

      Valjean is interesting. I think we see him cover several of the arcs within his story.

      Scrooge I see as a Crone Arc, with him obviously spending quite a bit of time in the negative polarities. But his story is very much one of visiting the Underworld and coming to terms with mortality.

  30. I’m not sure this counts as a Mage arc, but would love your thoughts. POMS which is a feel good Netflix film starring Diane Keaton could fit. She’s the protagonist, leaving her life because she’s battling cancer, to end her days in a retirement village. It seems as if she’s given up, but when she meets her feisty neighbour they start breaking the rules & reaching for their dreams – to be a cheerleader. Along the way, she teaches two youngsters the meaning of family & life. When she achieves her goal & passes the important life lessons along, she dies.
    It’s quite sentimental but should be applauded for putting age and death front and centre.

    • K.M. Weiland | @KMWeiland says

      I haven’t seen it. It sounds like it could possibly be a Crone Arc–or include both archetypes.

  31. Something I realized about The Lord of the Rings while reading this post is who the real protagonist is in this story. Everyone argues, is it Frodo or Sam? Some people say Aragorn, even. But what is this story really about? All these corporeal threats and those who overcome them fall together into a story that is ultimately about Good Versus Evil. The real antagonist of this story is Evil itself, regardless of its manifested form. My favourite character of all time is Gandalf, and I think – through the point of views of other characters, his heroic story is told; featuring the final act of a truly angelic figure. Every image I see of Gandalf is an inspiration.

  32. Loving this series. I am struck by the idea that Captain Ron in the movie, Captain Ron, may be a mage character, as ridiculous as that sounds.

  33. Hello: thank you very much for everything I have learned reading this series. I have a pressing question for me: what happens to the Mage after completing his arc if he doesn’t physically die? Again, thank you very much.

    • K.M. Weiland | @KMWeiland says

      It would depend on the story. The emphasis of the beat is that he “journeys on” beyond the concerns of all of us common mortals. 😉 So that could simply be leaving the place in which he lives. It could also mean entering a complete state of enlightenment.

      • Thank you very much for your (quick!) response. If you allow me, I will abuse your generosity and clairvoyance a little more: I have in mind a Mentor who recognizes a Culture of Death in the world (one that currently exists but I will not say more because I believe that this is not a place for controversy); when other characters initially choose the wrong path to fight that culture he just steps in as a Mentor would (he doesn’t wield any other kind of “power”) and stays in that position when later asked for help, so the other characters they complete their own Arcs. He doesn’t die, he doesn’t go anywhere and he still looks like an Arc Mage to me, am I wrong? Thanks a lot.

        • K.M. Weiland | @KMWeiland says

          He sounds like the Flat archetype of Mentor. Whether or not, he takes the Mage Arc will depend to what degree he is challenged in his own growth. If he is different at the end of the story compared to the beginning, that is likely a Mage Arc. Otherwise, he may simply be a Mentor introducing a specific Truth to the younger characters so they can take their own necessary arcs.

  34. I’ve had to come back to this article several times since it was written, because I’ve always struggled to understand it. The Mage, compared to everyone else, has always seemed weirdly passive. I think it finally clicked for me today that passivity is the point, and it’s why we don’t see many Mage arcs. A lot of storytelling wisdom chastises passivity of action, when the fight to be passive can be as enthralling as the fight to be active.

    There comes a point, as a parent, a friend, as a teacher, where you can’t keep meddling, you can’t keep tweaking someone else’s work for them. They won’t grow if you do – so the fight is to withold, to trust you’ve done what you can, and that others can have the capacity for strength that you do. The external seems passive because the conflict is so internal – the fight to stop crowding the rest of the world, to give other plants sunlight, to let it grow and blossom on its own, knowing that you’ve done all you can to let it thrive.

    It’s so rare because it’s a cumulation of the last three arcs specifically – it’s not about knowing when to pick up the sword, it’s knowing when it’s better to put it down. It’s internalising that not every fight is about you.

    And yes, that fight isn’t really about dragons and oncoming armies. They are the impotus for action, but again – the conflict is to learn when others should act. It’s so deeply internal that externalising is naturally very, very tricky. I think the best form of externalisation I can come up with is to lean into the shadow archetypes harder than I would for the other Arcs. I can externalise a character arcing into Maiden that isn’t really leaning either into a Damsel or a Vixen strongly. I feel like the strongest Mage stories really actively show the *danger* of the Miser/Sorcerer, whichever works best.


  1. […] K. M. Weiland continues her series on archetypal character arcs with part 7: the mage arc. […]

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