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Supernatural Hobo

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A homeless person with magical powers.

This work is a proposed Trope, Tropers can vote and offer feedback in the comments section below.
Proposed By:
backpack on Sep 29th 2013 at 2:52:48 PM
Last Edited By:
Mamealoney on Sep 15th 2016 at 11:16:56 PM
Name Space: Main
Page Type: Trope

Basically, a homeless person with magical powers, or some connection to the Supernatural. This is for two reasons:

1) They're Beneath Suspicion, so their powers often take other characters, and in some cases the audience, completely by surprise.

and

2) Making them homeless either fits in with a theme of magic being opposed to materialism, or makes you Go Mad from the Revelation (as homeless people, both in real life and in fiction, frequently suffer from mental illnesses).

It should be noted that it's usually made clear that not ALL homeless people are supernatural, just some.

Related to Blue-Collar Warlock


Examples:

Anime and Manga

  • Kyutaro "God" Kamigama of 20th Century Boys is a wise man with psychic abilities and a tendency to speak in bowling metaphors. He is revered by his fellow homeless and even the main characters who meet him acknowledge his intellect.

Comic Books

Film — Live Action

  • In a science-fictional variant, 12 Monkeys suggests that at least a few seemingly insane homeless people are actually traumatized, displaced time-travelers from Cole's future. (this one is disputed, please discuss)
  • In the film Brother From Another Planet the eponymous brother is an escaped slave who lands on earth; his only physical departure from human normal is his feet. He can fix anything mechanical by touching it.
  • Prince of Darkness sort of falls into this category. The homeless are controlled by the devil, indicating they're at least more susceptible to the supernatural.
  • Absentia: Callie finds what appears to be a homeless man in the tunnel. In fact, he's one of the victims of the trans-dimensional tunnel-dweller. Although the man himself does not have magic powers, his true problems are supernatural in origin and invisible to normal people. From the outside, he just comes across as a crack addict.

Literature

  • Clive Barker's story The Inhuman Condition includes one in the form of Mr. Pope. Although his exact nature is never clarified, he at minimum has a knotted string sealing away monsters, and a book of spells.
  • In the Matthew Swift series of novels, anyone in the know about magic can call on anthropomorphic personifications like The Beggar King for magical assistance by invoking him while going through the daily motions of being homeless - panhandling, sleeping rough, etc. The main character does this once early in the first novel when he is technically homeless (using stolen money to stay in hotel rooms) but it is not clear how common this practice is or how many rough sleepers are aware of their patron deities despite the paper thin Masquerade.
  • Wizard in Wizard of the Pigeons by Megan Lindholm (aka Robin Hobb), who to keep his magic must never have more than a dollar in his pocket, must remain celibate, and he must feed and protect the pigeons.
  • The Gypsy in the novel The Gypsy by Steven Brust and Megan Lindholm (aka Robin Hobb).

Live Action Television

  • Neil Gaiman's Neverwhere has an entire population of these. Once you've entered into their world, mundane humans tend to either ignore you, or not recognize you. The actual level of magical powers they have varies a great deal.

Video Games

  • Tales of the Drunken Paladin has save points in the form of a Magical Hobo (who call themselves exactly that.) They are exceptionally snarky and rude to Anebriate (who isn't exactly a saint himself), and eventually one of them gets thrown into Magical Hobo prison for abandoning his contractually-bound job as a save point because Anebriate pushed his limit to the point of him storming off.
  • In Condemned 2: Bloodshot, protagonist Ethan Thomas has become so shaken from the events of the first game that he becomes a homeless alcoholic. He is nonetheless picked up by the SCU to help with their current case, and in the course of the investigation, he discovers he has the ability to destroy things with his voice.

Webcomics

  • The concept is Played for Laughs in this Critical Miss strip, in which Erin points out to Ryu from Street Fighter that he has no job or education, and just spends his time "throwing fireballs at people."

Western Animation

  • The Polar Express includes a hobo character who seems to fall into this category, although his exact nature is not defined.

Feedback: 73 replies

Sep 29th 2013 at 3:02:42 PM

This should probably be Magical Homeless Person by analogy with Magical Negro, Magical Native American, and so forth. Magical Homelessness sounds like the character's condition of homelessness itself is caused by or related to magic somehow.

Comic Books

Live Action Film

  • In a science-fictional variant, Twelve Monkeys suggests that at least a few seemingly insane homeless people are actually traumatized, displaced time-travelers from Cole's future.

Sep 29th 2013 at 4:02:23 PM

  • Fahrenheit has the Invisibles, an entire secret society of homeless people.

