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What's in a word? What's a paladin?

Discussion in 'World Building' started by Svrtnsse, Mar 6, 2016.

  1. Svrtnsse

    Svrtnsse Staff Article Team

    The main character of my current story is a paladin. In my setting paladins are kind of a mix of the paladins from the books about Paksenarrion and the inquisitors of Warhammer 40,000 (Gregor Eisenhorn). I think that's pretty cool.

    My sister just read the first two scenes of the story and had to google the word paladin.

    She found out it was some kind of warrior, and something related to World of Warcraft. I've played WoW since it was released, and the word paladin is part of my regular vocabulary since ages. It didn't really occur to me until just now that people may not be familiar with the word.

    What's a paladin to you?
  2. trentonian7

    trentonian7 Troubadour

    In the original tales of Paladins, they were holy warriors of Charlemagne or of his vassal. There tended to be 12, but at the very least a limited number.

    I almost think it might be preferable if a reader didn't recognize the term; they're less likely to have an image from a video game like WoW as you mentioned. Granted, if you want to evoke thoughts of the more traditional modern paladin that's totally okay.

    When I think Paladin, I think holy warrior bound to a religion and to upholding its values. I don't imagine him sedentary or bound to a castle though. Personally unless your gods have actual powers he's able to draw on, it seems unlikely that he would have inate powers but things like that are always up to the author.
    Svrtnsse likes this.
  3. Svrtnsse

    Svrtnsse Staff Article Team

    I read up on the original, "real world" origin of paladins at some point long after I learned about them through wow and Paksenarrion (I don't remember which I encountered first), so that version of the paladin doesn't ring very loud with me. As you say, it may be preferable if the reader isn't familiar with the word - though I'm uncertain how common that would be among people who read fantasy.

    I do think the reader will get that it's not a Warcraft paladin though. The story starts with her stepping off a train and it describes her as a short stocky woman with dreadlocks, wearing a red parka and a baseball cap.
    That should be pretty far from Judgment armour. ;)
  4. Gryphos

    Gryphos Auror

    I think at its core the word paladin has come to mean 'holy warrior'. That's what instantly springs to mind with me, but the details are up in the air. I myself am planning to use the word in a novel I'm planning to refer to a sect of soldiers who guard the entrance to the underworld. They use 20th century weaponry and down't wear gold plate armour, but they're considered as having a holy duty, and thus I thought the name 'paladin' would be appropriate.
    Svrtnsse likes this.
  5. TheKillerBs

    TheKillerBs Inkling

    A paladin is just a special knight to me. I am familiar with the WoW paladin, but the one I am most used to is its usage in Age of Empires 2, where they are the last stage of the Knights and I think the most powerful non-unique units in the game.
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  6. ThinkerX

    ThinkerX Myth Weaver

    In the 'modern' era, 'Paladins' first appeared as a D&D character class back in the 1970's. Prior to that, there were characters in fiction who were pretty much Paladins in all but name - I believe Gary Gygax, creator of D&D, cited the MC in Poul Andersons 'Three Hearts and Three Lions' as one such.

    Likewise, the MC of 'Well at Worlds End' from most of a hundred years ago counts as a Paladin by most measures.

    Fritz Lieber mentioned Paladin-like characters a couple times in his Fafhrd and Mouser series, but they didn't last long. One didn't even make it into the published stories.

    Another root would be Tolkien - 'hands of a king are the hands of a healer,' which I think goes back to the days of medieval superstition. (Maybe King Arthur and the Knights of the Round Table, but that's just a guess.)

    Elizabeth Moons Paladins (Paksenarrion/Gird) are pretty much cribbed directly from AD&D.
    Svrtnsse likes this.
  7. skip.knox

    skip.knox toujours gai, archie Moderator

    I always find it worth looking at the etymology of a word. In this case, paladin derives originally from the same word for palace -- a paladin was a warrior connected with the imperial palace. The word come via Italian, but its real sense derives from medieval French poets who used to word as an identifier of the twelve peers of Charlemagne's court. As you may or may not know, the French have a whole cycle of legends, somewhat akin to the Arthurian legends of England, centering around these twelve heroes and their adventures.

    So, for once, the D&D version is really not all that far from the historical precedent. That's at least one for Mr Gygax.
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  8. Heliotrope

    Heliotrope Staff Article Team

    Ok, I'm posting without reading any of the other answers because I didn't want to cloud my answer.

    I'll admit, I read your first few scenes and I also had no clue what a Palladian was. I don't game, so I'm not familiar with WoW or DaD. I kept hoping it would be explained at some point but it never was. We have Palladin security here in BC so I assumed he was a sort of guard or something....

