Wizards - Part I (Traditional Wizard Lore)

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Roy Wood, singer with the band 'Wizard'

Although most people would have it forgotten, in the last 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 vast diversity of other mediums like video games, computer games... Nintendo games... and lots of other stuff, surely. Anyway, 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 that 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 family1, 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 broke2. 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 of you 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 (but not as often as you'd think). 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. Yet 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. Yet it's difficult to shake the feeling that that isn't what the Earth is all about, and after reading onwards you will share the same feeling about wizards... except you'll probably keep it more to yourself.

Wizards Outstanding (Old School Variety)

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 Bilbo can't 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 so far no one has argued against that proposition. This Gandalf from the Lord of the Rings series, is presented as a master of the elements. He has 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. However, gods generally seem to prefer it when the forces of good have the odds stacked against them. So 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 Ring3 for himself. Saruman is demonstrated in many instances as Gandalf's 'Jungian shadow'. He 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.

Ged Sparrowhawk

Ged's character was wrought by the most wise and venerable Ursula K Le Guin, which explains why Ged is the most realistic of the traditional 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 an orphan, 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 and is. 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, usually 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 despite 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 and directors sometimes do). Strangely, despite his epic and heroic struggles, Merlin is probably best known for his mostly passive roles in the Arthurian Legends.


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 'tap' a Mountain and 'cast' a Lightning Bolt on your Balduvian Bears dealing them three damage and sending them to your 'graveyard'. 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 cast spells.


Earthly creatures have a unique relationship with magic spells because they are free to reject magic. You could even get a little philosophical and say humans have a unique relationship with almost everything, because they are free to reject almost everything. So humans find it very hard to use magic, a small price to pay for freedom from it though, right? Magical beings, like faeries, are practically made of magic and are not free to reject it, so they are slaves to being able to cast spells without even trying really. Where a faerie could simply think a powerful spell into existence because they have no freedom from magic, a human will get to have to wave their arms in the air, shout things, burn incense, etc, to achieve a cheap imitation of the same spell. So with everything humans can't do well because we are so free not to do it - like rip apart a deer with our bare hands (or bear hands, it works either way), or think fireballs at other people - we find another solution. We find this other solution with our highly developed brain (particularly the prefrontal cortex), which, from an evolutionary perspective, is what we humans traded our ability to rip apart deer and think fireballs for. So now, unlike other species, we know how to steal good ideas from our ancestors and pretty much everything else to make ourselves more powerful (humans call this learning), and this quality in particular of humans is reflected in wizards and their wacky wizard spells.

Regular people perform rituals all day long, maybe they brush their teeth so they don’t fall out, they pray before dinner so they don’t feel so bad about those starving people in... everywhere, or they pay their bills so no one will come over to their house and take their furniture. Wizards have to perform rituals to get what they want too, but their rituals accomplish something much more important than the mundane rituals of which they are symbolic, they accomplish the spell...


After the all the clever wordplay, the herbs, the smoke machine, the chiropracty, the trapdoor, the vague threats, the stalling, the trick with the string, and even the misdirection, inevitably a wizard will find himself in a situation where he actually has to cast a spell.

When he finally does do a spell it might look easy, but only because, like an Olympic athlete, the wizard has spent numerous hours each day in rigorous training... at his desk... or possibly a couch... with a cup of tea4. Nevertheless, spell-casting is a very energy-draining and complex task. It’s so energy-draining that no sports drink known to man can save a wizard who channels so much magic that they collapse and then their body crumbles into dust as it hits the floor because it turns out they sucked all their lifeforce out of their bodies, which is why they had begun to collapse in the first place. It's so complex that sentences like the last one and words like the one at the end of this sentence are the kind you really need to write, and several paragraphs are necessary just for their decomplexification. Luckily, someone put several paragraphs right under this one; paragraphs so proficiently effectual at decomplexification they would instead have just said about themselves that they were really good at simplifying.

Spell Theory

Logic requires that the very first spell was cast just before the universe was created, since that's what the spell did. Logic also requires that this is impossible. Well, that wasn't very helpful... So let's abandon logic and get back to the Entry...

When a wizard casts a spell, he isn't making the spell up off the top of his head, that's a slow and arduous process, he's using a spell that has already been invented (or discovered if you want to think of it that way) a long time ago. That's why, whenever you hear a wizard cast a spell, in a video game, in a television show, or in an overly dramatic wizard voice, the words are always in archaic languages like Latin or Sumerian. You see, because with spells, like with plot twists, all the good ones have already been taken.

