Monday, April 18, 2011

P is for Paladin

Emperor Charles the Great by Albrecht Dürer
Roland, the most famous of Charlemagne's Paladins.
And you thought I was done after blogging about Knight Arthur and his Knights of the Round Table!  Not when Charlemagne had his Twelve Peers, who were also known as Paladins (literally, "of the Palace").  But the term paladin has come to have special freight in our day.  It started with this guy, seen below.

The titular character of Have Gun--Will Travel was simply known as "Paladin."  The connection between the Western hero (or cowboy) and the Knight (chevalier or cavalier) is made explicit with his calling card.  Not convinced?  Give the ballad a listen.

It's no surprise that the hero on the white horse moved from Medieval Western Europe to the 19th C. Western United States.  The translation will also be made back and forth with the Samurai in Japanese movies, particularly those of the great Akira Kurosawa. Then along came the Dungeons & Dragons phenomena in the 70s and 80s.  Little boys who'd never heard of Charlemagne were suddenly pretending to be warriors who were not only noble, but even holy and righteous.  It was Lawful Good or bust!

A Paladin in Hell by David Sutherland
This iconic hero thus spread throughout everything touched by D&D, including the MMORPG behemoth World of Warcraft, and children's cartoons.  Behold today's paladin, adventuring weekly on Cartoon Network!  (If you've been following me previously, you know he's one of my current favorites.)

"I'm a righteous boy!  I can't do that, it's against my alignment!"
The way we picture the righteous, noble warrior may change, but this iconic hero is here to stay.  Let's close with Paizo Publishing's take on the paladin.  Though clearly within the tradition, in this case it's no stretch to say...

Illustration by Alex Aparin.

You've come a long way, baby.

EDIT: Just found this site.  Hopefully it will be expanded.


  1. I played a Paladin in World of Warcraft for a few years. It was a lot of fun. I never did any role playing but I found the lore of the Paladin very interesting.

  2. Nice article and nice bumping into you :D

  3. Thanks for your comment, M Pax! Nice to be bumped into.

    Sarah: Did you intend your comment to be enlightening and controversial? :) It warmed my grognardic cockles.

    I can't believe I just thought of this: Finn, the paladin, is an orphan. Ward Pendleton, I demand you comment! Or beg, whichever works.

  4. This is great!! I have to say I wouldn't have thought Adventure Time and Paladin in the same realm, but as you said, we've come a long way.
    I never really heard the word Paladin until my husband and children started role-playing years ago. Since then, the word bounces around my house, along with many other D&D terms. I've been educated via rpg.
    Great blog, just popped by via a surprise me button. Always good fun!

  5. Thanks, Heather! We old-timers learned a lot of arcane vocabulary from the purple prose of Gary Gygax's rule-books.