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Merlin and Nimue
Now that we're lovers, I'll teach her everything I know. What Could Possibly Go Wrong?

"Nimue will come along and I'll go panting after her like a dog-fox in heat. I'll teach her too little magic to do her any good, and too much for my safety, all while trying to get into her petticoats. And then she'll entice me into a cave, and bind me with my own magic, and leave me to rot."
Merlin discusses the trope in The Books of Magic

At the most basic level, this trope is about a partnership between two magic-users where one is older, (and thus usually the master/teacher or the more powerful member of the team) and the other member is younger and the apprentice type figure. There's one more important difference between the two of them: they're different genders.

Now, if the relationship is being looked at closely, obviously there are a lot of potential tropes that could come into play for various factors, including the possibilities for communication difficulties with two people of different age groups, different genders, not to mention all the possible love and sexuality tropes that can potentially come into play. (Including some quite squicky ones.)

Oh, and there's one more thing we forgot to mention: there's a good chance that one member of this team will betray the other, usually for greater power, in order to learn the legendary Dangerous Forbidden Technique, or to Take Over the World. In the process of doing so they often either become the story's Big Bad or The Dragon, or the other character's personal Arch-Enemy. Which rather puts a damper on their relationship...

The Trope Namer and probable Trope Maker is the Arthurian Mythos, where Merlin had a habit of teaching magic to younger women. In the oldest stories his pupil/lover's name was Nynave, (but this is often changed to Nimue and sometimes changed again to other names, with Vivien/Vivianne being the most common) and she eventually betrayed him and bound Merlin in a tree, a rock or a cave, depending on the version of the story you're reading or watching. (As a small note, if you're not an expert on Arthurian legend and are wondering why you don't hear about this character all that often, these days she is often combined or interchangeable with Morgan Le Fay/Morgause, the mother of Mordred.)

Now, all you need to qualify for this trope is the pair of magic-users with the age and gender difference, and the other elements of their relationship or betraying each other need not be there at all. However, whether consciously or not, most writers tend to end up using at least some and often all of the elements present in the Trope Maker. This leads to the being a lot of different variations on this theme, and a lot of possible ways to play and present them.

Note that this trope often involves betrayal, Face Heel Turns and death, so there may be spoilers unmarked.


Examples:

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    Anime and Manga 
  • Yu-Gi-Oh!:
    • The Dark Magician and Dark Magician Girl, both the cards and their Ancient Egyptian counterparts. They are rather closer in age than most, with there being only about a 10 year age difference. The Dark Magician Girl becomes more powerful if a Dark Magician is in either player's graveyard and this has two interpretations: either she gains magic power from his being dead, or she became stronger on her own to avenge him. (Or maybe he helps her from beyond the grave. Yugi's duel with Pandora, where she first appeared, seemed to suggest this; both Yugi and Pandora's Dark Magician were contributing to her Score, and it was obvious that the spirit of Pandora's Dark Magician was angry at Pandora for betraying him.)
    • After the "Dawn of the Duel" arc, the first option seems very unlikely; it is revealed there that Dark Magician and Dark Magician Girl are spiritual embodiments of Mahad and Mana, respectively, close friends and allies of Pharaoh Atemu. Mana was indeed Mahad's apprentice, but the loyalty they had towards each other was genuine.
    • Possibly the case with Gagaga Magician and Gagaga Girl, two Spellcasters used by Yuma in Yu Gi Oh Zexal. While Gagaga Girl is less powerful and a lower Level and the two cards do form a powerful combo (if both are used for an Xyz Summon, her effect can reduce an opposing monster's Attack Score to zero) there's no direct evidence as yet that she's his apprentice. There was a subtle hint in the manga that she's his girlfriend, however.
  • In the American dub of the first movie to Cardcaptor Sakura, it is revealed that Clow Reed had a student known only as "Madoushi" ("Sorceress"), who was also his girlfriend. They had a good relationship, until she decided she wanted more power and began practicing dark magic. He couldn't allow her to continue to do this, so he called her out on this and told her that she was no longer his student (and no longer his girlfriend), despite her protests and promises that they could rule the world together. She continued to practice her dark magic, so he sealed her up in an alternate dimension he created and left her there. (It is not known when or even ''if'' he ever intended to let her out.) She died in there, still waiting to be set free, and causes problems for Sakura and her friends.
    • The original plotline is aversion of this trope. Instead of a relationship they had Foe Yay. The sorceress was a Fortune Teller who felt like Clow stole her business in Hong Kong, but fell in love with him anyways and never got a chance to tell him before he vanished. This was bowdlerized because the american execs thought kids wouldn't understand an economic rivals plot and instead opted for a 'good vs evil' thing.
  • In Clamp's Xxx Holic we have a witch / male apprentice version of this: Yuko and Watanuki, with the witch Yuko very much being a mother figure towards orphan Watanuki. Later there's also a bonus of some indication that there may be feelings on Watanuki's end that go further than that of a child towards a parent.

