Tuesday, August 4, 2009

Character Type: The Sorcerer's Apprentice

sorcerer's apprentice,the--an overeager aspirant who sets into motion forces he or she cannot control; a beginning or medium-stage student who has reached a stage of impatience and acts to outperform the mentor, discovering too late the need for more learning; a iconic character type who believes things are easier than they appear.

Naivete, hubris, and impatience seem to be the stars by which the sorcerer's apprentice sets his or her course, a course that in one way or another encourages at first blush the belief that the master's secrets have been digested and taken in as muscle memory. Thus the sorcerer's apprentice, whomever he or she may be, sets a glorious magnet of attraction for the writer to use as a character who is bound to produce some significant story line. The inevitable result of the sorcerer's apprentice was well illustrated in the 1941 Walt Disney film, Fantasia; things got out of hand quickly when Mickey Mouse used one of his mentor's charms to enchant a broom to fetch buckets of water that he, Mickey, should have been fetching by hand. Mickey was used to illustrate the Paul Dukas musical suite which in turn was offered as a musical version of the Goethe poem, "The Sorcerer's Apprentice," which had earlier incarnations from classical antiquity. Thus also a dynamic twofer: an example of quiting (see) and validation of the iconic pedigree of the character type.

The sorcerer's apprentice trope is, then, often an innocent, as in Graham Greene's The Ugly American, who causes a progression of events other than intended, producing calamitous results. It maybe a bit of a stretch but Greene appears to have done it again in Don Quixote, in which a simple parish priest achieves enhanced status through a mild deception. The moral of the sorcerer's apprentice tale revolves about the consequences of taking the short cuts of convenience, using them as a substitute for learning. One of the unintended benefits for the writer is the self-evaluation that may come from undertaking such a story and recognizing the personal potential for naivete, hubris, and impatience.

If we posit the work of any admirable storyteller, say a Louise Erdrich or a Jim Harrison, as the literary equivalent of the sorcerer, then equate the enthusiasm and inspiration from reading their work with a story of our own, it is natural and understandable to think we have achieved the spells by which we can duplicate their sorcery. Our failure is not in the attempt but in the inability to recognize how much work these sorcerers have put into learning their craft. In that sense, we are all of us apprentices every time we embark on a new project.

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