    It worked in the first few lines for me because it raised the question of "Oh... What's a Palladin? Sounds important!" But then it wasn't explained so I couldn't make the connection of who the characters were or what their roles were...
    Svrtnsse likes this.
  9. Svrtnsse

    Svrtnsse Staff Article Team

    Aye, this is a concern. I don't feel like I have a natural way of fitting in the explanation of what a paladin is early on in the story. At the moment, my best idea is to add it at the head of the first scene as a dictionary entry. Something along the lines of:

    paladin /pal-a-din/ n. Holy warrior by divine appointment

    It feels a bit like a cheat to use a trick like that and not include it in the story itself, but if it makes the reader less confused, then I guess that's something I can live with.
  10. Svrtnsse

    Svrtnsse Staff Article Team

    ThinkerX likes this.
  11. scribbler

    scribbler Dreamer

    I don't think you have to spell it out for the reader. Most readers will be able to discern what your definition of a paladin is by how he acts and the powers he wields.
  12. Smajdalf

    Smajdalf Scribe

    For me a paladin is a knight serving and worshipping a god or goddess.
  13. Peat

    Peat Sage

    The modern definition of Paladin as a holy warrior is a complete D&D'ism. Not that Charlemagne's paladins lacked heroism or faith or virtue, but there's definitely a difference between the two in my book at least.

    Its certainly not a word I would consider to have a strong and absolutely set meaning other than it being some sort of knight.
  14. Malik

    Malik Auror

    One of the minor characters in my first book refers to a knight who was tortured to death as a paladin, by which I mean that the guy gave his life up until the end for his beliefs and never broke.

    I did this to set him aside from the majority of knights who don't hold to the ideals of service the way he did. In my series -- as in history -- a lot of "knights" are young thugs swatted into landless lordhood by robberbaron scumbags. They're much more likely to be violent meatheads than upholders of truth and duty, and their orders of knighthood are effectively local militias.

    I used the term paladin to refer to the dead knight as the truest ideal of knighthood and an upholder of a standard by which all others are judged. He may remain the only mention in the entire series. YMMV.
  15. skip.knox

    skip.knox toujours gai, archie Moderator

    @Malik, do you know Bertran de Born, the jongleur? His poems speak plainly about the real chivalric ethic, including lines like this:

    ... great is my joy
    When I see ranged over the countryside
    Knights and horses in armor.

    And I am pleased when I see scouts
    Making people flee with their belongings
    And I am pleased when I see after them
    Great hosts of armed men come together,
    I am pleased in my heart
    When I see strong castles besieged,
    With the ramparts broken and crumbled,
    no man is worthy
    Until he has given and received many blows.
    Clubs, swords, many-colored helmets
    And shields broken and shattered
    We will see at the start of the battle
    Along with vassals striking each other,
    ... riderless
    Horses whinnying in the shade,
    And hear shouts of "Help! Help!"
    And see the great and small
    Fall in grassy moats,
    And see the dead with bits of lances
    and banners through their sides.

    The full text can be found in several places. Here's one
    Songs of the Troubadours and Trouveres: An Anthology of Poems and Melodies - Samuel N. Rosenberg, Margaret Switten, Gerard Le Vot - Google Books
    pp. 104-105

    There's also one, maybe by him and maybe by another, that exults in a vision of plundering merchants on the road and says why should one work hard? All one has to do is steal well.

    Go Team Chevalier!
    Malik likes this.
  16. Gurkhal

    Gurkhal Auror

    @Malik and skip.knox

    For one thing chivalry changed, as do all things, across the centuries and between places. From a, to my knowledge, individually based code towards being tied with emergence of early modern states, chivalry was never static but a dynamic force which only finally was dissolved with gunpowder's abolishment of the feudal system when armored cavalry could no longer hold such dominance in warfare, and the burghers had totally eclipsed the nobility economically.

    Yet its true that people who lived by chivalry were warriors, in a warlike society, and chivalry is at its core an answer to how violence should be applied for the most constructive ends in society, such as defense of said society, maintain order, protection of the weak and defenseless etc. So I am not suprised and its indeed correct that chivalry was pretty positive towards using violence to solve disputes, and that seeing how the warrior was at the top in society he and his work were held in high esteem, just like almost every other society in ancient times from the Celts, the Romans, the Assyrians, the Japanese and the Aztecs.

    But in regards to chivalry I doubt that Bertran de Born was more correct than say Geoffroi de Charny who has this to say.

    "It could be said that such wicked men who practice arms in so many evil ways are characterized by four very bad forms of ill doing.

    The first is that of robbery on the highway, treacherously stealing and for no good reason.

    The second is to murder others in a bad cause.

    The third is to commit a treacherous deed by seizing, plundering and robbing others without any challenge and without any wrongdoing on the part of the persons attacked.

    And fourth is to take from the churches the wealth through which Our Lord is served,[...]

    And cursed be these persons who devote their lives to commiting such evil deeds in order to aquire such dishonorable ill fame! And indeed any lord who has such men under their control and have knowledge of their evil doings are no longer worthy to live if they do not inflict such punishment on them that would persuade anyone else who might have a desire for wrongdoing to draw back."

    A Knight's Own Book of Chivalry - Geoffroi de Charny

    Geoffroi de Charny - Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia

    And much to remember is that chivalry is an ideal, not a physical law that can't broken and if ten people adhered to it, those people will together pass in greater silence than a single person who blatantly breaks against it.
    Last edited: Aug 11, 2016

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