     Arthurian Stories 
  • The film Excalibur plays this pretty much dead straight between Merlin and Morgana with all the traditional touches.
  • The page quote comes from The Books of Magic, when Tim very briefly meets Merlin while traveling through time with The Phantom Stranger. At the time Merlin is just 14 years old, but he already knows what is going to happen and why.
  • The Warlord Chronicles features Merlin teaching both Morgan and Nimue, and both having relationships with him. Morgan's relationship with Merlin ended before the books start, and she symbolically betrays him by converting to Christianity and preaching against him. Nimue stays loyal to Merlin through the first two books, (although there are some occasional hints and foreshadowing of great trouble between them) despite him putting her through some pretty horrific trials and abandoning her for awhile. Merlin goes into being a Well-Intentioned Extremist in the third book, but eventually backs away from crossing any Moral Event Horizons. On the other hand Nimue proves to be a Knight Templar and goes Jumping Off the Slippery Slope, eventually coming to hate Merlin for his "weakness" of not following through with their plan, and then killing him as a Human Sacrifice.
  • Subverted in Mary Stewart's The Crystal Cave series, where Merlin and Niniane truly love each other and she innocently mistakes him for being dead when she buries him in the cave.
  • In The Mists of Avalon, Nimue is a sympathetic character, a young priestess sent by Avolon to win Merlin's heart and lure him back for their revenge. The magic she uses to help make Merlin fall in love with her works in such a way that she too falls for him, but she is bound by duty to seduce and lure him to his death. She kills herself afterward.
  • This relationship happens between Merlin and Nimue in The Once and Future King.
    • Merlin does state that he knows it'll happen and does look forward to having a nice period of time resting up. His only regrets are that he forgets to tell Arthur who his mother is, and he wants to warn the Round Table of who actually poisoned some apples and killed an Irish knight named Sir Patrick. The latter regret is fixed when he asks Nimue to show up and clear up the mess. While she does it willingly, she unfortunately shows up a day late, and only narrowly saves Guinevere from being tried for attempted poisoning of Sir Gawain.
  • In Le Morte D'Arthur, the most well-known version, Nimue is portrayed as justified in sealing Merlin away, as Merlin used his status as her teacher to come onto her against her will.
  • Caliber, a comic that sets the Arthurian Legend in the Old West, has a shaman and Merlin figure advising the good guys and trying to get the magic gun to The Chosen One, and his ex-pupil and ex-lover Morgan, who advises the villains and appears to have her own agenda.
  • In Arthur, King of Time and Space, Merlin's "betrayal" by Nimue, despite being heavily foreshadowed, is actually a complete accident on her part. The betrayal aspect gets played straight with Morgan, though. As to whether Merlin has a relationship with his apprentices, well...
  • About as thoroughly averted as possible in BBC's Merlin, as A) Nimueh is older and more experienced than Merlin, B) Nimueh starts out evil, C) there's no attraction between the two and D) Merlin apparently kills Nimueh at the end of Series 1.
    • He spent the beginning of "The Poisoned Chalice" gawking at her and described her as "pretty for a princess" and she tricked him into drinking from said poisoned chalice. Subverted later on, when he strikes her with a bolt of lightning.
  • In the Hellboy comicbooks, it's eventually revealed that the Queen of Blood, the genocidal new leader of The Fair Folk, is Nimue herself. As it turns out, it was the whisperings of the Ogdru Jahad that caused her to originally betray Merlin and turn to evil.
  • Averted in the 1998 Merlin miniseries, where Merlin tells Nimue that all his magic are only "tricks", and although she does end up trapping him through his love for her, it's at the real antagonist's behest.
  • One Garth Nix story set out to turn this into a Tear Jerker. For one thing, Merlin is younger than he makes himself seem to everyone else. Two, he actively ignored Nimue until he couldn't take her hanging around his house begging for training anymore. Three, while both he and Nimue are clearly interested in each other, she's frustrated by his refusal to act on his desires. Four, to get their power, a mage has to give up their heart's desire. Nimue scoffs at the paradox, since her fondest desire is the power itself. Five, a mage gets their power by harnessing a star. The power in one mage actively repels the power in another. Once Nimue harnesses hers, she physically cannot go near Merlin ever again. Six, Merlin saw it coming, after he got his power. His heart's desire was Nimue, whom he hadn't even met yet. Nimue's was him. He tried to keep her away so he wouldn't hurt her. Not only can they not ever be together, but he sinks into a stone even Nimue's power can't get him out of, though she immediately leaves to try, leaving England unprotected.
  • In The Lost Years of Merlin series by T.A Barron, Vivian, known as Nimue to her friends, is introduced in the 2nd book when she tries to steal Merlin's staff. She comes back later as a major villain in The Mirror of Merlin, and again in The Merlin Effect, part of another series by the same author.

