Jordan Jeffers

Archive for the ‘Fantasy’ Category

The Ten Greatest Wizards (1-5)

In Fantasy on August 19, 2011 at 10:24 AM

The Definitive, Arbitrary, All-Time Rankings: Part 2

 Our quest is nearly over! In case you missed it, this is the fourth and final installment of my wife-acclaimed, overly-thought-out Wizard Series. As I’m sure you all remember, we started this journey by discovering The Wizard Rules, narrowing our pool of candidates to an elite group of “true-wizards.” We then delved deep into the intricacies of The MERLINS Scale, the original (and still the best!) arbitrary, seemingly objective ranking system for all true-wizards.

After an exhaustive scoring of every wizard known to (this particular) man (aka me), we finally determined The Ten Greatest Wizards.

Part 1 of this list covered Wizards 10 – 6. We are now ready to present Part 2 (or Part 4?), the best of the best, the top five, the wisest, funniest, most famous, most powerful, best told, best dressed magic mentors in all of fiction.

For those of you who need a review (though I can’t imagine why, the system is so simple!) the MERLINS Scale is scored out of a maximum 70 points, and consists of the following categories:

  • Magic – The sum of a wizard’s Raw Power (what they can do, abbreviated RAP) and Relative Power (what everyone else can do, abbreviated REP): 15 points
  • Exploits – Adventures, deeds, and other risky and unexpected undertakings: 10 points
  • Raillery – The funniness of a wizard: 10 points.
  • Looks – Appearance and style: 5 points
  • Intellectum – The measure of a wizard’s wisdom: 5 points (I’ve had a few people ask, so in case you are wondering why I chose “Intellectum” instead of “Intellect,” it’s because Intellectum sounds more wizard-ish.)
  • Normalishness – A made-up word roughly defined as “the extent to which you would enjoy yourself splitting a six pack with this guy/gal over a ballgame”: 10 points
  • Story – The quality of the story in which the wizard appears: 15 points

In addition to the honor of a high ranking, I’ve also decided to give out special awards this time. You can think of them like high school yearbook awards for wizards. They’re all totally meaningless, so they fit in perfectly. So without further ado, I present the first (fifth) candidate on our list…

5. Sparrowhawk

A Wizard Of Earthsea (Parnassus 1st Ed. Cover Art)

Actual photograph of Sparrowhawk

MERLINSMagic: 15/15 (12 RAP, 3 REP), Exploits: 10/10, Raillery: 5/10, Looks: 5/5, Intellectum: 5/5, Normalishness: 5/10, Story: 9/15 =  54 points

Awards: Token Minority Award, Pseudo-Hero Award, My Name is Two Birds Award

The Story of Sparrowhawk

Sparrowhawk is the main protagonist of Ursula Le Guin’s Tales of Earthsea, a series of five novels and half a dozen or so short stories focusing on the magical fantasy land of…wait for it…you’ll never guess the name…Earthsea! He has the honor of being the only non-white wizard on our list, unless you count Yoda of course.

The story of Sparrowhawk begins on his home island of Gont. After raising goats for a while, his incredible magical talent is discovered by Gont’s resident wizard, Ogion – sort of like Scooter Braun and Usher discovering Justin Bieber, only with magic and goats involved. (It’s actually more lame that I know Justin Bieber’s story then that I know Sparrowhawk’s. Point being, as always, that I’m pretty lame. And that wizards are cooler than pretty-boy pop stars.)

Ogion eventually sends Sparrowhawk to a magical school for wizards on another island called Roke – there a lot of islands in Earthsea. It’s here that Sparrowhawk gets a little too big-headed and opens a door to the land of the dead, accidentally unleashing a shadowy demon that scars him for life and kills his teacher, the noble and powerful Archmage of Earthsea. Whoops!

The rest of the first novel tells the story of Sparrowhawk’s attempts to defeat this demon, which he finally does. At this point he turns from young hero into true-wizard. Thus in subsequent novels, the main protagonist shifts away from Sparrowhawk to several different characters which Sparrowhawk then advises and helps in one form or another.

Sparrowhawk eventually becomes the Archmage himself, recovers a magical, long lost rune of peace, closes another doorway to the land of the dead, and finally settles down on Ogion’s old farm to raise goats and care for his half-human, half-dragon daughter. I’m assuming Justin Bieber will probably grow up to do something similar.

Sparrowhawk’s Coolest Power
Crossing into the land of the dead 

Magic in Earthsea is based on the ancient and powerful “Old Speech,” which is basically an ancient spell language. It’s also randomly capitalized, and you know something is important in fantasy when it is randomly capitalized. The Old Speech isn’t particularly flashy, but if you’re interested in controlling the weather, talking to dragons, or turning yourself into a bird, then you’ll love it. I should mention that there is a very slight danger that if you don’t turn back into a human quickly enough you will completely forget who you are and go on living like a bird for the rest of your life…but all magic has a little risk right?

Sparrowhawk’s most unique power is his ability to cross into the Dry Land (random capitals!), which is the name of Earthsea’s extremely depressing land of the dead. The Dry Land has everything you’d ever want in a land of the dead, including:

  • Low valleys
  • Shadows
  • Dust
  • Mountains of Pain (capitals!)
  • Thousands of mindless souls with no memory of their former lives wandering around silent cities underneath a sky of perpetual darkness, pricked with thousands of dim, unmoving stars.
  • Daily speeches by Senator Joe Lieberman

OK, so I made that last one up, but seriously, if we were picking a current political leader to give speeches in an endlessly dusty, boring, and painful land of the dead, we’d pick Lieberman right? Right? Do I need to link a Youtube video of Lieberman discussing the public health care option to convince you?