Sep 29th 2013 at 7:32:53 PM

In the Matthew Swift series of novels, anyone in the know about magic can call on anthropomorphic personifications like The Beggar King for magical assistance by invoking him while going through the daily motions of being homeless - panhandling, sleeping rough, etc. The main character does this once early in the first novel when he is technically homeless (using stolen money to stay in hotel rooms) but it is not clear how common this practice is or how many rough sleepers are aware of their patron deities despite the paper thin Masquerade.

Sep 30th 2013 at 12:42:10 AM

The Laconic should never be Exactly What It Says On The Tin. It's supposed to briefly explain what the trope is about. Just assuming that everyone will read the title and immediately realize the nature of the trope is a bad idea.

Sep 30th 2013 at 3:40:57 AM

The Twelve Monkeys example is hardly of magical homeless persons. They might have good reasons to be crazy and homeless, but they're not magical.

Magical Homeless Person is though a good trope, though I'm not sure it should be patterned on the Magical Negro et c tropes in its name. The reason is that a lot of works the person is the protagonist, and thus serve wholly another purpose in the story than the other Magical Person types.

Literature:

  • Wizard in Wizard of the Pigeons by Megan Lindholm (aka Robin Hobb), who to keep his magic must never have more than a dollar in his pocket, must remain celibate, and he must feed and protect the pigeons.
  • The Gypsy in the novel The Gypsy by Steven Brust and Megan Lindholm (aka Robin Hobb).

I think Charles De Lint has also used this type a lot, but I can't come up with any examples right now.

Sep 30th 2013 at 3:44:25 AM

more like Magical Hobo. shorter and means roughly the same thing.

Sep 30th 2013 at 3:55:08 AM

Great name, but that sounds like a snowclone of Magical Negro, which usually isn't about literally magic. It's about wisdom and faith - which very much also comes from hobos, so that name is begging for confusion.

Sep 30th 2013 at 5:08:15 AM

"Wizard" implies that the person wields a certain amount of controllable magical power; in my experience a lot of examples of this trope mostly see things other people can't, access places other people can't, etc.

Sep 30th 2013 at 5:19:34 AM

I agree with Magical Homeless Person or Magical Hobo.

The Laconic should probably say: "A homeless person with magical powers".

Sep 30th 2013 at 6:27:49 AM

All the examples currently listed on the draft need more context.

EDIT: Took the liberty of changing the laconic to what Snicka suggested.

Sep 30th 2013 at 10:21:41 AM

In the film Brother From Another Planet the eponymous brother is an escaped slave who lands on earth; his only physical departure from human normal is his feet. He can fix anything mechanical by touching it.

Sep 30th 2013 at 10:39:16 AM

I think Hobos Are Magical is a better name than Magical Hobo, since the latter would use the same pattern as Magical Negro, Magical Native American and so on, all of which are secondary characters in the story (it's part of their trope definition). The same isn't true here.

Sep 30th 2013 at 10:58:33 AM

  • Tales Of The Drunken Paladin has save points in the form of a Magical Hobo. They are exceptionally snarky and rude to Anebriate (who isn't exactly a saint himself), and eventually one of them gets thrown into Magical Hobo prison for abandoning his contractually-bound job as a save point because Anebriate pushed his limit to the point of him storming off.

Sep 30th 2013 at 11:22:44 AM

What kjnoren said.

Magical Hobo, given the tropes it's snowcloned off of, would be about a hobo who comes in and fixes the plot at the end (the first two Home Alone movies would count, for example). But Hobos Are Magical makes it clear that they're actually connected to the supernatural.

And Magical Homelessness is just right out.

Sep 30th 2013 at 12:28:24 PM

That said, I'm not to happy with Hobos Are Magical either, since that opens for irrelevant aversions (a work has a homeless person who isn't magical). Hobo With Magic, maybe?

Sep 30th 2013 at 1:07:48 PM

A homeless person who isn't magical is People Sit On Chairs, isn't it?

Sep 30th 2013 at 1:55:40 PM

Yeah, and that's very much why the trope name should NOT give the implication that every homeless person is magical.

Oct 2nd 2013 at 3:33:40 AM

after a bit of analyzing, i can see that:


@Larkmarn

the "snowclone" Magical Girlfriend doesn't do that. they are usually a main character as well.

besides a hobo is technically a "minority" person.


also, analyzing it further,

i think it can apply to vagrants/wanderers in general.

why not Wizardlike Wanderer? fits the image of a long bearded wizard wearing robes as well.

Oct 2nd 2013 at 4:40:06 AM

^ Vagrancy does not equal poor and/or homeless though.

Oct 2nd 2013 at 5:05:52 AM

I vote Magical Hobo. It's the best name we've had so far.

Also, Prince Of Darkness sort of falls into this category. The homeless are controlled by the devil, indicating they're at least more susceptible to the supernatural.