To clarify further, a scenario: a long time ago some wizard named Melf was probably fooling around with magic that he didn't understand when he accidentally figured out how to cast a simple spell that fired a powerful arrow made of acid. Turns out Melf's spell manages the same thing as all the current, lesser developed, and harder to cast acid arrow spells. Fast-forward a hundred or so years and wizards everywhere in the Dungeons and Dragons universe are casting 'Melf's Acid Arrow'. Most likely no one remembers the wizard Melf anymore, but Melf lives on like any person who has invented an easier way to do something. He lives on everytime a wizard in training grudgingly opens up his Basic Spells: Level II textbook and reads the chapter on magic arrows (or possibly acid spells depending on which version of the textbook they have).

Most people would agree that cooking dinner with the microwave oven that's already been invented is significantly easier than inventing a new microwave from scratch to prepare dinner, and spells are no different (except spells can cook your food without making it all mushy). So now you know where spells come from, and also how this Entry feels about microwaves. Next is a synopsis of what wizards who want to have good spell skills need to know all about. And you thought your spelling classes were hard.

Vocal Components

Spells need to know they're being cast, and what's easier or cooler than voice activation? Also, wizards as a people have a natural understanding that there's no better way to get something's attention than by talking at it. So between the two, it's no surprise most spells depend upon some kind of spoken accompaniment. Practically all simple spells can be cast by word alone, and no matter how advanced spells become, the vocal part usually remains essential.

It's somewhat apparent that certain spells must be cast in the original language in which they were concieved, and equally apparent that other spells don't seem to care. It can be concluded that the more unique a spell is the more it needs to be in its tongue of origin. This suggests that spells are actually translatable, but that it's best to use only tried and true translations because of the accuracy issues involved in translations. The wording of a spell is everything, so wizards are disposed to learning as many languages as they can in order to have as many spells as possible at their disposal.

Gesticulatory Components

It may sound sick, but it's the word everyone picked to refer to gestures, and now we all have to learn to live with it.

In theory, it's possible that a wizard never needs to make gestures to cast a spell. Think of the wizard as a conductor. All conductors really have to do is make sure the band has their guiding force. Everyone secretly knows it's not his arm waving that makes the music actually happen. Or think of the wizard as a yoga enthusiast (not as hard as it maybe should be), even though the entire concept of yoga is tied to the stance and movements of the body, it's all just for the benefit of the mind. The results of yoga are mostly mental, and all the body-bending and controlled breathing are just methods to trick your mind into focusing. Spells work like that too. A wizard doesn't really need to make a throwing motion with his arms to get that fireball to work, but that's how he learned to do it, and giving it up now would be difficult and pointless. Well, nearly pointless, tying a great and powerful wizard's arms behind his back is, sadly, a considerable step toward disabling him5.

Material Components

As with any occupation, a charming voice, wild emphatic gesturing, and a talent for pretending to work will only get you so far. With wizards, the heavy-duty spells start sometime after that.

Any self-respecting Wizard knows there's no spell that can't be made better by the presense (and utter destruction if that's what it takes!) of some specific item, like a bit of cobweb, the eyeball of a newt, the Urn of Osiris, or a cheap transistor radio. Some spells even necessitate material components, and since any object might concievably end up being useful at some undefined point in the future, wizards tend to accumulate them in rather large quantities6.

All that material acquisition (pack ratting) in combination with a wizard's individualistic lifestyle (laziness) create a unique system of storage (clutter). So over the course of a wizard's long life, this interminable process will invariably have led to a massive collection of odds and ends assorted in a bewildering array that any normal, well-adjusted person would find overwhelming, but of which the wizard has kept a perfect mental catalogue. So at a moment's (day's, week's) notice they can produce the exact object required with a minimal of rummaging (which is good, because sometimes the minimal amount of rummaging is a very long time).

Naturally, a wizard will react with befuddlement when presented with any logical and well-organized storage system, not only by the analytical nature of the system, but also by the mind-boggling effort that such an enterprise must demand.