Sparowhawk’s Wisest Wisdom

They have nothing to give. They have no power of making. All their power is to darken and destroy. They cannot leave this place; they are this place; and it should be left to them. They should not be denied nor forgotten, but neither should they be worshiped.

The Earth is beautiful, and bright, and kindly, but that is not all. The Earth is also terrible, and dark, and cruel. The rabbit shrieks dying in the green meadows. The mountains clench their great hands full of hidden fire. There are sharks in the sea, and there is cruelty in men’s eyes.

And where men worship these things and abase themselves before them, there evil breeds; there places are made in the world where darkness gathers, places given over wholly to the Ones whom we call Nameless, the ancient and holy Powers of the Earth before the Light, the powers of the dark, of ruin, of madness.

They exist. But they are not your Masters. They never were. You are free, Tenar. You were taught to be a slave, but you have broken free.

The Tombs of Atuan, by Ursula Le Guin

Sparrowhawk’s Greatest Moment
Sacrificing his power to save Earthsea

In the third novel of the series, The Farthest Shore (1972), a bad-guy sorcerer named Cob tries to make himself live forever by saying a bunch of really evil Old Speech. Turns out this is not such a good thing, since it opens up a hole between Earthsea and the Dry Land. All of the magic in Earthsea starts leaking away, and it’s up to Sparrowhawk and Arren, the future king of Earthsea, to stop him.

Spoiler alert! They stop him.

After chasing Cob for most of the book, Sparrowhawk and Arren finally confront him in the land of the dragons, managing to kill his living body with the aide of one of the oldest dragons, Orm Embar. A small, pitiful, mostly dead version of Cob (think Voldemort pre-Goblet of Fire) then crawls away into the Dry Land, with Sparrowhawk and Arren hot on his tail. The three men manage to cross the whole of the Dry Land and climb the Mountains of Pain, where Sparrowhawk confronts Cob a second time and defeats him.

The hole between Earthsea and the Dry Land is still open, however, so Sparrowhawk does the whole selfless thing and sacrifices all of his powerful magic to close the hole and save the world. He becomes merely human so that magic as a whole might survive. Pretty cool right? I’m thinking of naming my first child Sparrowhawk “Orm Embar” Jeffers in honor of this accomplishment. Madelyn will talk herself into it eventually.

4. Belgarath the Sorcerer

Belgarath the Sorcerer

The weirdest set of conjoined twins in history

MERLINS: Magic: 13/15 (12 RAP, 1 REP), Exploits: 10/10, Raillery: 10/10, Looks: 5/5, Intellectum: 5/5, Normalishness: 9/10, Story: 4/15 = 56 points

Awards: Single Father Award, Most Likely to Turn into a Wolf Award, Most Likely to Walk Off with a Case of Beer from Your Fridge after a Party Award

The Story of Belgarath the Sorcerer

Anyone interested in an immortal wizard who orchestrates the triumph of Light over Darkness over the span of 6000 years, manipulating kingdoms, prophesies, and bloodlines to bring to power the last true god? How about a drunk criminal who selfishly abandons his two daughters directly after the death of their mother and spends years drinking himself into oblivion and having sex with prostitutes?

Then Belgarath the Sorcerer is for you!

Belgarath is the second wizard to make it on this list from David and Leigh Eddings Belgariad series, joining his daughter Polgara, who came in at number eight. As I mentioned in my description of Polgara, there are over 5000 pages in the Belgariad / Mallorean Cycle, so a short summary of Belgarath’s life and times is basically impossible.

Belgarath is powerful, drunk, wise, poorly dressed, funny, horny, and loving. He tells great stories. He has a short temper. He gets married to a wolf. He’s described once as a “drunken lecher with scant morality and little seriousness.” He’s like a bachelor uncle that your parents never want you to stay the night with, but for some reason he’d be the one they would trust to raise you if they died and you needed to be adopted. I swear that’s the best I can explain it.

If you’re keeping track, then, I’ve described Polgara as “the sassy aunt you’ve always wanted” and Belgarath as “the bachelor uncle your parents (dis)trust.” I’m not sure what this means, but let’s pretend I made a clever joke and move on.

Belgarath’s Coolest Power
Sun illusion 

Belgarath’s sorcery works through a technique which he calls “the Will and the Word.” (capitals!) It’s a fairly simple system. Those born with the gift of magic simply Will something to happen and then speak a Word which releases the power of their Will onto the world. The Word is not particularly important; the key is to form one’s Will clearly and purposefully, so that one’s imagination is actually the most important factor in carrying out powerful magic.

The drawback (and isn’t there always a drawback?) is that there are physical effects on Belgarath’s body whenever he uses magic, almost to the point where it drains his energy as if he had accomplished the magical task physically. I’m not sure what the physical toll on your body would be from doing something like… say… making an illusion of the sun come up so that a bunch of magicians who are sending hordes of demons at you get distracted and lose control of their demons who then turn around and start eating their former masters… But that kind of thing isn’t ever really resolved.

Belgarath’s Wisest Wisdom

Have you ever noticed that?  We base our assessment of the intelligence of others almost entirely on how closely their thinking matches our own.  I’m sure that there are people out there who violently disagree with me on most things, and I’m broad-minded enough to concede that they might possibly not be complete idiots, but I much prefer the company of people who agree with me.