     Comic Books 
  • Doctor Strange has a lover/disciple named Clea, who appears physically younger than him and is naive about life on Earth. (She's Really 700 Years Old.) In mainline continuity they genuinely love each other (in fact, they're actually married, by Dark Dimension law), but in Earth X she decided he was just using her for sex and killed him.
    "What Stephen knew was nothing compared to what there was to know."
  • According to a Vertigo Comics miniseries, the DC Comics character Madame Xanadu turns out to be Nimue, who did indeed trap Merlin but only because she was led to believe it was the only way to save Camelot. In turn she lost most of her magic and became an immortal fortune teller; she blames The Phantom Stranger for this. Note that being a Vertigo series, this may not be canonical within the main DC Universe.

     Literature 
  • Deryni Alaric Morgan and his wife Richenda. In a twist, while he's older (by seven years), she's better trained in arcana, so she teaches him. They're also Happily Married. A similar relationship is said to be in the future of Dowager Queen Jehana and Barrett de Laney; Jehana begins taking lessons from Barrett in King Kelson's Bride, and according to the Codex by the year 1130 they marry and have a daughter.
    • A more standard example would be Dalamar and Jenna.
  • Elminster and his former apprentice "The Shadowsil" in Ed Greenwood's Forgotten Realms novel Spellfire. In the backstory she left him to take up a life of evil.
  • The Redemption of Althalus featured this relationship between the female god usually called Em and her pupil, former thief turned immortal mage Althalus. The two become lovers and there is no betrayal.
    • Later there's a quasi-example when a witch is added to the team and regards Althalus as her teacher and something of a father figure but still flirts with him quite often, much to Althalus' chagrin.
    • Also from David Eddings, Belgarath and Polgara might be a UST-less father-daughter example. And Sparhawk and his goddess? That just gets wierd, man.
      • Although Aphrael is not his goddess, but whom the Pandions turn to when they need to perform magic. And she had a few legitimate reasons for her actions. Even managed to work it into the plot.

