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Literature / Wizard of the Pigeons

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On the far western shore of a northern continent, there was once a harbour city called Seattle. It did not have much of a reputation for sunshine and beaches, but it did have plenty of rain, and the folk who lived there were wont to call it 'the Emerald City' for the greenness of its foliage. And the other thing it boasted was a great friendliness that fell upon strangers like its rain, but with more warmth. And in that city, there dwelt a wizard.

Wizard of the Pigeons is an Urban Fantasy novel written by Megan Lindholm and published in 1986. The protagonist is a wizard, one of several people living on the fringes of society in Seattle with one foot in the world of magic. He is called Wizard: he doesn't remember who he was before. One thing he does remember is that there are rules: he must never have more than a dollar in his pocket, must remain celibate, and he must feed and protect the pigeons.

As the novel progresses, Wizard is called on to face a shadowy menace connected to the past he has forgotten.


This novel provides examples of:

  • …And That Little Girl Was Me: Cassie has a tendency to convey information like this. At one point, she tells Wizard a story about a group of boys, and at the end it turns out he was one of the characters in the story (although not the one he was expecting). Later, she tells him a story about a little girl, and he sarcastically predicts the "And That Little Girl Was Me" ending (and is so busy being a smartass that he neglects to actually think about why he's been told the story, and fails to learn anything from it). There's also a point where she tells him an anecdote in first person, but ends by saying that it didn't actually happen to her; she just told it that way because that's how the story is traditionally told.
  • Blue-Collar Warlock: Wizard lives on the fringes of society amongst the street people, and was a soldier (implicitly serving in Vietnam) before becoming a wizard.
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  • Conditional Powers: Wizard and his colleagues each have a condition on which their powers depend. Some of Wizard's troubles in the book result from him forgetting which of the rules he lives by is the condition, and which are just rules he's given himself.
  • Dumpster Dive: How wizard scavenges a lot of his stuff and some of his meals.
  • Enslaved Tongue: When someone asks Wizard a question, part of his magic he calls Truth compels him to answer them with honesty. This includes things he logically wouldn't know about, which his magic fills in for him.
  • Everyone Calls Him "Barkeep": Wizard has a name. Nobody but the villain knows what it is.
  • His Name Really Is "Barkeep": Wizard. He took that name when he became a wizard, and for much of the book, he has no memory of what he might have been called before.
  • Homeless Pigeon Person: Wizard.
  • Kick the Dog: The first thing Mir does to make its presence known to Wizard is to attack his cat and take its foot as a trophy.
  • Lethal Harmless Powers: Summoning pigeons for feeding time seems harmless enough, right? Wizard and Cassie call them and command them to feed on the villain.
  • Loss of Identity: Wizard doesn't remember anything about who he was before he became a wizard. He's not the only one; becoming attuned to magic goes hand-in-hand with letting go of your previous life, memories, and basic perception of reality.
  • Maybe Magic, Maybe Mundane: It is not always clear whether an event is genuine magic or just misapprehension or coincidence.
  • Perception Filter: Part of Wizard's magic is to make others perceive him in whatever way is most useful to him. Some examples include ingratiating himself to a family at a diner by making them believe he's an anxious man about to propose to his wife, to making himself unnoticeable so others won't notice him eating the aforementioned family's leftovers when they leave.
  • Playground Song: One of Wizard's colleagues reads omens and portents in children's playground songs. The songs that portend the arrival of the main menace are pretty ominous:
    Billy was a sniper, Billy got a gun,
    Billy thought killing was fun fun fun.
    How many slopes did Billy get?
    One, two, three, four...
  • Shell-Shocked Veteran: Wizard is a veteran (likely of the Vietnam War). Since much of the conflict arises when Mir starts re-introducing memories of Wizard's past life to him, many bouts of PTSD follow Wizard through the story.
    • At one point, he recalls how being in a homeless shelter for a night brought back nightmares from his old life (implied to be due to its similarity to a barracks), upsetting him so much that he refused to go back, even though it meant nearly dying of hypothermia in the Seattle winter.
  • With Great Power Comes Great Insanity: The novel is based on a radical re-interpretation of this trope. Magic usually comes hand in hand with letting go of your previous life, memories, and basic perception of reality. Usually, the mage is so divorced from the outside world that he or she cannot hold down a job or personal relationship, and usually ends up living on the street. They also have to follow their own set of arbitrary rules and rituals, implicitly for the Placebotinum Effect. Cassie has been doing this since the Trojan War.