You might want to think about that.

Belgarath the Sorcerer, by David and Leigh Eddings

Belgarath’s Greatest Moment
Duel with Ctuchik

Belgarath has his finger in so many pies and does so many things, that eventually everything kind of runs together, making it hard to pick out one particularly great moment. The one moment I still remember clearly after eight or nine years is Belgarath’s duel with the evil sorcerer Ctuchik. (Another thing I love about fantasy – It’s OK to give important characters names that no one can pronounce). It’s a fairly standard titanic battle of wills, culminating in Ctuchik’s panicked scream of “Be Not!”

In the Belgariad, it’s a big faux pas to try to will something out of existence like that. The Universe (capitals!) doesn’t like it at all, and Ctuchik’s attempt ends up about as well as Voldemort’s repeated attempts to use the Avada Kedavra curse on Harry. The spell backfires, and Ctuchik winks out of existence instead. Fun times.

3. Merlin

Merlin

Merlin putting the finishing touches on the world's first paint-by-number

MERLINSMagic: 14/15 (12 RAP, 2 REP), Exploits: 10/10, Raillery: 9/10, Looks: 5/5, Intellectum: 5/5, Normalishness: 4/10, Story: 13/15 = 60 points

Awards: Wizard with a Thousand Faces Award, Democracy Award, Homewrecker Award

The Stories of Merlin

The story of King Arthur’s most famous magical adviser is impossible to tell, mostly because there are now hundreds, if not thousands  of stories in which Merlin appears (OK maybe not thousands). He’s one of the most frequently reused characters in fiction, joining the likes of Merlin’s protege King Arthur, Dracula, and Satan (though strangely not God or Jesus).

I’m an English major, but I’m not a literary scholar or historian, so I really can’t describe the impact that Merlin has had on the Western literary world. Let’s just call it “unknowable” and let it go at that.

The “traditional” story is this:

A long time ago, in an island 3963 miles away, Uther Pendragon is named as heir to the throne of Britain. He sets his eye on a pretty girl named Igerna, and he likes the way she eyes back if you know what I mean. Unfortunately, Igerna happens to be married to another powerful lord by the name of Gorlois. Gorlois isn’t real happy with Uther’s roving eye, and the two fight a big battle to decide who gets to sleep with her (apparently asking Igerna who she preferred was out of the question).

Uther asks Merlin for help, and so Merlin casts a spell on Uther that makes him look like Gorlois. (Merlin, by the way, is the offspring of a demon and a human woman, hence his great powers. Funny how often that little tidbit gets ignored in most subsequent stories) Using Merlin’s disguise, Uther slips into his enemy’s castle and sleeps with Igerna. By a happy coincidence, Gorlois is killed that same evening, and Igerna and Uther can get married.

Igerna gives birth to Arthur, who Merlin educates and guides. Merlin eventually convinces Arthur that once he is king he should eat at a Round Table (capitals!) because it will be easier to play poker on it after dinner. He also tells him to drive off all of the invading Saxons and convinces him to go look for something called the Holy Grail (capitals!). Merlin does some magic stuff to help Arthur do all of this, mostly by involving shape-shifting into different animals.

Eventually, however, things start going down hill. Arthur drunkenly bets his wife Guinevere in a late night poker game, loses to Lancelot, and then gets all pissy the next morning and claims not to remember the bet. Then Lancelot sleeps with Guinevere anyway, Arthur sleeps with his half sister Morgan le Fay, and Merlin falls in love with the Lady of the Lake (capitals!). But he doesn’t get to sleep with her until he teaches her all his magic, so he does so. In return for this precious knowledge, the Lady traps him in the trunk of a tree for the rest of eternity, which probably has my vote for the worst break up ever. Without Merlin, Arthur gets killed by his incest-produced son, and the whole tragedy comes to a tragic end filled with tragedy.

Merlin’s Coolest Power
Prophecy 

Merlin is usually exceptionally good at predicting the future, often delivering long, extremely detailed predictions like this one:

Merlin dictating a prophecy

Merlin shown boring another scribe to tears with his long-winded prophecies

Fly the fire of the sons of Boring, if you are able to do it: already they are fitting out their ships; already don’t read this are they leaving the Armorican shore; already blah blah blah out their sails to the wind. They will steer towards Britain; they will invade the Saxon nation; they will subdue that wicked people; but they will first go out for ice cream shut up in a tower. To your own ruin did you prove a traitor to their father, and invite the Saxons into the island. You invited them for your safeguard; but they came for a blah blah blah. Two deaths instantly threaten you; nor is it easy to determine which you can best avoid. For on the one hand I’m really boring lay waste your country, and endeavour to kill you; on the other shall arrive the two brothers, Aurelius Ambrosius and Uther Pendragon, blah blah blah to revenge their father’s murder on you. Seek out some refuge if you can: to-morrow they will be on the shore of Totness. The faces blah blah blah shall look red with blood, Hengist shall be killed, and Mickey Mouse shall be crowned. He shall bring peace to the nation; he shall blah blah blah die of poison. His brother blah blah blah Pendragon shall succeed him, whose days also shall be cut short by poison. There shall be blah blah blah commission of this treason your own issue, whom the boar of Cornwall shall devour a bacon cheeseburger and thus commit cannibalism.

— History of the Kings of Britain by Geoffrey of Monmouth, slightly adapted.

Riveting right? I really hope you didn’t read that whole thing.