  • Daine and Numair from The Immortals books by Tamora Pierce have the magic, age difference, and sexual tension, but not the betrayal. They even end up Happily Married in later books.
  • In The Sword of Truth series of books, Richard Rahl has this relationship with Sister Verna, as well as the other Sisters of Light. In the later books, the trope is even more prevalent in his relationship with Nicci, who has become something of his right hand, mentor, and unlike Verna, definitely has feelings for him.
  • In The Wheel of Time, Moiraine has this relationship early in the series with Rand, although with a distinct lack of romantic overtones. In the later books, Cadsuane takes up the older mentor role in Moiraine's place. This gets awkward when Rand integrates the memories from his last incarnation, Lews Therin (whose voice in his head, though not memories, had been a symptom of his insanity), as he points out to Cadsuane he was four hundred years old when he died in the Age of Legends, and hardly a 'boy' any longer.
    • The original story itself gets used, in a very WEIRD way. Instead of Nimue imprisoning Merlin in a cave, we have Merlin (Thom Merillin) rescuing Morgana (Moiraine) from a cave, and Nimue (using the older name Nynaeve) doesn't even take part. All this is a couple thousand years after the time of King Arthur (Artur Hawkwing).
  • In Blood and Iron by Elizabeth Bear, "Merlin" is not an individual, but a title for a quasi-messianic avatar of magic that is born every few centuries to advise an equally quasi-messianic "Dragon Prince", and the Nimue gambit is the method by which The Fair Folk attempt to gain control of this individual and ensure that the momentous events set in motion by the Merlin's coming are resolved to their benefit.
  • Merlin is a character in the Nightside series. The legend is presented as truth here, with Nimue betraying Merlin and stealing his heart, causing him to be trapped beneath the world's oldest bar. Then protagonist John Taylor goes back in time to when Merlin and Nimue were still together. Taylor needs strong magic to get even further back in time, so he winds up being the one who actually steals the heart. He accidentally kills Nimue in the process, too, which explains why no one in the present can manage to find out where she hid the heart. It's in a Roman garbage dump.
  • Safehold doesn't make any real use of this trope but does contain a Shout-Out to the TropeNamers — the main character is a woman named Nimue who, upon being "reincarnated" as a Ridiculously Human Robot, takes on the identity of a man named Merlin.
  • Harry Dresden and his apprentice Molly Carpenter in The Dresden Files by Jim Butcher. Harry is older, probably in his thirties or forties although Wizards Live Longer so he is just coming into his own power and not generally thought of as venerable, and takes on an apprentice when she is still a teen. He makes it very clear from the start that there is not going to be any romantic connection between the two for a number of reasons (two big ones: he's too good to abuse the power relationship like that, and he has been a friend of her father since she was a child so it would be Squicky), but there are many hints that she has feelings for him nonetheless. We know there are lots of magic lessons going on behind the scenes and in Noodle Incidents, but on stage we see more life lessons being learned than actual magic.
    • This also comes up in regards to Wardens Lucio and Morgan, whose relationship was very similar, one-sided UST and all. Also of note is Ebenezer McCoy and Margaret Dresden, Harry's mother. Is it still this trope when they're father and daughter?
      • Yes, but without the UST.
    • Lucio, in particular, implies this is the case for almost all apprentices (presumably she means the ones who both fit the opposite gender requirement and are not related to their teacher), and muses aloud, "do any of them ever grow out of it?"
      • Lucio falls under Bi the Way, so it's very likely even some of her female students gained crushes on her.
  • Fidelias and Amara in the Codex Alera series, also by Jim Butcher. It's not a perfect example because all humans in this setting have magical powers so their Student and Master Team is nothing unusual. Other than that, though, it fits perfectly, with their relationship being integral parts of their characters throughout the series even though Fidelias' betrayal happens in the first couple chapters of the book.
  • In The Exiles Gorynel Desse and Cailet, although he doesn't act on his feelings.

