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Wise Old Turtle

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Turtles are often fairly long-lived animals, especially compared to other creatures their size. The common tortoise, a species native to the Mediterranean area and often kept as a pet, is fully capable of outliving its human owners. Giant tortoises, such as those native to the Galapagos and Seychelles islands, are the longest-living land vertebrates of all: Galapagos giant tortoises often live to a century in the wild, and one specimen lived for one hundred and seventy years in captivity, while Seychelles giant tortoises are thought to reach around two centuries of age — their tendency to outlive human observers has made their exact lifespan difficult to verify.

The result is that tortoises and turtles have obtained well-earned reputations as immensely long-lived animals, something that often carries over to their portrayals in popular culture. Turtle characters are often very old, much older than other characters they interact with. The association of old age with wisdom and life experience is carried over and naturally brought to extremes — since they're so old, these ancient reptiles can be expected to have seen and done a great many things over their long, long lives, and to have had time to accumulate extensive troves of wisdom and insights to share with younger and more inexperienced characters. In worlds of Funny Animals, Talking Animals, Civilized Animals and the like, tortoises tend to be cast as various iterations of the Mentor Archetype. Depending on the individual experiences and disposition the aged chelonian in question, they may be a Cynical Mentor, an Eccentric Mentor, an Old Master or any other subtrope, but regardless of the type turtles and tortoises are some of the likeliest animals to be cast as wise, old mentor figures.

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This can extend to turtle-themed characters, even if they are not actual turtles themselves.

See also Sturdy and Steady Turtles, Turtle Island, and Turtle Power for other common portrayals of turtles and tortoises in fiction. See Lovable Lizard for another reptile commonly portrayed in a positive light.


Examples:

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    Advertising 
  • One televised ad for Tootsie Pops has an animated boy query some characters: "How many licks does it take to get to the Tootsie Roll center of a Tootsie Pop?" The boy asks this question of Mister Turtle, who concedes that he never made it without biting through the hard candy shell. Mister Turtle may not have the ready knowledge, but he's wise enough to admit his shortcoming with an honest answer.

    Anime & Manga 
  • Dragon Ball: Master Roshi, the Turtle Hermit and Goku's first mentor. He's an old man with a prominent turtle motif — he leads the Turtle School and carries a turtle shell on his back.
  • Mori No Ando: The wise old turtle whom the animals go to for advice and who appears to be able to read kanji.
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    Comic Books 
  • Bamse: It is implied that the turtle Skalman is much older than any other regular character in the franchise, and he also is very smart and wise.

    Films — Animation 
  • Finding Nemo: This trope is referenced at the beginning of the movie when Nemo mentions that a schoolmate told him that turtles can live for a hundred years. Later on, Crush the sea turtle is a bit of a twist on the trope. While at first he doesn't act like a typical wise old mentor, being instead a laid-back Surfer Dude, he still gives Marlin useful advice for his quest... and when Marlin asks him his age, he answers that he's a hundred and fifty — and still young.
  • Kung Fu Panda: Master Oogway, the mentor to Po's own mentor Master Shifu, is incredibly wise and old, the inventor of Kung Fu and one of the greatest masters of that martial art in history, and still badass enough to drop the nigh-unstoppable Tai Lung with a lightning-fast nerve strike pattern.
  • In The Land Before Time IV: Journey Through the Mists, an Archelon named Archie aids Littlefoot and his friends on their quest, dispensing valuable wisdom and even coming to their rescue on multiple occasions.

    Literature 
  • The Grace of Kings: Lutho, one of the members of the pantheon, has the sea turtle as his "pawi" (totem) and is the god of fishermen, divination, mathematics, and knowledge, and in practice basically the good Trickster God counterpart to another god in the pantheon, Tazu, who is the god of chaos and chance and is rather malevolent. Lutho, like the other gods, manipulates humans behind the scenes to achieve his desired (benevolent) ends, and in one instance plays the role of Old Master to one character, an intellectual master-strategist, and gifts him with a magical Great Big Book of Everything. The reader is clued into the fact that the wise old man is Lutho, partly because he's described as looking rather like a turtle.
  • In the Liaden Universe series, the Clutch Turtles are an alien race who resemble anthropomorphic turtles, who live a long time and are known for carefully considering every action before they take it. The one who gets the most page time, The Edger, is nearly nine hundred years old — and considered young and reckless by the standards of his people.
  • The Neverending Story: There is a mountain-sized turtle named Morla the Ancient One, the oldest living creature in Fantastica besides the eternal Childlike Empress and Old Man of Wandering Mountain, who offers some useful advice at a key point. She is so old and cynical that she believes there is nothing of interest or importance left in the world, and no longer cares whether she continues existing.
  • Spellsinger: In the magical world where animals talk, wear clothing and live alongside humans, the wizard Clothahump is a turtle. He's the closest the setting has to Wizard Classic, except, as a turtle, he isn't into robes and pointy hats.

     Puppet Shows 
  • Jeremiah Tortoise in Bear in the Big Blue House. The oldest resident of Woodland Valley, and a regular source of advice and living history.

    Video Games 
  • Final Fantasy V: The ancient Sage Ghido, a talking turtle around the size of a human, is the oldest living creature in the world, supremely wise, monumentally sarcastic (especially towards Bartz) and can engage Exdeath in hand-to-hand combat that leaves the young adventurers positively flabbergasted. He still needs help flipping over if knocked on his back, though.
  • Pokémon: The turtle-like Pokémon Wartortle is extremely long-lived: its Pokédex entries have noted it to be an In-Universe symbol of longevity since the first generation games, and later ones specify it as having a lifespan of 10,000 years.
  • Touhou: Genjii is a giant wise old turtle that serves as main character Reimu's advisor and means of flying in the early games. However, from the sixth game onwards, Reimu is capable of flying on her own and Genjii is nowhere to be seen. Word of God Hand Wave it as him retiring and living quietly in the pond behind the shrine.

    Web Animation 
  • Pucca has the Wise Turtle, who is apparently a master ninja who makes fortune cookies that always seem to come true.

    Western Animation 
  • Avatar: The Last Airbender: The lion-turtles are mountain-sized creatures thousands of years old, who originally gave humanity the ability to bend the elements. In thanks, the humans hunted them to near-extinction. The last one gives Aang the ability to block someone's bending ability, which comes in handy for the final battle.
  • In Dink, the Little Dinosaur, the wizened old turtle Crusty serves as a mentor to Dink and his friends. A grandfatherly figure, he even has white sideburns that emphasize his years of experience.
  • Miraculous Ladybug: Master Fu is Marinette and Adrien's elderly mentor of sorts and wielder of the Turtle Miraculous. He chose them to be wielders, explains the Miraculous' past to them, and (sort of) teaches them how to upgrade their powers. He's also 186 years old, and looks like he's in his fifties.
  • Wunschpunsch: In each episode, Jacob and Mauricio consult with one to get information on the Curse Escape Clause for today's evil spell.
  • The Lion Guard has an African spurred tortoise named Kongwe, who is known to be the wisest and oldest animal in the Pride Lands and frequently engages in Cryptic Conversation. Her debut episode has her being escorted by Fuli and Makini to Pride Rock so she can offer some helpful advice on how to defeat Scar's spirit. While Fuli (being a cheetah) was initially frustrated by Kongwe needing to take things slowly and stopping to observe her surroundings, she gradually takes the tortoise's advice to heart especially when it helps her defeat Makucha the leopard.

    Real Life 

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