The wise old man is often seen to be in some way "foreign", that is, from a different culture, nation, or occasionally, even a different time, than those he advises. In extreme cases, he may be a liminal being, such as Merlin, who was only half human.
In medieval chivalric romance and modern fantasy literature, he is often presented as a wizard. In the same works, he can also or instead feature as a hermit, who often explained to the knights — particularly those searching for the Holy Grail — the significiance of their encounters.
In storytelling, the character of the wise old man is commonly killed or in some other way removed for a time, in order to allow the hero to develop on his/her own.
Merlin fell from the role of senex to senex amans when he fell in love with Nimue; this lapse from judgment is what led to his being enchanted and imprisoned.
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