    Live Action TV 
  • Most of the Doctor's companions have been both female and much, much younger than he is. Even his only two Time Lord companions, Romana and his granddaughter Susan, were both a good deal younger than him. However, Unresolved Sexual Tension aside, he never became overtly romantic with any of them (or anyone) outside the TV movie, which is part of what makes it a Contested Sequel. The UST is a lot thicker than usual with Rose, the first companion of the new series; it's theorized that since there are no more Time Lords, humans begin to seem like a more legitimate option, or that the Doctor has forgotten which types of human interactions are for friends versus lovers. However, the only betrayals (Adam Mitchell, Kamelion) or serious near-betrayals (Turlough) the Doctor has had have been from male companions (well, Kamelion's a genderless robot...)
    • Probably the most salient example is Ace. She traveled with the Seventh Doctor, who found out he apparently becomes Merlin in the future or something in the serial Battlefield. Plus, more than with most companions, he has a rather mentor-like relationship with her. And in the Expanded Universe, she finds out he planned to send her to study at the Time Lord academy (sort of like the scifi equivalent of a magic-user-apprenticeship thing), and she ends up traveling through time keeping an eye on things like he does.
  • If you take Connor MacLeod's remark in the films that Immortals are "a kind of magic" at face value, this comes up in an episode of the Highlander TV series. A female Immortal (portrayed by Joan Jett) takes the approach of preying on older and more experienced male Immortals, seducing them under the guise of being new to the Game so they will teach her their skills, which she then uses against them to take their heads. It works pretty well for her until she tries to pull this on the more Genre Savvy Duncan, who wisely holds back one of his techniques and uses it to defeat her (fortunately for her, Duncan is a bit more merciful and lets her keep her head).
  • Jafar and Amara are revealed to have this relationship in Once Upon a Time in Wonderland, when it's shown in a flashback that Jafar turned her into his snake staff.
    • This also comes up in the original Once Upon a Time with Regina's mother, Cora, and Rumpelstiltskin, once it's revealed that Cora is the Miller's Daughter in Season Two. Rumpel had taught her to spin straw into gold, they fell in love, but when Cora is faced with the choice of love or power she inevitably leaves him for the latter. Later on, for the same reasons she resolves to murder him, though she assures him that she really had loved him.

     Music 
  • The song The Spell by Grave Digger on their album Excalibur is about the Trope Namer.
  • The song Hawthorn Tree by Heather Dale tells the story of Merlin and Vivianne.

    Multiple Media 

    Tabletop RPG 
  • Champions supplement Champions Presents #2, adventure "Murder in Stronghold". In the backstory, the supervillain Master Magus had a female apprentice (and lover) named Amaryllis who was a member of his villain team.
  • The Dungeons & Dragons supplement "Book of Vile Darkness" included a prestige class named Thrall of Graz'zt that was described as being sort of a Loremaster who acquires secrets by seduction rather than by study. That's right, there's a whole class oriented around being Nimue. And yes, it has class abilities that can be described as basically "backstabbing, only with magic".
    • Graz'zt himself was a victim of this, even though he was also technically a prisoner of his lover. The short version: The archmage Iggwilv summoned him and bound him using sealing magic; eventually, they became lovers (Iggwilv bearing his child, Iuz, who would grow up to become a notorious tyrant taught her forbidden arts, and acted as her advisor as she forged her empire. She never released him from his bonds, however, and eventually, it sank in that she was never going to. What made this even more humiliating - for Graz'zt - is that when they finally did come to blows, she came closer to killing him than anyone had (or has since). The fight was a knock-out draw, with his material form destroyed (leaving him unable to leave his home plane for a century) and her left half dead and powerless. Her empire crumbled, and little was seen of her for decades.
    • In the fourth edition of Dungeons & Dragons A powerful sorceress, named Nera, was taken as consort of the evil God of the dead; it trained her in the use of the power of the souls of the dead in order to allow it to rule the Gods. During an uprising, she overthrows his rule and takes over Shadowfell, and in turn the mantle of the ruler of the dead.
  • Subverted/averted oh so hard in the Rifts version of Camelot (in the Rifts England sourcebook), where any true mentorship or betrayal of either party by the other is impossible as they're both essence fragments of the same Energy Being Eldritch Abomination who's The Man Behind the Man chessmastering the whole Arthurian gig; "the Lady of the Lake" is in fact a contigency it could use to act out the trope in case "Merlin" was outed as evil to keep control of the realm; another one is Guinevere (who's also an essence fragment)...

