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Wandering Minstrel

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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!"
Nanki-Poo, The Mikado

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 Court 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). A particularly adventurous minstrel may join up with The Hero as their personal Tagalong Chronicler.

Often found playing Source Music, and has a habit of commenting on the action with some Suspiciously Apropos Music.

Compare with The Bard. Not to be confused with Quirky Bard or The Bard of Avon; and especially not with Minstrel Shows.


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    Anime & Manga 
  • In The 100 Girlfriends Who Really, Really, Really, Really, Really Love You, Uto Nakaji claims to be this. She certainly dresses the part, and acts like she's acquired a treasure trove of wisdom from a lifetime of travel. In reality, she's a chuunibyou who lives in the same town as all the other characters, and all of her attempts to sound profound are ice cream koans at best. She can't even sing, play instruments, or write songs very well at all, though she does put her heart into it when she tries.
  • Pokémon the Series: Diamond and Pearl: Nando has the aesthetic, being a rather calm and kind individual with a penchant for strumming a Mew-themed harp and using Antiquated Linguistics. He leaves a lasting impression on his rivals by challenging their world views on what it means to be trainer and having more than one path in life, and proves a skilled trainer by attaining eight Gym badges and five Contest ribbons in the time it would take someone to attain one set, all while continuing to spread tranquility to those that will listen to his harp.
  • Queen's Blade Grimoire has Despina, who is an Expy to The Pied Piper of Hamelin. She used to be a ratter, but she became the Demon of Winter's first in command, and now enthralls beautiful women using her horn.
  • The Tokyo Ghoul novels include recurring character Ikuma Momochi, a peaceful Ghoul that moved to the big city to become a musician. When he's not the Butt-Monkey of Chie's schemes, he's offering advice to a variety of characters that stop to listen to him playing at train stations and public parks.

    Comic Books 

    Fan Works 
  • In The Changeling of the Guard, upon Luna's return, she's inundated by wandering minstrels (both mares and stallions, and there's mention of a gryphon) who seek to gain her favor by courting her at length. While at first amusing, Idol Hooves and the rest of the Royal Guard quickly grow frustrated, mostly because the bards all use the same phrasing and melodies. (Though there was one mare who very nearly smuggled a glass harmonica over a castle wall, somehow.)
    Idol Hooves: Sir, call her your light in the darkness and I am authorized to beat you soundly.
    Bard: ...been said?
    Idol Hooves: At length.
  • One makes a brief appearance in The Keys Stand Alone: The Soft World, having been charged by the gods to walk around singing “Norwegian Wood” endlessly until he finds the people who recognize the song, and deliver them a message. He's quite grateful when he finally does—his feet are killing him, and he desperately needs to go to the bathroom.

    Film — Animated 
  • Fflewddur Fflam is a self-styled bard and the tritagonist in The Black Cauldron. Fflewddur has a magic harp that will break a string or two every time Fflewddur tells a lie or colors in the facts, which he does somewhat frequently (i.e. exaggerating his own courage or musical talent).
  • The anthropomorphic rooster Alan-a-Dale (voiced by Roger Miller) acts as the narrator and occasional participant in the action of Robin Hood (1973). As he himself puts it:
    Oh, incidentally, I'm Alan-A-Dale, a minstrel. That's an old-time folk singer. My job is to tell it like it is, or was, or whatever.

    Film — Live-Action 

  • 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 who was holding him so they could negotiate a ransom.)