Merlin’s Wisest Wisdom

The best thing for being sad,” replied Merlin, beginning to puff and blow, “is to learn something. That’s the only thing that never fails. You may grow old and trembling in your anatomies, you may lie awake at night listening to the disorder of your veins, you may miss your only love, you may see the world about you devastated by evil lunatics, or know your honour trampled in the sewers of baser minds. There is only one thing for it then – to learn. Learn why the world wags and what wags it. That is the only thing which the mind can never exhaust, never alienate, never be tortured by, never fear or distrust, and never dream of regretting. Learning is the only thing for you. Look what a lot of things there are to learn.

— The Once and Future King, by T.H. White

Merlin’s Greatest Moment
Building Stonehenge

According to Geoffrey of Monmouth (people had names like that in the 12th century) Merlin built Stonehenge in the 4th century. Originally the rocks of Stonehenge were erected by giants in Ireland, who had brought the stones from Africa because of their unique healing properties. Uthur decided those Irishmen didn’t need that magical healing as much as his people did, so he sent Merlin to move the whole monument to Britain, which Merlin promptly did (after slaughtering a bunch of Irishmen of course).

It’s been 900 years or so since Geoffrey wrote his version of the building of Stonehenge, and modern scientists haven’t really come up with a more plausible story for how it was built. So I’m sticking with the Geoffrey.

2. Albus Percival Wulfric Brian Dumbledore

Albus Percival Wulfric Brian Dumbledore

"And now Harry, let us step out into the night and pursue that flighty temptress, adventure."

MERLINSMagic: 15/15 (12 RAP, 3 REP), Exploits: 8/10, Raillery: 10/10, Looks: 5/5, Intellectum: 5/5, Normalishness: 6/10, Story: 12/15 = 61 points

Awards Most Stylish Award, The Benevolent Machiavellian Award, The Only One He Ever Feared Award

The Story of Dumbledore

Since I’m pretty sure that most of you know Dumbledore’s story better than the current President’s, I won’t bore you with a rehash of it here. But I do want to deal with one rather controversial thing before moving on: J.K. Rowling’s assertion that she always thought of Dumbledore as gay.

I’m of two minds about this. On the one hand, this makes total sense, especially given Dumbledore’s love of slightly over-the-top clothes and knitting patterns. It also puts a whole other level of depth to his relationship with Grindewald, since you can definitely envision a scenario where Dumbledore’s crush on the handsome young foreigner would cloud his better judgment and blind him to Grindewald’s darker side (who can resist that accent?).

On the other hand, there’s not really anything in the books that would indicate with any certainty what his sexual orientation is. So while I’m inclined to think that it would make the books more interesting, I can’t really argue that Dumbledore is gay. Of course, it shows you how much these characters mean to people when we start debating the sexual orientation of a fictional, 100+ year old wizard from a bunch of children’s books. 450 million copies sold will do that for you.

Dumbledore’s Coolest Power
Love 

Sappy I know, but I will defend myself by pointing out that love is actually a real form of magic in the Hogwarts universe, to the point where a concentration of love is constantly kept under lock and key in the Department of Mysteries.

I gave Dumbledore the “Benevolent Machiavellian Award” because he’s often uses an odd combination of loving manipulation. He’s constantly pulling strings, making alliances, hiding the truth from people when it suits him, and leaving obscure clues for the heroes to follow after his death. Usually when somebody does morally ambiguous things in a fantasy novel it comes back to bite them in the ass later, and we learn a valuable the lesson about always telling the truth or whatever.

That never really happens to Dumbledore though. We love him pretty much from start to finish, or at least I did. When Harry was getting mad at him halfway through book seven, I was getting mad at Harry. “CAN’T YOU SEE THAT DUMBLEDORE LOVED YOU!” I screamed (OK not really). I still loved Dumbledore because I believed that he genuinely loved and cared for everyone, even if he made mistakes.

And that, without a doubt, was his greatest strength.

Dumbledore’s Wisest Wisdom

That which Voldemort does not value, he takes no trouble to comprehend. Of house-elves and children’s tales, of love, loyalty, and innocence, Voldemort knows and understands nothing. Nothing. That they all have a power beyond his own, a power beyond the reach of any magic, is a truth he has never grasped.

— Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows, by J.K. Rowling

Dumbledore’s Greatest Moment
Dying 

OK so I know that normally we wouldn’t put “Dying” on the list of anyone’s greatest moments, but hear me out on this. Dumbledore basically has four “great” moments. Two of them, his discovery of the twelve uses of dragon blood and his defeat of Gellert Grindelwald, do not appear in the books so I can’t really put them in here.

That leaves us deciding between Dumbledore’s duel with Voldemort in the Ministry of Magic and Dumbledore’s fall from Hogwarts tower. Let me argue for the Death (self-created capitals!) for just a second.

  1. It was the most memorable Dumbledore moment, and probably the most memorable moment in the whole Hogwarts series.
  2. It epitomized everything great about Dumbledore’s character, including:
    • His ability to manipulate things behind the scenes
    • His willingness to give people a second chance
    • His love of his students, especially Harry
  3. All of the final plot lines leading to the defeat of Voldemort depended entirely on the Death, and unraveling the mystery of those final events on the tower was the most satisfying bit of writing in the whole series.

I’m not going to call you crazy if you pick the duel instead (it was a pretty awesome duel), but the Death says way more about Dumbledore’s character than anything else.

