An Introduction | What's In A Wizard? | Spell Categories | Linguistics of Note | Natural Predators | Loose Ends | Concluding Q&A
Although most people would have it forgotten, in the more primal years of man, when society was more concerned with swords and stonemasonry than any of that nasty education and industry all the cool planetary civilisations are into these days, there was held - steadfast and sweeping - the certain knowledge that ours was a world of limitless possibilities, and that magic was the explanation for them all.
Those times are well past, but their memory lives on in various contemporary forms including the cinema, television, literature, and a diversity of other mediums like video games and...Nintendo games. They are responsible for the formation of countless stories of good and evil, inspiring a multitude of mythical inventions both famous and forsaken. Wizards are just one segment of this substantial list, yet they perform a critical function in fiction. Despite this, they are a somewhat misunderstood and entirely oversimplified species in most people's minds. Help fight wizardly ignorance, and educate yourself on one of fantasy's wisest creations.
While certainly not the first members of the fantasy family, wizards have nonetheless risen steadily in standing within the oral and written traditions to arrive at their prominent positions in modern fantasy.
Coincidentally, wizards often occupy prominent positions in the workplace too. Whether this is because they possess extraordinary insight and sound reasoning capabilities, or because some of them can throw fireballs, is your call. Where wizards are rare, this position is often at the king's side offering sage advice. Where wizards are numerous, the position is usually more along the lines of low-paid schoolteacher, or perhaps village mystic. If you haven't guessed by now, wizards usually spend a great deal of their lives broke1. This leaves plenty of time for spell-casting. Well, actually it leaves plenty of time for spell-studying, which is how most wizards spend the majority of their waking hours. But that's boring, and most people already have a passing familiarity with the process of studying anyway.
It's the spells that make the wizard. Many words are used to describe how a wizard goes about casting and so forth - silly words like: mana, han, sadin, and materia and such, but in the end it's all just a fancy way of referring to the humble channelling of energy. Where this energy comes from usually depends on the dimension the wizard is currently occupying at the time. What's done with it afterwards is usually up to the wizard (of course, not all the time). Generally, wizards use their inherent magic to simply convert a pool of energy into another form. Call this casting a spell. These spells have been known to accomplish pretty much everything from vanquishing great demons to turning cats into teapots and other similar nonsense. While these sorts of magical deeds may be what wizards are known for, they are not what wizards are all about. For example, the planet earth, let's say - from a purely objective perspective mind you - would probably be known mostly for its oxygen and to a lesser extent its (mostly) harmless lifeforms... and yet it's difficult to shake the feeling that that isn't what the earth is all about either. And after reading onwards, you will share the same feeling about wizards...except you'll probably keep it more to yourself.
You remember him. He's the short green one from the Star Wars films. When George Lucas made the painful decision to let Obi-wan die in the first Star Wars film for (mis)understood plot purposes, Luke Skywalker needed a new figure in his life to take up the mantle of wizard. So as the last surviving Jedi and the Rebellion's only hope, Luke bravely travels to the slightly less 'traditionally heroic' other surviving Jedi's home planet and promptly crashes his ship.
In steps Yoda, and with all the dignity and respect that comes from countless decades of experience, he is immediately mistaken for an impish and meddlesome vagabond by our hero and scolded accordingly. Ironically, Luke is too busy (stupid) searching for the Jedi master to notice him. After some initial awkwardness, Yoda schools Luke in the Jedi arts using some very unorthodox methods, most of which involve carrying Yoda around through the swamp that surrounds his home.
When Luke decides he's done enough training and that it's time to leave - against his master's discretion - he can't lift his ship out of the swamp he crashed it into, thinking it an impossible task. Yoda uses the Force and lifts the ship for him, despite his advanced age, leaving Luke in awe. This is all in sharp contrast to the 'Battle-mode' Yoda (the green blur) whose powers are demonstrated in the newer Star Wars films... almost as if someone forgot what it is Yoda's supposed to be.
Richard Rahl (Richard Cypher)
Sadly, he is one of the least known wizards here, and yet he is the most finely crafted of them all. The hero throughout The Sword of Truth series, Richard is a real person, with all the frailties and strengths that can be expected of an individual. Content to sit back and live the comfortable life of a woods guide, completely unwilling to believe he is a wizard, or even adopted, Richard is eventually thrust by destiny against his biological father, Darken Rahl, forcing him to prove himself as a wizard. That's just a small fraction of the forcing Richard deals with, and eventually he accepts his latent gifts.
