Hedge-Wizards and Hedge-Parsons

The Grey Mouser, along with Fafhrd the Northerner hero of Fritz Leiber’s genre-defining sword & sorcery story cycle, is the archetype of the Dungeons & Dragons thief. He began his career however, Leiber informs us, as apprentice to a “hedge-wizard” who taught him some simple magical cantrips. I never understood what a hedge-wizard was, until now. I imagined it had to do with living in a squalid cottage out in the fields and being in touch with nature, druid-like.

Reading Avram Davidson’s story “The King Across the Mountains”, I now came across a hedge-parson. And googling, I found out that such a priest was once “an Irish priest ordained without having studied at a regular college, but at a hedge school”. And such a school was “in Ireland, school kept in a hedge corner. An open air school”. (All according to Arthur English, A Dictionary of Words and Phrases Used in Ancient and Modern Law, Washington D.C. 1899.)

I wonder what sort of reader Leiber was envisioning, who would be able to make and appreciate the hedge-wizard – hedge-parson link.

Update 17 March: Dear Reader Derek points to an excellent selection of usage for the word “hedge-priest” and explains, “I think, the sort of reader who, like Leiber, would have read Sir Walter Scott’s Ivanhoe, that was quite popular in his day. Thanks to Scott and other 19th century authors, and their imitators, the hedge-priest was quite a cliché of historical novels set in mediaeval England.”

I haven’t read Ivanhoe in English and my edition is abbreviated. One part that’s been omitted, I now discover, is the argument in chapter 33 where the Prior calls Brother Tuck a hedge-priest.

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12 thoughts on “Hedge-Wizards and Hedge-Parsons

  1. I think, the sort of reader who, like Leiber, would have read Sir Walter Scott’s Ivanhoe, that was quite popular in his day. Thanks to Scott and other 19th century authors, and their imitators, the hedge-priest was quite a cliché of historical novels set in mediaeval England.

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  2. I forgot to say, the character Scott is describing as a hedge-priest is none other than Friar Tuck, the famous companion of Robin Hood.

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  3. I don’t know that you need to know about hedge parsons in particular. “Hedge knight” is a term quite common in fantasy, describing a knight with no master, somone who might have to sleep in a hedge from time to time, and could quite possibly have older origins, and one meaning of “hedge” in Merriam-Webster is “inferior”.

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  4. Interesting (especially from the comments), that this is somewhat formal term from the period! I attended a lecture on parenting recently, and the speaker (an ex-pat Australian) referred to a particular child personality (the kind who constantly negotiates rules) as a “bush lawyer.” It seems to me “hedge wizard” would fall into the same category 😉

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  5. I fear that the dictionary definition is a little romantic – “hedge priest” is a phrase going back to Tudor England – it appears in one of the examinations in Foxe’s Book of Martyrs amongst other places.
    The use of ‘hedge” was an insult, implying the usual implication that country people are uneducated. A “hedge priest” was used to describe someone who may have been a priest but was a poor one, or who was not a priest but pretending to be one.
    This is a historian’s comment – it may not help with your question. Such phrases take on their own life and can have different meanings in different contexts.

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  6. I read my first anthology with Fafhrd and the Mouser in 1980, (they have not aged well since). They also made a cameo appearence in Pratchett’s first Discworld novel (and referred to Rincewind as a “gutter wizard”).
    BTW today is St. Patrick’s Day, here are some muscular Irish heroes. http://freethoughtblogs.com/pharyngula/files/2013/03/irishevo.jpg
    (This was a public service announcement by hedge-centurion Biggus Dickus)

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  7. Another word often hedged is tavern, as in a hedge tavern, usually a rather run down place that would feed you and give you something to drink if you paid a bit.

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  8. I never understood what a hedge-wizard was, until now.

    Before reading this post, I would have guessed that a hedge-wizard was somebody successful at running a hedge fund. You’ll find this kind of hedge-wizard in southwestern Connecticut (particularly Stamford and Greenwich). And he is a kind of modern-day thief, too: if you invest with him, he will typically charge 2% of the funds invested per year, plus 20% of the profits. As Ambrose Bierce noted in The Devil’s Dictionary, finance is the management of money to the advantage of the manager. Bierce also called attention to the appropriateness of the US pronunciation, with the I long and the accent on the first syllable.

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  9. Good lord… I’m familiar with the term hedge wizard but I had no idea I learned it from Fritz Leiber. I loved the Fafhrd and the Grey Mouser books as a teenager, they definitely seemed like “high” fantasy that hadn’t crawled up its own humorless arse.

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  10. Ah yeah.. you’re right. S&S can still be pretty overly-serious though. Readers like me are why Pratchett has done so well 🙂

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