As I mentioned in The Wizard Rules, I can’t really fault you for picking Dumbledore as number one if you’ve never read Lord of the Rings. I think he’s a phenomenal wizard: wise, funny, powerful, everything. But as great as he is, he’s still a copy. There’s no shame in that really. He’s a wonderful copy, maybe even a more popular copy (though that’s debatable), but he’s still a copy.

A copy of the Greatest Wizard of All Time…

1. Gandalf

Gandalf The Grey

Gandlaf the Grey smiles upon receiving the Greatest Wizard of All Time Award

MERLINSMagic: 14/15 (12 RAP, 2REP), Exploits: 10/10, Raillery: 9/10, Looks: 5/5, Intellectum: 5/5, Normalishness: 6/10, Story: 15/15 = 64 points

Awards: Best Fireworks Award, Most Aliases Award, The Greatest Wizard of All Time Award

The Story of Gandalf

What is there to say? The story of Gandalf is as widely known as any wizard save Dumbledore, and that mostly by choice, as Tolkien only reveals parts of Gandalf’s story in the less well read Silmarillion and Unfinished Tales, and simply leaves other parts to the imagination.

Tharkun the Kitten

Behold the mighty Tharkûn!

So since I have nothing to write about this, let’s ask a really meaningless question. How about this: If you were naming thirteen kittens, would you rather give them Gandalf’s thirteen names or the names of the thirteen dwarves from the Hobbit? In case you’ve forgotten, don’t know, or don’t care, the dwarf names are Ori, Dori, Nori, Fili, Kili, Bifur, Bofur, Bombur, Dwalin, Balin, Oin, Gloin, and Thorin Oakenshield. Gandalf’s names are Greyhame, Stormcrow, Olórin, Incánus, Tharkûn, Lathspell, Mithrandir, Gandalf the Grey, The Grey Messenger, The Grey Pilgrim, The Grey Fool, Gandalf the White, and The White Rider.

I’d probably go with the dwarves, mostly because you’d need a lot of grey cats for Gandalf’s names to make any sense. Though I admit it would be pretty fun to pick up a kitten and say, “Late is the hour at which this kitten chooses to appear. Lathspell I name him, ill mews is an ill guest.”

Ok I’ll stop. I swear that bit sounded funny in my head when I wrote it. Let’s move on.

Gandalf’s Coolest Power
Flood of the Bruinen

This is actually a tough one. You don’t realize this when you’re reading the books or watching the movies, but Gandalf doesn’t actually use magic all that much. He blows cool smoke rings, fights like a badass, and shoots off fireworks that take the shape of dragons, but most of his power seems to be “hidden in the margins” so to speak, not out in front of you. His most impressive feats of magic usually occur out of the narrative flow of the story, so in the books we get hints of a massive magical fight with the Ring Wraiths, with Saruman, and with the Balrog, but we don’t actually get to see a lot of it.

My personal favorite is the Flood of the Bruinen. You probably remember this from the movies, even though you don’t know it by that name. So think back. Remember that part in Fellowship of the Ring when the nine black riders are chasing Frodo and Arwen on the way to Rivendell, and Frodo’s eyes are glazing over like he just chained smoked four or five joints in a row? (Not that I know anything about weed, but people usually make jokes like that, so I thought I’d try one. My guess is that no one really “chain-smokes” joints, but again, I have no idea.)

Arwen finally beats the black riders to the Bruinen, at which point they stupidly enter the river and get crushed by a wall of water taking the shape of horses.

In the movie it appears as if Arwen is commanding this flood, but in the books it’s the work of Elrond and Gandalf. Here’s how Gandalf explains it to Frodo:

 “Who made the flood?” asked Frodo.

“Elrond commanded it,” answered Gandalf. “The river of this valley is under his power, and it will rise in anger when he has great need to bar the Ford. As soon as the captain of the Ringwraiths rode into the water the flood was released. If I may say so, I added a few touches of my own: you may not have noticed, but some of the waves took the form of great white horses with shining white riders; and there were many rolling and grinding boulders. For a moment I was afraid that we had let loose too fierce a wrath, and the flood would get out of hand and wash you all away. There is great vigour in the waters that come down from the snows of the Misty Mountains.”

Here’s what I love about Gandalf. He’s not content with just unleashing a raging flood to destroy the servants of Sauron, he also has to add “a few touches of his own,” just to take everything to a whole other lever of cool. That’s just the way he rolls.

Gandalf’s Wisest Wisdom

Pity? It was pity that stayed Bilbo’s hand. Many that live deserve death. Some that die deserve life. Can you give it to them, Frodo? Do not be too eager to deal out death in judgment. Even the very wise cannot see all ends. My heart tells me that Gollum has some part to play yet, for good or ill before this is over. The pity of Bilbo may rule the fate of many.

The Fellowship of the Ring, by J.R.R. Tolkien

Gandalf’s Greatest Moment

True story: Some engaged friends of ours came over this summer for dinner, and while we were talking afterwards, my wife brought up my wizard staff. My wizard staff is a five and a half feet tall staff of polished, amber colored wood, knotted and blackened in places by the natural grain of the board it was made out of. I got it in fourth or fifth grade as part of a Halloween wizard costume, together with a long black and purple robe, a golden rope belt, and a ridiculous dragon-molded skull cap.

I absolutely loved this wizard costume. I loved it so much, actually, that I proceeded to wear it every year for four consecutive years, adding a little bit of flair every year. I only stopped because I hit that age where I was too cool to go trick-or-treating but too genuine to start wearing ironic costumes.

