What Fictional Wizards Taught Me

What Fictional Wizards Taught Me


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Ladies and gentlemen, the awesome John Howe

I’m still trying to work out what, if anything, is left of a magician if you remove the actual practice of magic.

This is that ‘integration’ thing I have been looking at. Because, however many energy exercises you do on the tube or however many daily sigils you launch, you are still spending most of your physical incarnation not actively practicing magic. (Or at least not consciously.)

So are there any behavioural traits you could broadly assign to magical folk?

What about unique ways of seeing the world? Or just ways of being in the world?

Essentially, this boils down to the eternal question: “Is there any being once doing stops?”

At least as far as I have read, there doesn’t seem to be much in the way of fictional precedent for a powerless wizard. He or she may lose their powers during the course of a narrative but they are usually reclaimed.

Except for Ged.

For a variety of valid gender politics issues, the author more or less “punished” her protagonist from the first book… Largely for being yet another male wizard in the heterosexist male world of fantasy literature. (At least he wasn’t white with blonde hair. The denizens of Earthsea are brown.)

She subsequently pulled back from this judgement a bit in the following books, but her protagonists continue to be largely female and always brown. (Le Guin’s science fiction is one of the cleverest explorations of gender and politics in the twentieth century.)

If you haven’t read the Earthsea series then it is probably worth your while. It’s what young adult fantasy fiction was like before the publishing industry decided that teenagers were in fact nothing more than ludicrously stupid christian virgin girls secretly longing for an ancient emo to come and tell them they are super special. FFS, can you say daddy complex much??

(Why would vampires hang out with high school girls? They’re old! People find it creepy if seventy year olds want to hang out with school kids. High school kids are horrible and boring. Go and hang out with movie stars or something. That’s it, I’m calling the cops, buddy.)

Not giving anything away, but over the series Ged loses his powers. And he never gets them back. So Le Guin gives us a wizard (The Archmage, no less) who is all parts Uncle Owen and no parts Obi Wan Kenobi.

This then, makes for a very moving study of power, the lack of power, wisdom versus force, action versus non-action. (Le Guin is a Taoist. It’s basically a Taoist fantasy series. With brown people. And mostly women. Set in a fictional world based on the Isles of Scilly. But also with lots of dragons. Good god, I really do like her, actually.)

Her exploration of power and wisdom reaches its peak in the final novel, The Other Wind. Unfortunately, it’s not a book you can just jump to or the impact of all the small actions will be lost on you. (For instance, Ged basically puts a band aid on the apocalypse by giving someone a small cat.)

In the end its about relinquishing power for wisdom and all that good stuff.

So yes, he may not be my all-time favourite fictional wizard (Gandalf), but Ged is certainly the wizard with the most to teach me right now.

What about you guys? Favourite fictional wizard for learning and/or general badassnessness? (Jedi and such are allowed.)

Farther west than west

beyond the land

my people are dancing

on the other wind.

- The Song of The Woman of Kemay

26 Comments

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  1. 1
    Wind

    I will have to finally read Earthsea.
    My favorite fictional wizard after Gandalf would have to be John Furie Zacharias, aka Gentle, from Clive Barker’s Imajica. I love how he is remembering and recovering his magic and reconciling fractured worlds in the process.

  2. 3
    Veles

    Granny Weatherwax from Terry Pratchett’s Discworld.

    Julien Mayfair

    Tom Riddle before he went all Voldemort…and even after he went all Voldemort.

    I’m also fairly fond of Harry Dresden.
    Veles´s last blog post ..Ethics in Witchcraft

  3. 4
    Frater AIT

    I’ve got to go with Raistlin, from Dragonlance. He’s Faustian and tragic and inspiring all at once. He’s what happens when one goes too far. He ends with none of the real pleasures of life, only magical power. When you’re young and reading him, you think he’s awesome….as you mature, you realize he’s tragic. He’s a slave, magic has enslaved him. Reading helped nudge me toward awareness that Magic can’t be your everything. Plus, dude rides around on a black dragon.

  4. 6
    Steve

    The way I see it magic is a way of experiencing the world. Miss Morgan Le Fay pretty much cuts the mustard.

  5. 10
    Jack Faust

    While Hellblazer is a great comic, Constantine isn’t really a magician I’d want to emulate. As most of my friends would end up dead, my family would get stuck in Hell (by choice, no less), and I’d be unable to keep a girlfriend – sometimes not even a living one.

    So. Definitely not Constantine.

    I’m probably going to have to default on Obi-wan and that lovely mind-trick. And if he counts, Gerald Terrant wasn’t a half-bad evil Necromancer/vampire/thing in the Coldfire Trilogy.
    Jack Faust´s last blog post ..Blurring the Lines

  6. 11
    Fraters AIT

    @ Jack

    that’s why he’s a favorite….he provides a complicated example he does some right, but a lot wrong….and deals with the consequences. His fatal and painful screw-ups are exactly what make him valuable. Hellblazer is Faust for the modern man, haha.

