Hmm—did someone call for whimsy?
"A wand'ring minstrel I, a thing of shreds and patches, of ballads, songs and snatches, and dreamy lullaby!"
The wandering minstrel is a classic fantasy character and a frequent feature in many Ensembles
. He wanders the land, making music for money. Generally carries a lute, (or sometimes a flute
) and always has a song in his heart.
He rarely has any fighting ability, but he might have Magic Music
that makes him slightly more capable in battle.
The trope goes back at least to Alan-a-Dale, the minstrel friend of Robin Hood
(at least by Victorian times; Alan was a late
addition to the mythos). The word "minstrel" comes from Latin ministerialis
— "a functionary living as a member of the knightly class, with either a lordship of their own or one delegated from a higher lord." Fiefs were very often not self-supporting, and poor knights were forced to supplement their income by other means, such as traveling from court to court to offer services to various patrons— one of which was entertainment.
There's also the French tradition of the troubadour/trouvere from the Middle Ages; singers and lutists that would wander around and compose songs of Courtly Love
. They were one of the first groups to take music from the sacred to the secular realm.
If a Wandering Minstrel
is very lucky and very good, he can get a settled job as a court bard in a Standard Royal Court
(see also The Jester
). If unlucky, stuck as a Street Musician
. If exceptionally unlucky, one step above street mime
(with a similar level of hate from people in general).
Not to be confused with Quirky Bard
or The Bard
; and especially not with a Minstrel Show
- The Pied Piper of Hamelin appears to be this.
- Blondel the Minstrel, in the 13th century legend of King Richard The Lion Heart, went from castle to castle in Europe, trying to discover where his master was being held, by singing a song they had composed together, until he heard the king singing the refrain from his cell. (Note that this is pure fable; at no time was Richard's location unknown, as his captors wanted everyone to know they were holding him.)
- When King Alfred is found by the norsemen in The Ballad of the White Horse, he convinces them he is "a rhymester without home". Since he is the forgotten king of an occupied country, who isn't even recognized by most of its peoples as anything other than a traveller with a harp, this is technically a true statement.
- The Chronicles of Prydain have Fflewddur Fflam, an inept minstrel whose lute snaps a string whenever he tells a lie. On the other hand, he's a surprisingly Bad Ass fighter. It turns out he's also a minor king.
- In the Wheel of Time books gleemen are traveling artists, masterful story tellers as well as skillful acrobats, and typically wear a cloak made of many colorful patches. Most skilled gleemen can play one sort of instrument or another, some examples are flute, or if more skillful, harp. Gleemen are allowed to go almost anywhere they wish, as nearly all commoners delight in or at least tolerate their presence, and are among the few that are allowed by the Aiel to travel through their territory. The most skilled can even become court bards, usually discarding the patchwork cloak for silks as elegant as any noble's. Thom Merrlin is introduced as a gleeman, but was originally a court bard for queen Morgase.
- The nameless bard in The Last Hero. It's not clear whether he was one before he got shanghai'd by the Grey Horde, but at the end of the story it's implied that he'd be singing their saga all over the Disc.
- In Shelters Of Stone, there's a class of traveling story-tellers and musicians whose visits are highly anticipated in a world without TV or internet.
- Phyllis Eisenstein's Alaric the Minstrel fits the bill perfectly. (He can teleport back to any place he's ever been, but not anywhere he hasn't, so wandering widens his teleport range.)
- On Gor the Caste of Poets (or Singers) is basically this. They can go from town to town and spread news as well as poetry/songs, despite the normally xenophobic nature of many City-States.
- In the Dragaera novel Athyra, Vlad encounters a female one of these from the house of Issola (Issola are often courtiers, but it's suggested that this would be the typical job of a lower ranking Issola), and a later novel, Iorich, suggests he might have had an affair with her at some point.
- Jon Tom from Spellsinger is this plus Magic Music.
- Sangfugol from Memory, Sorrow, and Thorn is an example of this. Aside from being a more or less useless companion to the protagonists, his sole claim to plot relevance is when it's suggested that he, having a similar build and hair color, impersonate Prince Josua during the Final Battle. Needless to say, he reacts to the notion with horror.
- Bards can be this in the Heralds of Valdemar series, but due to superior training and a touch of Magic Music, they are seldom allowed to be just entertainment. Ordinary traveling minstrels wander The 'Verse, occasionally writing songs about the protagonists (to their embarrassment and/or irritation).
- In Mikhail Akhmanov's Envoy from the Heavens, Ivar Trevelian travels to a planet populated by Human Aliens whose culture has been stuck at Middle Ages for centuries with no push for progress or discovery (there's a whole continent waiting to be settled, but the population believes the world is flat). His job is to find out about this stagnation. He disguises himself as a member of the Rhapsod Brotherhood, a society of highly-respected wandering bards. He soon finds out they're much more than that, when a group of rhapsods wipes out a mercenary squad three times their number suffering only two casualties. Apparently, they also enact justice when The Empire fails to do so, usually when a nobleman is involved. They turn into vengeful warriors, all of them expert swordsmen and archers. After that, they return to their lutes and songs.
- The main characters and others in the Bardic Voices series by Mercedes Lackey. There's the Guild Bards and Minstrels, the Free Bards (those that are good enough to be in the Guild, but can't because they're women, or don't like the Guild), and ordinary minstrels.
- Dandelion from The Witcher novels and games is a world-famous bard who often travels with the titular hero, Geralt of Rivia. He sometimes gets in trouble for singing about the parts of their adventures that are supposed to remain secret.
- In Michael Flynn's The January Dancer, a woman appears in the opening by going into the bar and beginning to play.
- A Song of Ice and Fire has several, oft portrayed as handsome lads of dubious morals where ladies are concerned, and it seems almost a Running Gag for them to come to sticky ends. A nameless singer is mutilated on the orders of King Joffrey for a subversive song about Queen Cersei and the late King Robert, Marillion is tortured into falsely confessing to Lysa Arryn's murder, Symon Silvertongue ends up in a pot of stew after trying to blackmail Tyrion, Dareon is murdered by Arya Stark after he deserts from the Nights Watch. Tom of Sevens is still alive, but his life expectancy as a spy for a gang of notorious outlaws isn't long either.
- Cantus in Fraggle Rock is a mystical example.
- Gabrielle from Xena becomes a wandering Bard for a while, before becoming Action Girl Jr.
- The Bard class from Dungeons & Dragons, at least when applied to adventurers.
- Forgotten Realms got classical (mentioned from Dragon Magazine #74 on) character Mintiper Moonsilver "the Lonely Harpist". As footnotes in "Mintiper's Chapbook" tell, tales of the Author Avatar "Lunargent" are excerpts from Mintiper's own adventures he deemed most interesting, yet even some sages think it must be an embellished compilation, because even for a legendary figure like him it's too much. He Seen It All, traveled everywhere and gave a concert even in Underdark (for drow and local fairies) at least once.
- This is Nanki-Poo's disguise in The Mikado by Gilbert and Sullivan:
A wandering minstrel I -
A thing of shreds and patches,
Of ballads, songs and snatches,
And dreamy lullaby!
My catalogue is long,
Through every passion ranging,
And to your humours changing
I tune my supple song!
- Like in the film that inspired it, brave, brave Sir Robin of Camelot has an entire band of minstrels follow him wherever he goes in Spamalot.
- In Henry IV Part 2, Hal and a friend disguise themselves as minstrels to get into Falstaff's house and prank him.
- The Music-Human from Water Human, who pops up at the end of episode three to play the outro. In episode four, he inexplicably has a new look: a costume decorated with musical notation.