I kept the staff, though, and brought it with me to our new apartment when Madelyn and I got married. Sometimes I hold it when I need to think, like Tom Cruise holds his bat in A Few Good Men. I get compared to Tom Cruise a lot actually.

For some reason Madelyn brought this up (the staff, not the Tom Cruise part), and our guy friend asked to see it. So I got it out of the library / spare bedroom and handed it to him.

Question: What did he do with it?

Answer: The same thing that every single other person would do with it.

He planted his feet wide, raised the staff over his head, slammed it to the ground and said…… what did he say everybody… come on… you know it…. say it with me….

“You shall not PASS!”

He reenacted the greatest moment in the wizard universe, the fantasy geek equivalent of Michael Jordan crossing up / pushing off Bryon Russel in the ’98 Finals Game 6 and rising up for the game winner.

Gandalf is kind of like the Michael Jordan of wizards, actually. Both men are the greatest ever at what they did. Both men redefined their fields such that everyone that has ever followed after them is judged based on how close they come to their high standards. Both Gandalf and Michael Jordan took us to the absolute peak of entertainment awesomeness.

But most of all, they were just so amazing that everyone who ever experienced them in action is, on some level, always trying to recreate that experience. Dumbledore came the closest that anyone has ever come to actually doing it. But awesome as Dumbledore is, his MERLINS Score is probably closer than it should be.

Because, like with Jordan, it’s not really about the numbers. It’s about the swooping feeling in your stomach; the burning spark in your mind; the eight-year-old kid throwing lightning bolts at his action figures; the twenty-four-year-old grad student slamming a polished staff into the carpet of his apartment living room and snarling Your dark fire will not avail you!; the grad student’s wife climbing into the car when they are late for something and saying Show me the meaning of haste; the moments that stick with you as the years go by.

The Purpose of a Wizard

So, did we learn anything from all this? I set out trying to capture everything that I loved about wizards, but now that I get to the end, I’m sort of left wondering if I didn’t miss the point entirely.

It’s fun to debate and rank and analyze wizards, but in a way it kind of misses the most important thing. Story tellers don’t create wizards to score highly on the MERLINS Scale. Of course, this is mostly because they’ve never heard of it, but it’s also because they know that wizards aren’t awesome because they shoot lightning or wear pointed hats or make witty jokes or say wise things.

A wizard is awesome because a wizard carries a light along the blackest of roads, and keeps hope alive until the dawn breaks.

That’s right. I just got poetic on you. Say this phrase again, out loud.

A wizard carries a light along the blackest of roads, and keeps hope alive until the dawn breaks.

That’s it. That’s the purpose, awesomeness, and ultimate judgment of every wizard, all rolled into one sentence. Aren’t you glad you read this far to find that out?

And there is no one, no one, I would rather follow more than Gandalf the Greyish White, just like there is no one I would rather start a team with more than Michael Jordan. And until there is, it doesn’t really matter what the MERLINS score tells us. All the other wizards must graciously step aside.

Gandalf rules them all.

Other essays in the Wizard Series

Part 1 – The Wizard Rules | Part 2 – The MERLINS Scale | Part 3 – The Ten Greatest Wizards (10-6)

Jordan Jeffers is a graduate student and future famous novelist. If you want to offer him a book deal (or if you just want to chat), write to him at whispers.earthquake@gmail.com.

The Ten Greatest Wizards (10 – 6)

In Fantasy on August 5, 2011 at 12:55 PM

The Definitive, Arbitrary, All-Time Rankings: Part 1

We’re finally there! I started writing this list about a month ago, and can now say with confidence that it has been one of the funnest things I have ever done. And yes, that is rather sad.

I’d recommend that those of you who missed the first two introductory essays go back and read The Wizard Rules and The MERLINS Scale to catch all the way up. Otherwise it will be hard to know what I’m doing here. Of course, that’s another 6,600 extra words about wizards to read, so here’s a quick review for those of you with actual social lives.

Review

Every wizard on this list qualifies as a “true-wizard” in accordance with the two Wizard Rules:

  1. A wizard must have supernatural power
  2. A wizard must try to use their wisdom to mentor a hero

The Wizard Rules are in place to keep out two groups of posers:

  • “Normies” – people who are called wizards, but have no supernatural powers (i.e. The Wizard of Oz)
  • “Pseudo-wizards” – people who have supernatural powers, but do not serve the same function in a story as a true-wizard (aka Harry Potter).

I have scored every true-wizard on the MERLINS Scale, a highly arbitrary ranking system that attempts to compare the awesomeness of different wizards across story lines and genres. And when I say “every true-wizard,” I mean every true-wizard that I’m familiar with. I’ve read a lot of fantasy in my day, but I haven’t read everything.

The MERLINS Scale is scored out of a maximum 70 points, and consists of the following categories:

  • Magic – The sum of a wizard’s Raw Power (what they can do, abbreviated RAP) and Relative Power (what everyone else can do, abbreviated REP): 15 points
  • Exploits – Adventures, deeds, and other risky and unexpected undertakings: 10 points
  • Raillery – The funniness of a wizard: 10 points. (By the way, I originally wrote the word “funniness” as a joke, but apparently it’s a real word. Who knew?)
  • Looks – Appearance and style: 5 points
  • Intellectum – The measure of a wizard’s wisdom: 5 points
  • Normalishness – A made-up word roughly defined as “the extent to which you would enjoy yourself splitting a six pack with this guy/gal over a ballgame”: 10 points
  • Story – The quality of the story in which the wizard appears: 15 points

That’s it! After applying these criteria for the last day and a half, I can officially present to you all the TEN GREATEST WIZARDS OF ALL TIME (*cough-that-i-know-of-cough*). Hooray!