Good Spelling

In spell-casting, it makes sense that having enough power, knowledge, tools, or intelligence would make up for not having some or any of the other three. Suppose you need to get into a house. If you were powerful enough you could smash through the locked door, if you were knowledgable enough you'd know how to pick the lock, if you had the proper materials you could just use a key to get in, and if you were intelligent enough you could ring the doorbell and ask to come inside (talk your way in, learn to pick locks really fast, who knows what intelligent people do?). Now say, instead of getting into a house, you need to cast a spell, to uh... summon a rabbit. If you were powerful enough you could just think 'rabbit!' and force an improvised spell, if you were knowledgable enough you would know exactly the way to cast the appropriate spell, if you had the right materials (no, rabbits can't be the materials) you'd only have to activate them and they'd cast the spell for you, and if you were intelligent enough you could figure out a great rabbit conjuring spell of your own (or you could just go find a normal rabbit without bending reality, maybe there's something to this intelligence thing). So it's arguable that a theoretical magic user of sufficiently advanced power, knowledge, tools, or intelligence could cast any spell without any of the proper components.

Some truly powerful spells are beyond these common components, like love itself possibly, but it's too deep into the Entry to start being all lovey-dovey now. There are accounts of spells powerful enough to end the entire world that can only be cast through cataclysmic defeat such as Thor losing a fight (Norse mythology), epic deeds such as the last thief returning what the first thief stole (The Last Hero by Terry Pratchett), or singing animals such as a singing lion (The Last Battle by CS Lewis). From a certain point of view these are spells that have already been cast and simply lie in wait until they are triggered. This is the way of most powerful spells, because the powerful spell-casters perished long ago, or in real life because it allows them to be vaguely mysterious in origin and explanation.


Finishing up, since a wizard's knowledge and intelligence are often tied directly to his power as a spell-caster, a young wizard might have to spend all day chanting, gesturing, and draining the energy out of magical objects to cast the same spell that a more experienced wizard could execute in one quick utterance or flick of the hand. Practice makes perfect. Except with evil spells, those are way easy to cast. People always find spells of a dark nature to be preferrable because it's easier to be evil than to be good. Plus, evil is just cool. Drink your milk. Say no to drugs. Get eight hours of sleep. Don't do black magic. Stay in school.

Linguistics of Note

You may not be able to tell the difference between a wizard and a warlock, but they can, and mixing up the two in front of either is insulting yes, but also a good way of finding yourself several feet shorter with an unusual craving for flies. Unfortunately for you, the English language boasts more words than any other on Earth, and all those extra words have to refer to something. Equivalent designations for wizard under appropriate circumstances may include: conjurer, enchanter, summoner, mage, and spell-caster. Most other terms carry dangerous connotations along with them.

While a wizard might very well be a necromancer, it's best to make absolutely sure before you go around accusing the White Wizard of Snow and Sustenance of dealing in death magic.

Druids have come to be more associated with nature than wizardry nowadays.

Mage and magus are more titles than they are classifications, and it may be noted that mage rhymes with sage not by coincidence.

In more barbaric times, when people were still uneducated enough to believe in it, it was assumed that fortune telling, astrology, and any other type of clairvoyance were a simple trick for fellows of the wizardly vocation, and these kinds of wizards (the ones without '1-900' numbers) may be called diviners, soothsayers, prophets, fortune tellers, psychics... etc.

Magician is a fine title for any wizard that prefers tricks over substance, but it is not suitable for the more powerful wizards that flourish under the school of illusionary magics, and so they may be better called illusionists. Nevertheless, in many fantastic worlds the term magician has not had the pleasure of being associated with the famed pulling of the rabbit out of one's hat maneuver and other tricks, so in these specific cultures the word magician is free to carry its actual meaning, which is simply, practitioner of magic, and not anything insulting at all.

A hedge wizard is a wizard with very limited potential in the magical field. He would be as helpless as the next mortal excepting a simple spell or two. Whereas an arch mage is going to be a particularly powerful, wise, and/or simply high-ranking wizard.

Sorcerer and shaman may sometimes be used to refer to any magic-user, but that doesn't mean it's technically correct. Shaman usually alludes to anyone capable of altering or communicating with the spiritual realm. A sorcerer is usually able to use the same magic a wizard can, but by going about it in an entirely different manner, relying on the power of their emotions and inner psyche, as opposed to their intelligence like a wizard does.