  • In 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.
  • 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 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.
  • The Chronicles of Prydain have Fflewddur Fflam, an inept minstrel whose lute, due to a curse, snaps a string whenever he tells a lie (which is mostly when he's being humble about his own accomplishments, trying to be diplomatic, or talk his way out of violent trouble). On the other hand, he's a surprisingly badass fighter. It turns out he's also a minor king of tiny region in the setting (one can walk across it, at a leisurely pace, in less than a day) who always liked playing music and telling stories to make people happy more than he did ruling anybody.
  • In Dragon Bones, Ward learns that his brother Tosten has become one of those. He agrees that it's for the best, as Tosten is good at it, but was a bit worried about his pretty brother spending time in the company of drunken sailors. Tosten later becomes a Warrior Poet, who can ensure his own safety.
  • 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 in the other hemisphere waiting to be settled, but the population believes the world is flat and that their chief deity will punish them for attempting to reach the edge). 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. Should the first party sent after a nobleman is wiped out, the Brotherhood puts together another, five times the size. Unlike the first party, this force isn't planning on sparing anyone, who stands in their way, which is why most people are reluctant to fight them. After that, they return to their lutes and songs.
  • 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.
  • 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). Heralds with any musical talent will sometimes go undercover as these; at least one Bardic trainee was Chosen by a Companion late in his training and could go undercover as a full Bard.
  • In Michael Flynn's The January Dancer, a woman appears in the opening by going into the bar and beginning to play.
  • The nameless bard in The Last Hero. It's not clear whether he was one before he got shanghai'd by the Silver Horde, but at the end of the story it's implied that he'd be singing their saga all over the Disc. Notably, he starts off looking pretty much like the page image, but ends the story looking more like a Viking skald.
  • The titular character in the Lythande stories is a mercenary mage with a love of music, and carries a lute to sing for supper when magical employment isn't available (or desirable).
    • In the story "The Wandering Lute", Lythande switches lutes with someone who needs to get back to his kingdom to be crowned king; the titular wandering lute is enchanted to keep its bearer on the exact same route, year after year. Unable to break that enchantment, Lythande has no choice but to be that wandering minstrel. In the end, Lythande pawns the lute off on a dragon in human form who admires it...
    • The same wandering lute, with new minstrel attached, makes another appearance in "The Gratitude of Kings". Luckily, the dragoness isn't compelled by the lute and finds the trick amusing.
  • 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.
  • A Necklace of Fallen Stars: Kippen is a flutist who travels across the land. He was tutored by a wondering minstrel himself, who gave him his current instrument. Kaela bases one of her characters off of Kippen, including the instrument he plays.
  • The Reynard Cycle: All of the priests and priestesses of Wulf, the Watcher (who is the personification of death), are wandering minstrels of one variety or another. Their grim songs and stories tend to make most people uncomfortable, but they are highly respected, and are given food and shelter wherever they go. They are also occasionally hired by the wealthy to perform concerts, or perform theatrically. The mysterious disappearance of one who plays the fiddle opens Reynard the Fox.
  • Santiago: A Myth of the Far Future: Black Orpheus is a legendary musician who roams up and down the galaxy's Inner Frontier, writing stanzas about the places he visits and the colorful characters that he meets on his travels. He never appears in person, nor interacts with any of the principal characters in the main plot, but his epic ballad is half the reason that all the novel's characters know each other by name and reputation.
  • 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.
  • A Song of Ice and Fire has several, often portrayed as handsome lads of dubious morals (especially where the ladies are concerned), all of whom come armed with a stunning ability to completely mangle the events they put to music (be said events current, historical, legendary or merely rumour). As the equivalent of the Westerosi news organisation/ network... well... they really aren't organised, and you can forget journalistic ethics; they're all individuals out to make their livings by whatever means they can: fair or foul. It's also something of a Running Gag for them to come to either ironic, downright sardonically cruel or just plain sticky ends when their ambitions even come remotely near to getting them what they think they want. A nameless singer is mutilated on the orders of King Joffrey for a crowd-pleasing, but subversive, song about Queen Cersei and the late King Robert; Symon Silvertongue ends up almost certainly dead and very likely in a pot of stew after trying to blackmail Tyrion; Marillion is tortured for at least a week into falsely confessing to the murder of his new, dream patron, Lysa Arryn, which then ensures his own judicial murder; Dareon is murdered by Arya Stark after he deserts from the Night's Watch seeking fame and fortune far from the Wall (at least it was quick). It's not clear what has happened to Mance Rayder under his cover of "Abel the Bard", but... it's unlikely to have been (or currently be) a barrel of fun: sieges and high politics almost never are. Tom of Sevens is still alive, but his life expectancy as a spy for a gang of notorious outlaws in the Riverlands would make an actuary inhale like a plumber seeing a challenging job. The Blue Bard is currently too crazy and under a constant watch to manage his own suicide after disfiguring torture at the hands of both Qyburn and the Faith for a fair amount of time, the poor bugger (Hamish the Harper would be in the same position, except Qyburn couldn't keep the much older singer alive long enough to get brainwashed and passed along to the Faith)... The short version: you're rather better off taking an entertainment career as a mime, mummer or fool than as a musician in Westeros; wandering or not.
  • The Stormlight Archive: Played with. Worldsingers are not storytellers, but rather a formalized sort of Mr. Exposition. They teach about foreign lands in order to "make the world a smaller place" and bring people closer together. They therefore know quite a bit about history, religion, and politics, but very little about stories and legends. Doesn't stop everyone else from treating them like your basic minstrel, though, which annoys them to no end.
  • Phyllis Eisenstein's Alaric from Tales of 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.)
  • Villains by Necessity: Robin, who uses his profession as cover to spy on the villains, using as justification the fact that there aren't many adventurers left, and he wants to write a ballad about them. He sings and plays his harp all throughout The Quest. They're sometimes annoyed but often genuinely entertained, while some of Robin's useful lore (he has a huge catalogue memorized) that relates to their goal.
  • 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.
  • Windhaven: A number of side characters are of this profession. Among other things, the story explores the subtle type of power that otherwise powerless bards can have in a world without writing.
  • 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.