10. Yoda

45 points

Strengths

Magic: 14/15 (11 RAP, 3 REP); Looks: 5/5; Intellectum: 5/5; Story: 11/15

As we all know, Yoda’s power comes from the Force, that midichlorian produced mysterious power that binds the Star Wars galaxy together. Yoda can move massive objects with his mind, see into the future, repel lightning, fight like a demon toad on twenty grams of crack, and influence the weak-minded. He’s probably the most powerful being in the Star Wars universe, although his only fight with the evil Emperor Palpatine at the end of Episode III ends in a draw. He’s also not much of a cook.

Yoda’s real power is in his wisdom though, where he easily gets the full 5 Intellectum points. I’d probably give him 20 more if it was possible in this system. For 800 years has Yoda taught Jedi, and almost everything out of his mouth is wise in some way. My favorite examples:

“Great warrior, eh? Wars not make one great.”

“Death is a natural part of life. Rejoice for those who transform into the Force. Mourn them do not. Miss them do not. Attachment leads to jealousy. The shadow of greed, that is.”

“Try not. Do! Or do not. There is no try.”

“Fear is the path to the dark side. Fear leads to anger, anger leads to hate, hate leads to suffering.”

“Size matters not. Judge me by my size do you? And well you should not. For my ally is the Force. And a powerful ally it is. Life creates it, makes it grow. It surrounds us. And binds us. Luminous beings are we, not this crude matter!”

Luke: “Mater Yoda, moving stones is one thing but this is totally different.”
Yoda: “No! No different! Only different in your mind. You must unlearn what you have learned.”

Etc. Hard to believe that Yoda came from the same mind as The Comic-Relief That Must Not Be Named, but so it is.

Weaknesses

Exploits: 2/10; Raillery 4/10; Normalishness: 4/10

Here’s where Yoda comes up pretty short (get it, short?). Though he’s a wise and powerful Jedi Master, he never really does anything. He has some pretty entertaining duels in Episodes II and III, but honestly the only moment that really sticks out in my mind is when he lifts Luke’s X-Wing out of the swamp. That’s not a whole lot to go on. And he’s pretty funny when he’s pretending to be a weird old hermit in Empire, but other than that he’s pretty much all business.

Thoughts

Here’s how I know this system isn’t totally worthless.

I LOVE YODA. Out of all the wizards on this list, he’s the one I most want to be real, the one I’d most like to meet. I would carry him around on my back all day and listen to him say stuff and make that deep humming noise (hmmmmm) that he makes and watch him poke at stuff with his stick. And he would use the Force to pick up the cars on School Street so that I’d always have a place to park in the morning when I went to work.

Before I started this whole wizard essay series, I would have picked Yoda for my second or third wizard overall, with an outside shot at first, and I’m kind of upset that he ended up at ten. In fact, he was one point away from not making the list at all, which I think would have caused this list to mysteriously never get written.

But that’s what the MERLINS Scale is supposed to do, provide a common basis for comparing wizards to each other without taking personal preference into account. So you’re welcome America. Now I’m going to go buy a Yoda-shaped backpack to make myself feel better. Seriously – don’t shake your head Madelyn! – I want one.

9. Merriman Lyon

46 points

Merriman Lyon

Strengths

Magic: 14/15 (12 RAP; 2 REP); Exploits: 8/10;  Looks: 5/5; Intellectum: 4/5;

Many of you are probably unfamiliar with Susan Cooper’s 1970’s fantasy series, The Dark is Rising. And by “many of you,” I mean the five to ten people who are actually reading this. It’s a solid, five-book epic that focuses on five child heroes and their wizard Merriman, also called Gummery and/or Great Uncle Merry. Merriman is an Old One, an immortal servant of the Light who has dedicated his life to fighting the barbarous servants of the Dark. He’s also (sort of) Merlin, and I insert that parenthetical (sort of) because Merlin is (sort of) just another one of Merriman’s many personas, albeit the most famous one.

Old Ones have a really impressive array of powers, including time travel, self-transfiguration, memory wipes, and control over the elements. As the oldest of the Old Ones, Merriman has been fighting the Dark for a long, long time, and it is he who actually uses the power of the Wild Magic and the Old Magic to throw the Dark beyond time at the end of the final novel. I know that you have no idea what I’m talking about, so let’s move on.

Weaknesses

Raillery: 4/10; Normalishness: 5/10;  Story: 6/15

Merriman is sort of like a wizard version of Tony La Russa – He has a proven track record, a desire to win at all costs, and a face that is only capable of three emotions: stoic, contemptuous, and contemptuously stoic. His driving commitment to beating the Dark often leads him to ignore people’s feelings, which means that he’s rarely, if ever, funny. He also has a serious, media-suppressed drinking problem. (OK, maybe not that last one. Maybe.)

Thoughts

Merriman is our first example of a character who scores high on the MERLINS Scale without being all that memorable. He’s a wizard whose whole is less than the sum of his parts. (And the comparisons to TLR keep mounting…)  Merriman is basically too perfect. He’s more like a force of nature than a person – he never makes mistakes, never lacks important knowledge, never gives the impression that he is anything less than in complete control at all times.

And guess what? That’s boring.