Oct 3rd 2013 at 4:33:02 AM

Yeah, vagrancy is exactly the concept we're looking for here, I think, with the coupling of magical ability with some disconnectedness from the rest of the world.

Oct 3rd 2013 at 7:37:44 AM

I'm in for Magical Hobo.

Not sure if the below example works, because Ethan didn't discover his superpowers until after he'd been taken back in by the SCU - but I don't think he had a home yet. Call it as you see it.

Video Games:

  • In Condemned 2: Bloodshot, protagonist Ethan Thomas has become so shaken from the events of the first game that he becomes a homeless alcoholic. He is nonetheless picked up by the SCU to help with their current case, and in the course of the investigation, he discovers he has the ability to destroy things with his voice.

Oct 3rd 2013 at 7:40:31 AM

I should have put ALWAYS into my last post. Being a Vagrant doesn't always equal homelessness...

Oct 3rd 2013 at 12:33:21 PM

  • Kyutaro "God" Kamigama of Twentieth Century Boys is a wise man with psychic abilities and a tendency to speak in bowling metaphors. He is revered by his fellow homeless and even the main characters who meet him acknowledge his intellect.

Oct 4th 2013 at 4:15:50 AM

^^ what you're trying to say here is probably "Vagrants can settle too", which in that case they can no longer be called vagrants.

kjnoren — that makes sense. seconding.

m8e
Oct 4th 2013 at 4:45:19 AM

^Vagrant in the sense of "a person without a permanent home or employment" also includes people like artists(painters, musicians, whatever) that make a living on their art(not employed by someone, no stable income), travels a lot and always sleep at hotels, motels etc.

Or people with temporary(possibly seasonal) work and temporary homes. Or Ronins.

Oct 4th 2013 at 4:52:39 AM

was focusing on home being permanent. i guess you're right.

Oct 4th 2013 at 3:49:37 PM

Webcomics:

Oct 4th 2013 at 3:56:04 PM

^ Weblinks Are Not Examples so you need to give more context than that.

Oct 6th 2013 at 6:48:40 AM

I apologize for the lack of rolling updates, I thought people had lost interest in this trope. Will try to update.

(update as I'm writing) I'm leaving Fahrenheit out, because the poster didn't clarify if they were magical or not.

Updated.

Oct 6th 2013 at 10:48:36 AM

No worries. That said, unless you want to describe a hobo whose main duty story-wise is to impart wisdom and help on the main character, then you shouldn't relate to Magical Negro or Magical Native American. And I still think the Magical X pattern shouldn't be used here.

Oct 6th 2013 at 12:19:24 PM

^ And that's not the only one. Same applies to the Steven Brust and Clive Barker examples under Literature.

Oct 6th 2013 at 1:51:25 PM

This seems to go pretty well with Magical Native American. Magical Negro doesn't really make sense to me, as I don't see what in the description of that trope makes one magical at all.

m8e
Oct 6th 2013 at 2:42:05 PM

Re-reading this is have to ask, why just magic? I'm actually not seeing what makes magic special in this trope compared to time travelers, aliens, superpowered mutant etc. All can fit the two 'reasons'.

The laconic is pretty much "X that happens to be Y".

Oct 7th 2013 at 1:06:45 AM

Trope Decay alert!

We started out with the description of a homeless person with access to some sort of magic, but the various Magical X forms (Magical Negro, Magical Asian, and to some degree Magical Native American) are about characters who assist the main characters with their special skills.

That's why a lot of us say that the trope name needs to be changed, to prevent future trope decay due to an unintended snowclone.

@paradisesnake: The Steven Brust example is more minimal content, since it does give the name of the character who applies (who also happens to be the main character).

Oct 7th 2013 at 4:36:19 AM

^ So... which should be the trope? The first definition or the second one?

Oct 7th 2013 at 5:18:36 AM

^^ Do you even know what Zero Context Example means? A valid example offers more information than just "character X in work Y is an example of trope Z".

For a reader who isn't familiar with the work in question the information value of "this character is a hobo with magical powers" is a flat out zero. You can at least describe the powers this "Gypsy" has and what his(/her?) role in the story is...

Oct 7th 2013 at 8:54:48 PM

I know nothing about the work of Steven Brust, so I'd need someone to give me more information for me to be able to include it.

I'll go ahead and remove the Magical Native American example, and it might be wise to pick another name if we want to separate this trope.

Oct 8th 2013 at 12:14:07 AM

Deadpool enjoys weekly conversations with a homeless man named Gerry. Before fighting Tiamat, however, it is revealed that Gerry is actually Gerald Lequare, fourth founding member of alien-monitoring organization LLL and big-time manipulator of Deadpool's actions and emotions.

Oct 8th 2013 at 3:09:40 PM

Ok, how much more would you guys say needs to be established and/or tweaked before this is launchable?