As a war wizard, Richard discovers he has a talent for war tactics greater than any mortal general. As wielder of the Sword of Truth, Richard is at first pressed into summoning up memories from the previous Seekers of Truth, who had used the sword before him, in order to save his life in battle. In just a matter of years though, Richard proves himself more than worthy of his predecessors, developing a swordsman's style all his own, more effective than any used with the Sword of Truth before. Due to Yoda's current occupational confusions, Richard is the only wizard mentioned here who is still very much up and about doing new things in a proper wizardly fashion. At the moment, Richard is engaged in an epic struggle with the tyrant Jagang, fighting with every ounce of his strength to defend the human spirit against Jagang's barbarous army of oppressors who can't comprehend the value of the single individual. Best to wish him luck.
He's not a very good wizard. Actually, he can't even spell wizard, or cast spells at all. Well...he cast a spell once, but mostly he spends his time running away from one danger to the next cheating death. This kind of behaviour intrigues Death, who happens to be a character in the Discworld novels, which gives an idea of the kind of writer Terry Pratchett is. Death talks in capital letters (LIKE SO) and traditionally greets dying wizards in person.
Rincewind's only wizardly attributes are his ability to see magic and wear a tall pointy hat without feeling embarrassed. It is written of him that:
Rincewind had always been happy to think of himself as a racist. The One Hundred Metres, the Mile, the Marathon – he'd run them all. Later, when he learned with some surprise what the word actually meant, he'd been equally certain he wasn't one. He was a person who divided the world quite simply into people who were trying to kill him and people who weren't. That didn't leave much room for fine details like what colour anyone was.
Since Discworld is a parody of our world (or our world is a parody of Discworld if you prefer) the wizards there are kind of like exaggerated scientists. They:
… dress strangely, live in a world of their own, speak a specialised language and frequently make statements that appear to be in flagrant breach of common sense,
(or our scientists are like exaggerated wizards if you prefer).
Gandalf the Grey (Gandalf the White)
In The Hobbit, Gandalf is presented as a wise and ageing wizardly fellow, playing tricks with unsuspecting mortals all while secretly fulfilling his own agenda against evil. At least, this is how Bilbo sees him; and how can Bilbo be blamed for not knowing that Gandalf isn't really a man at all, but a spirit of a race called Maia? He is self-described as 'servant of the Secret Fire, wielder of the Flame of Anor', and who's arguing? The Gandalf from the Lord of the Rings books was presented as a master of the elements, he struck goblins dead with lightning, launched flames at wargs, and halted great demons with the power of his words alone; all done in slight opposition to the Gandalf seen in The Return of the King movie, who mostly spins around a lot with his sword and staff as orcs run mindlessly into him.
While appearing as a simple wizard, Gandalf is the Middle Earth gods’ champion against Sauron, another demigod, but one of unnatural evil. Even Gandalf is admittedly not prepared for an encounter with Sauron, and this is very likely considering the trouble Gandalf has in defeating the lesser evils that come first. Before Sauron can be reached, Gandalf the Grey is first pushed to his limits in a struggle against a very ancient evil known as a Balrog in the depths of the mines of Moria, and the fight is so evenly matched that they both perish in the effort. Luckily only half of them stay that way. Gandalf is sent back, this time with the kind of backing from the gods one would expect, and he is reborn as Gandalf the White, more cosmically linked now than the earthly Gandalf of the past, ready to face anything. This is fortuitous timing, as it happens just as Gandalf is about to confront a more cunning foe.
When the conflicts in Middle Earth began to heat up, Saruman the White, former head of Gandalf's order, raised an army under himself in hopes of taking the One Ring2 for himself. Saruman is demonstrated in many instances as Gandalf's Jungian shadow. Saruman has already betrayed Gandalf and imprisoned him once, unsuccessfully. It is demonstrated that Gandalf can resist the temptations of the One Ring after actually being offered it. Yet here is Saruman, willing to breed armies of hideous orcs in order to take the ring by force.
Once the opposing wizards start to show their true colours, Saruman the Black and Gandalf the White face each other in a final duel. When Gandalf arrives at Saruman's tower, he is accompanied by the troops still wearied from conquering Saruman's main force. They confront one another and speak. Saruman's charismatic words captivate his audience, and as he speaks his insidious words it begins to seem to the men with Gandalf that perhaps Saruman was the one wronged here after all, until Gandalf suddenly bursts into laughter and the spell is broken. Enraged, Saruman utters his last ridicules and turns to leave. The rest is better told by JRR Tolkien.