  7. 12
    faoladh

    That’s an interesting question, and I will think it through right here. Right now, I’ve got a lot of love for Harry Dresden, but that may be because I am finally reading the novels. I do like Gandalf, but I don’t think I could consider him my favorite. I like Qui-Gon Jin some, but only because he’s the only Jedi who made a damned bit of sense and didn’t lie to everyone younger than he was. I’m not going to pick anyone from folklore, so Fionn Mac Cumhaill isn’t going to be the one. Speaking of which, Neo is pretty neat, but too wooden. I think I’ll go with Li Mu Bai (from Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon).

  8. 15
    Jhonn Barghest

    Mmmmm. Good stuff!

    Um, I’ve always thought Obi-wan way really cool ever since I saw Star Wars a long time ago. I admit that I like Harry Dresden (so far). Sometimes, I see the Doctor of Doctor Who as being akin to a magician as well. I also like Constantine. I wouldn’t necessarily want to emulate the man in his entirety. However, I find that John Constantine’s kind of a good example of a regular guy (albeit prone to fucking up a lot) who does the magick thing.
    Jhonn Barghest´s last blog post ..Fruits of the Clusterfuck

  9. 16
    Hierax

    When I was a kid, Gandalf and Elric – Gandalf was probably the first non-evil wizard I remember, except for the “bumbling” Merlin from Disney’s Sword in the Stone. And Elric is still cool, even if re-reading those novels is somewhat painful. Then I found Earthsea and Ged, with the very interesting process of learning magic in Roke. And a few less known figures – for instance, Gildmirth from Michael Shea’s wonderful Nifft the Lean. Gildmirth is a badass shape-shifting wizard who goes to hell (well, one hell) to learn new monstrous shapes. He’s an intelligent, brave, no-nonsense magician that goes beyond the good wizard/evil sorcerer stereotypes.
    But nowadays, my favorite fictional magicians are the characters of Susanna Clarke’s Jonathan Strange and Mr. Norrel. The recluse, anti-social and book-obsessed Mr. Norrel really struck a chord with me… And Jonathan Strange has some good qualities for a magician: curious, imaginative, and able to extrapolate information to create new solutions. There are other interesting magicians, like Childermass and the awesome Raven King. In all, it’s a wonderful book, with a fascinating view of magic and its practicioners.

  10. 18
    Greyward13

    John Constantine is fantastic. From punk to conman, to homeless bum, his is a journey worth of mythology. His use of magic, from differing styles, showing everything has something to teach.

    Newest favourite is Matthew Swift. If you haven’t read Madness of Angels, you should.

  11. 19
    Richard N.

    Quick Ben, from Malazan Book of the Fallen. He is a High Mage in the service of the Malazan Empire who gets in a lot of trouble due to his arrogance but usually finds a way out of it due to loyal friends, quick thinking, and a lot of luck. I love reading about that bastard.

  12. 20
    Gildmirth

    I will suggest Kane. It seems to me that magic is a facsimile for knowledge. Given sufficient apptitude, a fair measure of knowledge can come easily. The rest of it will be gained by painful, merciless, gruesome struggle. Kane is better known as a warrior, but in his deathless ages he learned by tedious effort the eldritch craft. Most of Kane’s humanity has been eroded away by time’s sands, though he sometimes attempts to hold on to a lovely thing that passes. His interactions with his world can suggest to you the brutal bones that lie beneath the pretty surface.

    I’ll also toss out Atoning Unifex, who followed a long arc of pursuit of perfection, to obsession with creating perfection beyond himself, to a nadir, to redemption, to atonement. Good character.

  13. 21
    Marja

    Would Louhi count? She’s more mythological than fictional, but since the story in Kalevala was at least arranged by Lönnrot – he took the poems he collected and put them in order which seemed to make sense to him as a longer story line, and he probably did put in bits of his own where there seemed to be gaps, so in that way Kalevala is more fiction than mythology.

    While Louhi is the designated villain she gets nasty only after the ‘heroes’ do their best to cheat her, and she does lose, but she is magnificent even then.

  14. 24
    Anders

    Li Chao from Bridge of Birds and The Story of the Stone. He is presented as a scholar rather than a mage, as such, but he operates in a very wizardly way. And he is a heavy drinking old curmudgeon with a nasty outlook on his society(China as run by the NeoConfucians)who has the most improbable and marvelous backstories.

    Also, Changer from the Athanor books. Again, not exactly a mage, but…whatever. Incidentally, Louhi is also a character in these books.

    I like Dresden and some of the others, but find the flashy ones less than helpful in my thinking about magic.

  15. 25
    Generalfeldmarschall von Hindenburg

    I’m in love with all you people! Someone else knows about Kane, the Mystic Swordsman!

    I’d have to throw in Dr. Fu Manchu

  16. 26
    Anika

    Phillip K Dick’s Valis doubles as a psychadelic drug and a novel, his skitzo psychobabble leads you directly down the rabbit hole.

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