    Video Games 
  • Antonidas and Jaina from Warcraft. He was the archmage of Dalaran and she was a student of his. There was no sexual chemistry here, (though the internet may disagree) and no betrayal among themselves.
  • Somewhat surprisingly averted in Quest for Glory II, where the player character, (a young hero who can be a magic user if you choose that class) and the experienced enchantress Aziza do not form this relationship. Although Aziza will gladly give you lots of advice and bring up a subquest or two, she will not sponsor your entrance into the Wizard's Academy (she takes that sort of thing very seriously and hasn't known you long enough or well enough yet) and she doesn't tutor you in magic or help your growth in it otherwise.
    • Quest for Glory IV, on the other hand, has an evil version in the relationship between Ad Avis and Katrina. She defeated him many years ago when he challenged her in magic, made him her apprentice, and bit him so that he would rise again as a vampire under her control upon his death (i.e. when you defeated him at the end of the second game). This upset Politically Incorrect Villain Ad Avis, so he soon began scheming her downfall, first by trying to use The Hero to kill her, and later by exploiting her feelings for The Hero so that she wound up Taking the Bullet for him. Oh, and if you're a wizard Katrina will teach you a spell or two in 4 and again if you save her from Hades in 5.
      • Erana also teaches you a spell if you save her in 5 instead. In the rest of the games, she simply leaves scrolls behind for clever wizards to find.
  • This was Bethany Covenant's modus operandi, learning everything she can from other magic users before betraying or abandoning them. She finally met her end when her final teacher offed her first.
  • This is the stated relationship between Big Bads Mondain and Minax in the first two Ultima games, although without betrayal; Minax is so distraught over her mentor and lover's death that she screws up all time and space.
  • Warlic and Nythera from the Artix Entertainment games. Romance is not involved here, but Nythera, the Nimue in this relationship, is constantly scheming to get rid of Warlic and get her hands on his power (something she actually did in DragonFable, but which would come back to bite her and force her to resurrect him).
  • In Dragon Age: Origins, a male mage Warden can be this with Wynne, dependent upon how you play him. Romance is not an option, though betrayal and murder are if you make the wrong choice. A male mage Warden can also be this with Morrigan, as although the exact ages are unclear, there's nothing stopping you from making your Warden look like Gandalf or Dumbledore.
  • Super Robot Wars Original Generation: Dark Prison: Yong has a "master" whose instructions or advice she usually references when in self thought; or whose existence she uses as an encouragement. She usually praises his keen farsight. Said master is Mekibos.

    Visual Novels 

     Western Animation 
  • The Archmage and Demona from Gargoyles, during the flashbacks to when she was his pupil. Thankfully the sexual chemistry was not present, because that would have been pretty squicky. Also, although she didn't actually betray him when it came to acquiring the Phoenix Gate, the Archmage believed that she did and acts accordingly, with Demona only being saved from possible death by Hudson's interference. One more reason Demona feels that Humans Are the Real Monsters.


Mentor ShipIndex of Pupils and ProtégésOld Cop, Young Cop
Men of SherwoodCharacters as DeviceMessenger
MerlinOlder Than PrintMineral MacGuffin
Masculine Girl, Feminine BoyDuo TropesMister X and Mister Y
MentorsFoilMorality Pet

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