'Come back, Saruman!' said Gandalf in a commanding voice. To the amazement of others, Saruman turned again, and as if dragged against his will, he came slowly back to the iron rail, leaning on it, breathing hard. His face was lined and shrunken. His hand clutched his heavy black staff like a claw.
'I did not give you leave to go,' said Gandalf sternly. 'I have not finished. You have become a fool... Saruman!' he cried, and his voice grew in power and authority. 'Behold, I am not Gandalf the Grey, whom you betrayed. I am Gandalf the White, who has returned from death. You have no colour now, and I cast you from the order and the Council.'
He raised his hand, and spoke slowly in a clear cold voice. 'Saruman, your staff is broken.' There was a crack and the staff split in half asunder in Saruman's hand, and the head of it fell down at Gandalf's feet. 'Go!' said Gandalf.
- JRR Tolkien, The Two Towers
This is a good example of how wizards fight, and also of when you should leave wizards alone. Even if you think you have something constructive to add to the argument, really, just back away respectfully and let them sort it out.
Harry Potter and Co
Keeping the spirit of wizards alive in modern times at such a young age should be an unbearable burden for anyone, but not the renowned Harry Potter.
Thanks to him, every little girl in the world wants to grow up and marry a wizard. Why they would choose the skinny, bumbling, and scarred Harry Potter, whose own family doesn't want him, is anyone's guess. Wizards are simple, but no-one understands girls. One reason might be because Harry has been known, on occasion, to beat up the most feared wizard in the world, Lord Voldemort, anytime he can get around to it. This is noteworthy in itself, but also consider that the first time Voldemort lost to Harry was when he was a baby (Harry, not Voldemort - use some common sense). In the fourth book, (Warning, Plot Spoiler imminent!) it's learned that this is because Harry's mother sacrificed herself to make Voldemort's spells reflect off of Harry.
Similar kinds of things happen to Harry on a regular basis, but don't worry about him getting a big head over all of it. Harry couldn't care less that strangers love him just because his parents died. Harry regularly attends Hogwarts School of Witchcraft and Wizardry, a highly respected school of magic that apparently only allows English students. Students that enrol at Hogwarts for the first time are divided into four houses: Ravenclaw receives the intellectual types, Slytherin takes the crafty and ambitious students, Gryffindor snares the courageous students, and Hufflepuff gets all the leftovers. The wizards and witches at Hogwarts are assigned their house by the Sorting Hat - students put this on their head and the Sorting Hat simply invades their private thoughts until it knows which house they belong to.
When he's not off saving Hogwarts all by himself, Harry's getting into trouble with his friend Ron, while Hermione does their homework. Luckily, Ron and Hermione are in the Gryffindor house with Harry. Ron is Harry's best friend - he isn't really very good at magic spells and he's sort of a coward, but when Harry and Hermione needed to win a giant chess game in order to save a really important rock, Ron was there to shout out moves to the giant chess pieces, (since Harry and Hermione are bad at chess) winning even when he knew it meant his being knocked out by the giant chess queen. Hermione is the smart one. She gets top marks in all her classes and actually knows how to cast spells. Sometimes other wizards or witches talk to Harry, but that's usually when something bad is about to happen to them. At this point you may wonder why Hermione isn't in Ravenclaw and Ron isn't in Hufflepuff; it's easy to point the finger and say 'plot contrivance'... but hey what's that over there?
Dumbledore is the esteemed headmaster of Hogwarts. He has the dubious honour of being the only wizard Voldemort was ever afraid of, until Harry - because that's who the book is named after. In the fifth book it's told that Dumbledore was a marvel with a wand during his NEWTs (exams every student must pass at the end of their fifth year). Other facts on Dumbledore are not as reassuring. Ron's older brother is quoted saying to Ron and Harry, 'Mad? He's a genius! Best wizard in the world! But he is a bit mad, yes.'
Perhaps he is - after all, the first words he speaks in the series are 'Nitwit! Blubber! Oddment! Tweak! Thank you,' as he greets the new students enrolling with Harry. When it's all said and done though, Dumbledore has proven himself a competent leader. His presence alone makes Hogwarts a safe haven, he is never too far away when he is needed, and he has also proven himself the only teacher at Hogwarts who has the slightest idea of what's going on inside its walls. Even when the Ministry of Magic continually attempts to remove him from his position at Hogwarts, he is always around to help the students and is never gone for long.