Contrary to what JK Rowling would have you and every other muggle believe, witches are not female wizards. This is a ridiculous notion and the kind of mistake one would not expect from an intelligent selfless individual who appreciates the magical world and would never dumb her books down for the mainstream market. A female wizard would simply be given the designation of wizardess, with the same casual effort one would use when referring to a waitress or an actress. It's so casual really that one might almost be embarrassed they hadn't found it an intuitive act. Witches are much closer to being sorceresses, as are warlocks to being sorcerers (but with a more demonic connotation).

There are certainly additional ways to get a wizard's attention, but it's probably best not to get too obsessive. Slyly sticking in the word thaumaturge while flirting will not get you the ladies/guys (none of these other words will either, but this one particularly).

Natural Predators

Just like any important group of people, when wizards go around doing whatever it is they do they make a lot of enemies. The abilities to throw fire around in the air, mix potions, heal people and so on just have a tendency to get certain creatures understandably angry with you, and these are the enemies that have historically proven that they want to destroy wizards the most.


Of all the numerous mythical creatures, dragons are the fiercest of the fierce. So when you stop to consider that the most well known dragon in the United States is Puff the Magic Dragon, you get a clear picture of the kind of priorities they have there.

In The Hobbit, Smaug is the reigning evil, and sure he's no Sauron, but he does fly and breathe flames, so there's that at least. Since The Hobbit is the quintessential adventure novel, it's only natural that readers would expect the characters to face a fire breathing dragon guarding their treasure (instead of girls, for instance). And when Smaug speaks, as many dragons do, he proves himself quite as diabolical and cunning as any wizard could be. Discouragingly, Gandalf and Smaug never face each other personally. However, it is Gandalf's conspiracy against Smaug that does eventually end up defeating him, disrupting his indolent lifestyle and angering him into exposing his one weakness (the soft underbelly). This is an example of the annoying habit wizards have of defeating opponents without actually doing any heavy lifting.

In the Earthsea novels, dragon and man are said to have once been a single type of creature, the dragons choosing power and man choosing knowledge. Kind of makes you think, huh? Anyhow, It may be prudent at this point to mention that dragons don't actually gather their knowledge and power from persistent study the way wizards do, but that they are born with innate knowledge and power that grows on its own (a real time saver). This makes wizards very jealous and goes a long way in explaining why you don't see many dragons around anymore.


Is there even a difference? Wizards definitely think so, and their views on the subject are best expressed by people who spend a small (objectionable) amount of their lives at one time or another pretending to be wizards. Quoting from the Third Edition Dungeons and Dragons Rule book, it is explained that...

Sorcerers create magic the way poets create poems, with inborn talent honed by practice,
Wizards depend on intensive study to create their magic. For a wizard, magic is not a talent but a deliberate rewarding art.
So there you have it. In some works of literature sorcerers are simply untrained or untalented wizards, and in others they are evenly matched mortal enemies. The important thing here is that sorcerers can accomplish the same things as wizards, so it logically follows that they should try to kill each other at any given opportunity.


What? Priests aren't predators... or are they? The sad reality is that all things living must become predatory at one time or another, even if it's passive7. The modern-day priests you're familiar with tend to prey only upon abstract concepts (and that's all, nothing else) like violence on television, but in the proverbial 'days of yore,' the wars between magic and miracle were waged relentlessly. Throughout history, priesthoods have struck more powerful blows against wizardry than anything else. They had to. After all, 'divine mandates' had to be approved by the church, so the priests were under bureaucratic control, but how could they make the shaman, the druids, or the mystics do what they wanted them to?

By crushing them, that's how. This philosophy has lead to many great battles, superb jailings, and also some fantastic executions. Priests are also known to have been very talented at witch-hunt... ahem, hunting down witches (and sometimes drowning them, just in case they weren't really witches). All of these historical events are reflected upon in fiction, where even there, relations between wizards and priests are strained at best.

Fictionally, a wizard attempts to create his own power (sacrilege!), while priests generally derive their power from their god, but it usually evens out between the two. The significant difference is that priests have no difficulty uniting in their shared faith against common foes (like Satan), where wizards prefer to stand for individualistic beliefs, which - while it can sound exciting - is actually an open invitation to be theologically assaulted and picked off one by one. Even when wizards do hang around together, it's often to educate youngsters in schools of wizardry, and not to destroy priests at all. It's presumable some wizards do occasionally band together to fight priests, but sadly, wizards banding together is how history gets priests in the first place.