    Live-Action TV 
  • Cantus in Fraggle Rock is a mystical example.
  • Game of Thrones: Marillion, who accompanies Catelyn and Tyrion to the Vale and has his tongue removed by Ser Ilyn Payne.
  • Jaskier (known as Dandelion in other English media) from The Witcher is a world-famous bard who often travels with the titular hero, Geralt of Rivia, and serves as his hype man. He composes the series' signature Ear Worm "Toss a Coin to Your Witcher" at the end of his first episode. He's played by Joey Batey, who does the singing as well.
  • Gabrielle from Xena: Warrior Princess becomes a wandering Bard for a while, before becoming Action Girl Jr.

  • The eponymous Bard of Blind Guardian's "The Bard's Song." The song itself is all about how the songs the bard sings will be remembered when whoever hears them closes their eyes.
  • Power/folk metal band Falconer have this as a gimmick, acting as wandering minstrels for their concerts.
  • Scholars of historical medieval music often draw a distinction between the Troubadours (nobles who wrote and performed their own songs), Minstrels (musicians who accompanied the troubadours, sometimes as a permanent house band and sometimes traveling from one court to the next), and Jongleurs (wandering vagabond types that we usually associate with this trope, closest to street musicians or buskers). The difference was at least as much one of social class as of musical style, however.

    Tabletop Games 
  • 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 has Seen It All, traveled everywhere and gave a concert even in the Underdark (for drow and local fairies) at least once.

  • In Henry IV, Part 2, Hal and a friend disguise themselves as minstrels to get into Falstaff's house and prank him.
  • 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.