Since all the other wizards are inept compared to Dumbledore, he is forced to shoulder most of the responsibility of protecting Hogwarts, and thanks to his and Harry's efforts, no evil has yet succeeded in closing the school. Dumbledore would like nothing more than to be held to the kind of responsibilities that get you sent 'thick, woollen socks' as presents rather than all the books he tells Harry he receives (since Dumbledore is expected to be a keeper of knowledge, and with wizards, knowledge is power), but as an old Gryffindor himself, he is not the kind of person to shirk burdens.
Ged's character was wrought by the most wise and venerated Ursula K Le Guin, which explains why Ged is the most realistic of wizards mentioned here. Ged's life begins as normal as that of a mortal man's and ends the same way. The Earthsea Cycle follows Ged as he grows up, becomes the Archmage of Roke, (a school of wizardry like Hogwarts, except less plagiarised) and then retires to a simpler life. Along the way, he drowns dragons, steals ancient artefacts, seals holes into the underworld, and actually manages to learn some of the secret things women really want but won't tell men about.
Merlin, the Magician
Unarguably the most well known, Merlin is perhaps the only wizard of which the general populace agrees to stay familiar with as a rule. Because of his extraordinary fame, there is no single consensus as to who or what Merlin was. However, it is clear that the contemporary Merlin represents the quintessential wizard. With his towering stature, long flowing beard, ungainly magician robes, and floppy wizard's hat, Merlin is probably the image that pops into most people's minds when they picture a wizard (which almost no-one ever does anymore). One of the more intriguing qualities sometimes attributed to Merlin, usually in stories with slight comedic tones by authors such as TH White, is that he lives through time backwards. This doesn't make any sense though (which is fine because nobody expects that kind of thing from TH White). The concept of living backwards in time is probably derived from the more mature idea that Merlin was a prophet, and could see beyond linear time.
His talents in prophecy are probably based on the Welsh legend of a wandering bard named Myrddin. According to British folklore, Merlin was one of the original Mystics. This is to say that he's a product of an immensely powerful line of magical lineage. While his origins may be in dispute, there is many times the prevailing theme that Merlin is only half human. Several variations of Merlin show him as the son of a daemon (a supernatural being often of demonic association) and a mortal woman. So in many stories accounting Merlin's adventures he is often forced to choose between his potential good and his dark nature. Because of this circumstance, and in spite of being gifted in the arts of necromancy (black magic), Merlin usually chooses to turn his back on his dark power.
Regardless of his seemingly strength-limiting choices, another prevailing theme common throughout Merlin literature is his tremendous and arcane power. Aside from having divine ancestry, it is sometimes said that the blood of amber and chaos flows through his veins, and that leaves even a legend like Merlin with a lot to live up to, but like many legends Merlin does not disappoint (even if his representative authors sometimes do). Strangely, despite his epic and heroic struggles, Merlin is probably best known for his mostly passive roles in the Arthurian Legends. If you demand entertaining examples of Merlin adventures, then near the bottom there is a source or two you will find of interest, and some things by TH White.
He's not as much a wizard as he is a god, but he does cast spells and have no sex life, so there you go. Technically a 'planeswalker', Urza spent most of his early life fighting with his brother...not as in arguing and name-calling and such so much as with war machines that destroy a sizeable chunk of his home plane. A plane is like a planet except more floaty and with less of the rotating. After he killed his brother, Urza spent the next few thousand years with not much to do. Mostly he was only brought up so there would be an excuse to talk about Magic: The Gathering, which is what Urza's character was created for.
Magic: The Gathering is a collectable card game (like Pokemon, but less sadistic and fuzzy) where each player is a 'planeswalker' and gets to say things like: 'before your main phase I cast a Lightning Bolt on your Balduvian Bears dealing them three damage.' It has immensely complicated rules and is extremely expensive to play. Yet, millions all over the world are willing to participate if it means they can pretend to conjure magic.
- Wizard Lore - What's In a Wizard?
- Wizard Lore - Lingustics of Note
- Wizard Lore - Natural Predators
- Wizard Lore - Spell Categories
- Wizard Lore - Loose Ends
- Wizard Lore - Concluding Q&A