My progress this weekend past was disappointing, terrible in fact. I only managed a few hundred words and am still writing the tail-end of the scene I posted last week. The reasons are mostly down to the pressures and rewards of family life. My youngest son became sick (projectile vomiting in his bed); my wife has a stinking cold (and she gets even less sleep than I do) and my daughter is an epic monkey.
On Sunday, we took a few hours out our day to celebrate that epic monkey's first birthday over lunch with my wife's family. We did so at a café overlooking the local golf course. It was a bitter, wintry day—I salute the few keen golfers who braved the weather; they'd be right at home playing golf during a Scottish summer.
During our lunch out, my wife's grandmother asked me what a 'Mage' was—she hadn't heard it before and attempted to pronounce it with a soft G. Pronounced this way it sounded like the first syllable of the Chinese game Mahjong or the last syllable of the Australian and US pronunciation of garage (being Welsh, I pronounce garage with two hard Gs).
Her question and pronunciation threw me for a few moments. When I joined the dots, I explained the term mage in fantasy stories refers to a practitioner of magic, i.e. a magician, wizard or sorcerer. The term is widely used by modern fantasists and is largely interchangeable with magician or wizard to describe one of the key character archetypes of the genre. She does not read fantasy and it made me reflect on both my assumptions as a fantasist as well as my education in ancient and classical history.
The term Mage is old, Legolas old1.
Most Christians, and those familiar with the nativity, will recognise the Three Wise Men, who, legend has it, followed the Star of Bethlehem to the birthplace of Jesus of Nazareth. In many translations of the Bible, the Three Wise Men are referred to as Magi. The term has its origins in Greek and Latin and there are interesting cognates in most Indo-European languages as well as non-Indo-European language families including Arabic and Chinese.
In Greece and Rome, Magi referred to followers of Zoroastrianism, an ancient religion from Persia (modern-day Iran) that originated with the prophet and philosopher, Zoroaster. It still survives to this day and is fascinating not only in its own right but also because of its influence on Islam and other religions. Zoroastrians believe in a single God, interestingly represented with two aspects that we can think of as male and female. God is known as the 'Wise Lord' and Zoroastrians were well regarded in the ancient world as highly learned, hence the 'Three Wise Men' of Christian belief.
I chose the term Mage deliberately and for reasons I'll outline, not simply to follow a well-worn trope. In Weaver of Dreams, the man I called a Mage belongs to a different metaphysical tradition from that of the two main cultures in my story. He is an outsider, an observer, sometimes even an arbitrator. He stands apart—or tried to—from the bitter political struggle that forms the back story of the book.
In the partial scene I posted we see him stepping in from the outside in an attempt to limit the damage caused when a powerful sorceress is murdered in cold blood. Before death took her, she cursed her murderer but it backfires and the potential consequences are catastrophic. Thus, two men, once deadly foes, have to set aside their differences under the guidance of the Mage to mitigate this disaster. Perhaps you'll see now when I needed an outsider. If not, feel free to buy the book when it's published!
Returning to my mage and even writing this post has helped my frame him in a clearer light. One day, perhaps, I'll tell his story of how he came to be so far from home. He's a relic of another time, a devotee of a dying philosophy who chose to hide in a remote, obscure monastery in a once-peaceful land. But for now, I'll leave him as he is, a minor but important character in my story.
Yes, I'm butchering a piece of awkward dialogue from the movie adaptation of The Two Towers. ↩