    Video Games 
  • Wandering minstrels infest the streets in Assassin's Creed II, and they're always pestering people (Ezio Auditore in particular) for money. They can also be found in the streets of Rome in Assassin's Creed: Brotherhood, but they are much less numerous due to now sharing the invokedGoddamn Bats spot with groups of female beggars.
  • The main character of The Bard's Tale spoofs this character type. The eponymous bard starts out the game by summoning and dismissing his rat familiar to scam rewards out of tavern wenches, and, per the game's tagline, is only really motivated by 'coin and cleavage'.
  • Leliana from Dragon Age, at least in her life before the Chantry. Of course, "bards" are more often than not professional spies, but their job still involves considerable amounts of musical entertainment. In Orlais, it apparently adds spice to a party to know that the performing bard might be spying on you, or planning to assassinate you. Appropriately for a bard, Leliana is the most Genre Savvy person in your party.
    • Dragon Age: Inquisition has Zither! the Virtuoso. He's more of a traditional RPG bard as a magic-casting musician. Originally announced as an April Fool's joke, he was eventually made an actual playable character in multiplayer via DLC. There's also Maryden Halewell, a perfectly normal minstrel who performs in every tavern in the game; she has a war table operation where she asks for your help in dealing with a rival minstrel.
  • The main character of Dragon Quest IX poses as one/becomes one near the beginning of the game.
  • In Dragon Quest IV, Laurel, one of the two mercenaries you meet in Torneko's chapter, is a former minstrel who gave up the life because it didn't pay him well enough.
  • Dwarf Fortress In DF these wonderful people can visit your fortress and they can even petition you to work at your fortress! You can also play as one in adventure mode, you can even become a jester for a lord if you can prove to them that you are skilled enough!
  • The Elder Scrolls V: Skyrim has Talsgar the Wanderer, an NPC bard whom you may encounter out on the road or in taverns. Pay him a bit of coin and he'll sing you a song.
    • The taverns in major cities also employ bards, thereby removing the 'wandering' part of their job description, and you can enroll as a student in the Bards' College yourself (though you'll never actually do any studying). If the Hearthfire DLC is installed, you can also hire bards to become resident musicians at any of the three homes you can build.
  • Europa Universalis IV has a random event in which you're informed of the growing fame of a wandering minstrel. You have the choice of bringing them to your court and hiring them as an adviser, or letting them go where their heart desires, which increases the stability of your nation. The latter is almost always the better choice. Wander on, you crazy minstrel.
  • Final Fantasy XIV has a recurring NPC called... well, the Wandering Minstrel, who is an Author Avatar of the game's director Naoki Yoshida. He serves as a Framing Device for the Harder Than Hard Extreme trials and Savage raids by retelling your character's experiences in song, but greatly embellished (and thus more difficult).
  • Hurdy of Final Fantasy Tactics A2 is one of these, and can use his music to cast buffs/debuffs. He's arguably one of the most useful support characters in the whole game.
  • Toyed with in the Fire Emblem Jugdral games. Levin pretends to be one of these in the first part of Genealogy of the Holy War when in reality he's a King Incognito, whereas Homeros from Thracia 776 is more of the real deal. Both of them are also Wind Magic users.
  • Venti from Genshin Impact is a mysterious, quirky bard who wanders around the country of Mondstadt, reciting poems, telling ancient stories of the land, and playing Magic Music with his harp.
  • In Kingdom of Loathing, choosing the Avatar of Boris challenge path replaces your familiar slot with Boris's trusty bard Clancy, who plays songs after combat with effects that differ depending on which instrument he's using.
  • In King's Quest IV, Rosella encounters a wandering minstrel who is terrible at making music. She helps him by giving him a book of William Shakespeare, which leads him to decide he wants to be an actor instead.
  • The Lord of the Rings Online has the Minstrel class that can play Magic Music on an assortment of instruments to heal allies or harm enemies. Minstrels can also teach the use of instruments to characters of any class, who can then play preprogrammed music files to entertain other players (though not in combat).
  • Ōkami introduces Issun as "Wandering Minstrel Issun".
  • In Romancing Saga and its Updated Re-release Romancing Saga: Minstrel Song, The Minstrel hangs out in the local pub and serves as Mr. Exposition, and can be recruited if you talk to him enough times. However, he leaves whenever you visit the next bar, and depending on the player's actions, may become completely unrecruitable late in the game, depending on whether or not you complete the Trials of Elore and discover his identity.
  • The Sims Medieval: The Bard Hero Sim, whose duty is to gather inspiration from around the kingdom in order to write plays, perform poetry, and play the lute to entertain the populace.
  • The Witcher. Geralt's friend, Dandelion, who gets a big kick out of turning Geralt's exploits into ballads. By The Witcher 3: Wild Hunt, Dandelion has inherited a cabaret and settled down, but disappears before appearing in the game, kicking off a quest to find him that includes a Yennefer-inspired ballet and Geralt acting in both a theater production and a street performance.


    Web Original 
  • Fire Emblem on Forums has a few examples, fittingly of the Bard class:
    • Final Hour: Lillian Rose, the party's bard with a Dark and Troubled Past.
    • Mortal Transgressions: Justine Wagner, codename Minstrel, is a wandering, well, minstrel with no small amount of skill with a blade and a reputation for being a Serial Romeo.
  • Homestar Runner: In the unfinished cartoon "Tis True, Pom Pom, Tis True", Homestar comes to think he's a medieval bard after taking a blow to the head.
  • 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.

    Western Animation 
  • The singing nomads the GAang encounters in Avatar: The Last Airbender are half wandering minstrels, half New Age Retro Hippies.note 
  • The Beetlejuice episode "Robbin Juice of Sherweird Forest" introduces Alan Airedale, a lute-playing dog who sings about Beetlejuice's antics throughout the show. He even invokes the trope when he introduces himself, to the tune of "Pop Goes the Weasel."
    My name is Alan Airedale, and I'm a wand'ring minstreeeel;
    I'm here to tell your story in song... but I can't think of anything that rhymes with minstreeeel.
  • Blazing Dragons has a character literally known as the Wandering Minstrel, who serves as a sort of Lemony Narrator for the show.
  • In the Lilo & Stitch: The Series episode "Tank", "Weird Al" Yankovic voices a singing minstrel who follows the duo around narrating their triumphs and woes (eventually leading to Stitch just smashing the minstrel's guitar to get him to stop).
  • On Muppet Babies (1984), during a Medieval European Fantasy sequence, Rowlf took the role until Piggy could take no more of his music.
  • This was the career wish of Mikey Blumberg from Recess.