Oct 8th 2013 at 7:22:27 PM

I think it needs to be better defined why this trope is used.

Oct 8th 2013 at 10:14:28 PM

That's relatively easy to answer: a connection with the supernatural are often expressed as being slightly apart from the concerrns of the "normal" world, and being homeless makes it possible to have a character who is both highly practical and still disconnected.

Oct 8th 2013 at 10:43:33 PM

That's an interesting thesis, but isn't it just as easy to assume it might be a subtrope of the lower status but powerful supporting character, aka Magical Negro, Crouching Moron Hidden Badass

Oct 9th 2013 at 12:35:03 AM

Except this one doesn't necessarily have to be of the powerful supporting character type. He or she might be the main character - the Wizard in the Lindholm book is, and so is the Gypsy in the Brust.

I'd say the strict lower status but folksy wisdom supporting character IS the Magical Negro - the trope name there is slightly misleading, but from the description it's clear it has more to do with role and status, and not with looks.

Oct 9th 2013 at 2:18:58 AM

  • Played For Laughs in The Cleveland Show episode "A Brown Thanksgiving", where a hobo magically teleports Roberta and Federline back to the their homes. His annoyed wife Lampshades he can do that but his family still lives on the streets:
    Hobo: *defensively* We're not supposed to profit from my powers!

m8e
Oct 9th 2013 at 4:54:50 AM

^^we also have Wisdom From The Gutter.

How are these really different/related to each other?

Oct 9th 2013 at 6:15:45 AM

^ One is about wisdom, and the other is about magic. And I still think the use of the word "Magical" in Magical Negro and such is completely stupid.

Oct 9th 2013 at 1:19:51 PM

Italicized and namespaced the examples + did some other formatting.

There's still a lot of little problems with the examples: The Gypsy and Neverwhere examples are Zero Context Examples. Examples Are Not Arguable; either the Prince Of Darkness example is an example of this or it isn't, but we don't list examples that "sort of fall in this category''.

Oct 9th 2013 at 3:01:38 PM

Does the magical hobo from The Polar Express movie count? He doesn't get enough screentime to establish whether he fits type 1 or 2, but he is a hobo, and he seems to be magical.

Oct 9th 2013 at 4:07:29 PM

To curtail the confusion about this trope I'm renaming it "Supernatural Hobo," I also added in the Polar Express example. I'm going to sit on some of the other examples until we have a stronger consensus.

Oct 9th 2013 at 5:37:54 PM

  • Molly from The Dresden Files spends one book as a slightly off-kilter but magically very dangerous homeless person dressd in rags.

Oct 9th 2013 at 6:21:09 PM

Bill Cosby's character from Meteor Man is a homeless man who uses the powers granted by a piece of meteor to make tea.

Oct 9th 2013 at 7:41:37 PM

The Tony Hawks Pro Skater franchise has Ollie The Magic Bum, an amusingly crass panhandling drunkard who teleports when you do a jumping ollie trick over him. He is also a perfectly competent skater despite his terrible posture.

Oct 10th 2013 at 4:00:25 AM

Okay, Supernatural Hobo is better. =)

That said, would we wanna make "Magical Hobo"? (In the lines of Magical Negro, Magical Native American and somesuch)

Agree with someone saying that those tropes need to get rid of the "Magical" and change it into something better. TRS plz.

Oct 10th 2013 at 8:32:32 AM

^ The Magical Negro is, as defined, not being tied to actually being a negro (or black, coloured, or something else related to race). As such, a white hobo should fall under Magical Negro. The key is that the character is a wise enabler and advisor to the (white, cisgendered, male) protagonist.

Oct 10th 2013 at 11:58:45 AM

^ The problem here is that we've just established, ad naseum, that regardless of whether or not a Magical Negro has to be a Negro, he DOES NOT have to be Magical. A Supernatural Hobo on the other hand, MUST be in some way magical.

Oct 11th 2013 at 1:43:53 AM

^ That's why I'm suggesting TRS.

Oct 26th 2013 at 6:03:44 AM

Oh, Trope Repair Shop! Will submit it as soon as there's a free slot.

Apr 10th 2016 at 10:40:04 PM

  • Bruce Almighty: The random recurring background hobo that is always shown with a board with "apocalyptic" writings is revealed to be God himself in disguise.

Apr 11th 2016 at 3:59:29 AM

Tabletop Games

  • Champions supplement Organization Book 3: The Blood and Dr McQuark. Pathfinder has several Blood superpowers, including creating illusions and teleportation. After he murdered his father, he was overcome with guilt and became a homeless alcoholic wanderer known as "the meanest hobo in the universe".

Apr 11th 2016 at 8:32:17 AM

Sep 15th 2016 at 11:16:56 PM

Let's see how this'll end up

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