Wizard Schools

I’ve been reading Patrick Rothfuss’s The Wise Man’s Fear, the second part of his Kingkiller Chronicle. I always scan the reviews on Amazon when I’m exploring a writer new to me, and I noticed several comparisons with Harry Potter.

As far as I can tell, the only similarity between the two is both protagonists attend a school to learn to use their arcane talents. So mentioning this as a point of correspondence is ignorance. It’s like saying Mrs. Dalloway is like the Lord of the Rings because there’s travel in the plot. Mrs. Dalloway walks down Bond St. (I think) and Frodo goes to Mordor (for sure) but the similarities are neither useful nor meaningful.

Part of the Hero’s Journey is training. The young hero of either sex learns from attending a school or apprenticing to the wise old wizard or talks to the dragon or in some way gains knowledge to survive. The author’s skill comes in how she presents both the hero and the training. A fantasy reader knows the conventions and wants them presented in new and surprising ways. George RR Martin has done this by placing the characters in A Song of Ice and Fire in a pretty stereotypical medieval world but his heros can, and frequently do, die. So the suspense of the fantasy is more real for the reader. In one sense he’s broken the implied contract between the fantasy writer and the fantasy reader (heros always survive) and in another sense he’s moving fantasy toward a realism that enhances his created world and revitalizes the story.

So if I, as a writer, have a young wizard or magician protagonist and I want to send to them to school, I have to create a school or a learning situation both familiar enough so the reader believes in the learning and different enough from Hogwarts or the University to avoid both boredom or plagarism.