Encyclopedia of Fantasy (1997)

Typically someone who supports and protects another. It was common from earliest days to look upon a God as a patron or protector; e.g., Hermes was upheld as the patron of shepherds, travellers and thieves. The Physicians of Kos formed a guild which they called the Asklepiadai, with Asklepios, the god of healing, as their patron. Guilds continue to take on patrons today, usually patron saints – St Pantaleon is the modern patron of physicians. Many countries have their own patrons: England's St George brought with him the legend of George and the Dragon. George allegedly became patron of England because Arthur flew the banner of St George. In popular tradition, however, Arthur himself is a more highly regarded patron as legend has it that he will return and save England in its moment of need. The Preraphaelites chose another Arthurian link in adopting Galahad as their patron.

In fantasy patrons may take several forms. In Fairytales they are usually Fairy Godmothers; in Slick Fantasy they may be guardian Angels – the best-known example is the angel Clarence in It's a Wonderful Life (1946); in High Fantasy they are normally Wizards – Gandalf serves as a patron to Bilbo and the Dwarfs in The Hobbit (1937) and to Frodo and his Companions in Lord of the Rings (1954-1955), in which role he may also be seen as a Mentor. One of the best examples of patrons as protectors occurs in Lammas Night (1983) by Katherine Kurtz, where all of the UK's patrons, including the Witches, pool their powers to save the land during the Battle of Britain, as they had centuries before against the Spanish Armada. Patrons, like guardian angels, frequently work in secret. One of the objects of their work may be to protect a dispossessed prince or Hidden Monarch, as with Merlin and the young Arthur, Gandalf and Aragorn in LOTR, and Belgarrath and Garion in David Eddings's Belgariad sequence. [MA]

see also: Secret Sharer.

This entry is taken from the Encyclopedia of Fantasy (1997) edited by John Clute and John Grant. It is provided as a reference and resource for users of the SF Encyclopedia, but apart from possible small corrections has not been updated.