In most fantasy universes, being a wizard is something only men seem to have the knack for. The explanation for this is sometimes that men and women use different magic. More frequently the explanation is that women just don't get the proper training and opportunities that men have to become wizards, but that's ridiculous and another instance of how fantasy has nothing to do with reality. So why do witches and wizards want to kill each other so often? A more familiar question with a comparable answer might be: why do men and women want to kill each other so often?

The celebrated manner in which wizards and witches traditionally choose to duel it out was popularised by TH White in The Sword and the Stone. Merlin (spelled Merlyn because it looks more medieval) arrives to rescue an adolescent Arthur from the clutches of Madame Mim, a skilled witch. Instead of throwing chaotic and unexplainable spells at one another, the two conveniently agree on an easily narratable shape-shifting duel. The beginning involves things like Mim turning into a dog after Merlin becomes a cat, and so on. After a lot of this paper, scissors, rock sort of thing, Mim eventually becomes some giant animal called an aullay, because TH White couldn't think of a real animal bigger than Merlin's elephant. Merlin responds by changing into a germ which kills Madame Mim. One may wonder why Merlin simply didn't do this in the first place. Undoubtedly, TH White has a very good answer, which he simply chooses to keep to himself.

In summary, you can't take two groups of opposing genders, that have shunned the opposite sex in order to focus more on their ability to tamper with the fabric of reality, stick them in the same world, and expect them not to throw spells at each other the first chance they get.

Men With Torches and Pitchforks

With all the afflictions, accidents, and diseases going around, someone has to be to blame, and since God is omnibenevolent... that leaves the village wizard. When your family cow dies of unknown causes, and you know there's some kind of sorcerer-type person in the general vicinity, it doesn't take an idiot to put two and two together. So you're at the tavern later with all your buddies that you've grown up together with, and they get to talking about all sorts of other bad things that happen to them, and pretty soon there's a whole lot of drunken addition going on... and before you can say 'mob mentality' (it's hard because you're drunk), you find yourself standing in front of the local wizard's hut with your trusty torch and pitchfork. You'll show that murderous spell-slinging demon what happens to those that misuse their ability to kill large lifeforms with their mind from really far away... well hmmm... It all made sense back at the tavern, anyway.


Alright, so it isn't happening so much as of yet, but come on! They're exact opposites! And they both have super powers! It's only a matter of inevitability. You'd do best to choose your side wisely... before the metal ones come for you.


Some people just can't stop until they've hammered the joke into the ground.

Loose Ends, the Tying Up Thereof

How Do You Kill Them?

No, no, you're not listening. Wizards are completely human, just like everyone else. If some of them happen to be immortal demon spirits at the same time that they are also being completely human then take some advice from Mother Mary and let it be8.

With that said, it is regularly the case that someone is trying to kill a wizard somewhere. Apparently it's very difficult for a wizard to go around wrapped in protective spells, but not impossible. This is probably akin to how it is very difficult for a person to never leave their house, but not impossible. Aside from defensive spells, there is nothing about a wizard physically that would protect them against a practiced stab from a sharp pointy device or a good thwack with a large solid object.

The trick would simply be arriving at the opportunity. Wizards tend to see important things before they have any right to, and bodily assault likely falls into that category. Statistically, the most successful way to kill a wizard is poison. You may have guessed by now that despite how much they are hated, most wizards die of old age. Don't get your hopes up though, trying to outlive a wizard is like trying to wrestle with a tree, not because trees are difficult to defeat in a wrestling match (although they are), but because if you're trying it then you're most likely a lunatic.

Life Expectancy

This depends entirely on their universe of origin. The longest natural life spans of a wizard can often reach well into a second millennium. This is almost always for wizards that are the least human. Wizards born on Earthsea, like Ged, live no longer for all their wizardry than any other man. On the average though, being a wizard is usually good for an extra fifty or sixty years of life9.

Sex Life

As a general rule, they don't have any. They claim that 'being' with a woman (wink, wink) will somehow drain their magical potency. No one really knows for sure whether this is truly the case, but it is disturbing to see that the wizards who do sustain healthy sex lives don't suffer any documented side-effects to their 'mystical' power.


Fully-fledged wizards are not very good at travelling incognito. If you were - and this happens - mystically transported to a magical fantasy world (by some cosmic force with nothing better to do) in order to learn a lesson about life just because you were feeling a little frustrated or depressed, you'd spot the wizard long before the extra moon, or even the dinosaurs (but not before the villain, because that's who the wizard is there to save you from). The old school wizards won't be caught dead without their accessories:

The Floppy Hat - Some wizards don't even know they're supposed to be wearing tall pointy hats, but the ones that do develop a slight (severe) psychological attachment (fetish) for them. They are good for pulling stuff out of, and occasionally they will pick up some of the traits of their wizard along with a new personality all their own. It's inadvisable to put a used one on your head unless it was purchased from a reputable dealer.

The Robe - Wizards stay away from the donning of armour. Wizards aren't commonly very strong and armour is heavy, it's design inhibits arm movements for casting, and the metal kind conducts electricity, which isn't very good for casting lightning spells (unless you're casting lightning spells at yourself, then the armour works great). Robes may not protect against swords and arrows, but those aren't the kind of things a wizard has to be worried about anyway.

The Beard - Wizards get better with age, so do beards. Go figure. Also, when your superior wizard mind is constantly occupied by the eternal mysteries of life, the universe, and everything, it's tough to sustain a good grooming habit.

The Familiar - Some wizards often have an attendant of sorts to help them out around the house (hut, castle, apartment, it's all the same to the familiar), often in the form of an animal. Usually suspiciously bright, they are sometimes spirits in physical form, but not always. They are always, however, annoying.

The Staff - Staves (staffs) can be used to amplify or at least focus the power of a wizard's magic. Certain types of staff will contain charges of a particular spell that can be used by the wizard with hardly any effort. Many wizards need a staff just to walk.

The Wand - They're not as cool as staves and they're not much good for doubling as a walking stick either, unless you're really short. What wands are good for is pointing and conducting. These are important for wizards that give presentations more often than quick death, or to make sure all the teacups hit the right note as they march and sing in unison all the way into your bottomless suitcase during the musical packing sequence.

The Apprentice - No respectable wizard is without his trusty apprentice, following his master around trying to figure out how it's possible for someone to throw an egg so that it will come back to them without rolling or breaking10, on the off-chance that after answering this riddle the old coot will finally teach him how to do magic.

The Spellbook - There's a slight discrepancy somewhere in between the idea of wizards being so out of touch with reality that they are disposed to a bad memory and the idea of wizards memorizing spells for a living. This situation has brought a lot of wizards great pain and suffering, but there is a cure! Never again experience that embarressing moment when you're urgently called upon to cast out the demonic presence of Yorg the Mindsplitter from your friend's mind, but can't quite remember how that spell goes. Order your spellbook today!

Most of these accessories are too sophisticated for their brief and simplistic explanations; so hopefully, you are not.

To Be Continued...

Like knights, kings, and sinister sorceresses, the scholarly wizards with the long beards and walking sticks will never go away completely. No matter how much the concepts of the wizard stray toward the more realistic and modern style of stories, there will always be a writer or a movie producer somewhere, who misses the good old days, when a wizard just wasn't a wizard without his wizard's hat.

Related BBC Links

  • Take a leaf out of someone else's book with BBCi Books.

1First fantasy members... Gods? Demons? Maybe, but knowing humanity it was probably something embarressing, like cloud people.2Except the ones that appreciate the endless exchanging possibilities that emerge when you figure out you can turn copper coins into gold ones.3A piece of jewellery that turns you invisible when you put it on; sounds like the main plot device of a horror movie... or perhaps porn, but Tolkien went a different way with it.4Wizards figure if you're going to be aggressively passionate about your discipline you might as well be comfortable while you're doing it.5The gag is the primary measure to this end, as with any kidnapping. This, along with a good securing of the legs so they can't run away is nearly the complete process. What people usually forget with wizards is the blind fold. Like a person who has adaptated to a missing sense or limb, once a wizard's lost his abilty to speak and wave his arms about he often will suddenly realize the untapped potential his eyes have had for magical mischief.6This is thanks to the 'better safe than sorry' philosophy, which can be used effectively to excuse any irrational behavior from constantly checking to make sure all the doors are locked to taking three showers a day to believing in a Diety.7Someone would have been happy to eat that sandwich you had the other day for you (not to mention live in your house for you), and if your sandwich had meat in it... well that's almost too predatory.8You know, from that Beatles song:
I wake up to the sound of the music
Mother Mary comes to me
Speaking words of wisdom... let it be
Yeah, let it be... let it be-ee
Yeah, let it be... let it...
oops, got carried away.
9So it's almost as good for longevity as being female.10Throw it into the air, you fool.

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