The best wizards have flaws; they’ve got pimples; they sometimes give the impression that they don’t know what the hell they’re doing. Like Ozzie Guillen. Who cares if he doesn’t have as many championships. He’s a heck of a lot more entertaining.

8. Polgara the Sorceress

47 points

Polgara the Sorceress

Strengths

Magic: 13/15 (12 RAP; 1 REP); Exploits: 9/10; Raillery: 9/10; Intellectum: 5/5; Normalishness: 6/10

The only woman to appear in our top ten (sorry Mary Poppins!), Polgara the Sorceress is the creation of David and Leigh Eddings. She’s a beautiful, sarcastic, powerful, pissy woman, and she was also one of my favorite characters growing up. Polgara is one of two wizards in the Eddings’ two massive fantasy epics, The Belgariad and The Mallorean. According to the internet, there are 5353 pages in the 12 books of this series, and since I read about a page  per minute, I figure I spent at least 89 hours of my life with Polgara over the course of my childhood.

The following quote pretty much captures her personality exactly:

“Listen carefully, Arshag,” Polgara said. “You provided the Demon Lord with women so that he could unloose an abomination upon the world. That act must not go unrewarded. This, then, is your reward. You are now invincible. No one can kill you – no man, no Demon – not even you yourself. But no one will ever again believe a word you say. You will be faced with constant ridicule and derision all the days of your life and you will be driven out wherever you go, to wander the world as a rootless vagabond. Thus you are repaid for aiding Mengha and helping him to unleash Nahaz and for sacrificing foolish women to the Demon Lord’s unspeakable lust.” She turned to Durnik. “Untie him.” She commanded.

When his arms and legs were free, Arshag stumbled to his feet, his tattooed face ashen. “Who are you, woman?” he demanded in a shaking voice. “And what power do you have to pronounce so terrible a curse?”

“I am Polgara,” she replied. “You may have heard of me.”

SNAP!

Weaknesses

Looks: 1/5; Story: 4/15

Polgara’s beauty is one of her defining character traits. Like in real life, it’s probably the first thing that everyone notices about her. But, also like in real life, it progressively becomes less and less important the more time you spend with her. You almost forget about it, actually, until some new person sees her for the first time and brings it back up again.

If you take a look at my Wizard Style Guide, however, you’ll notice that “beauty” does not appear anywhere on the list. The one cool “wizard” thing that Polgara has is the shock of white hair running through her raven locks. Even that is not particularly cool, however, since it’s exactly the same style as Rogue from X-Men. (BTW, is Rogue still an X-“Man,” even though she’s a woman?)

Thoughts

The 89 hours notwithstanding, I’d recommend reading The Belgariad if you enjoy Harry Potter. Polgara is the biggest reason why. She’s sort of like the sassy aunt that you’ve always wanted. (People want sassy aunts right?) The Eddingses (Eddingsi? Eddingees?) are good story tellers, even if not as consistently good as Rowling is. I have no other thoughts here, and since Polgara always has the last word, I’ll give it to her.

“It pains me to say it about my own gender, but young women, particularly young noblewomen, are a silly lot, and their conversation is top full of empty-headed frivolity – mostly having to do with decorating themselves in such ways as to attract attention.

I take a certain amount of comfort in the fact that young men aren’t much better.”

7. Obi-Wan Kenobi

48 points

Obi-Wan Kenobi

Strengths

Magic: 10/15 (9 RAP; 1 REP); Exploits: 7/10;  Looks: 4/5; Intellectum: 5/5; Story: 11/15

Look! Someone else you’ve actually heard of! Awesome, right? Trust me, we’ll get to Dumbledore eventually.

I originally considered making a rule that would prohibit two wizards from the same story on this list. Then I spent an hour staring blankly at the name Tiresias, and I decided against it. We all love ancient Greek myths, of course, but Star Wars is a little more accessible these days.

And Obi-Wan certainly deserves it. He’s one of the most powerful Jedi Knights to ever live, and though he’s not as wise or as powerful as Yoda, he beats the green master on the strength of his high Exploits score.

After his famous dance-off with the Sith Lord Darth Maul, Obi-Wan spent the next decade or so training the most important figure in galactic history, Anakin “Loud Breath” Skywalker. The two heroes exchanged a lot of witty banter during the Clone Wars and then Anakin killed himself in order to become Darth Vader, at which point Obi-Wan challenged him to another famous dance-off, finally cutting off the traitor’s legs and shouting his famous insult (“Dance NOW sucker!”). Or something like that.

Obi-Wan then went into exile for twenty years or so to work on his beard. Then Anakin’s son, Luke “Blondy” Skywalker, showed up one sunny Tatooine morning with an Astro-Droid named R2D2 that Obi-Wan must have mysteriously forgotten because R2D2 was one of Obi-Wan’s constant companions during the Star Wars prequels and yet some how Obi-Wan fails to mention any of this to Luke when they meet for the first time. Not that the Prequels are poorly made or anything. (Nerd…Rage…Mounting…)

Weaknesses

Raillery: 5/10; Normalishness: 6/10; 

Obi-Wan is good for the occasional sarcastic comment, especially in the Prequels, but he’s not quite up to Dumbledore standards in the Raillery category. He’s also not someone I could ever picture doing something as normal as, say, falling in love, that wonderful foible of humankind that Anakin at least pretends to do. From this point forward, though, I’m kind of just splitting hairs. Obi-Wan is awesome. He’s just not quite as awesome as the next six names on the list.

Thoughts

As much time as I spent reading The Belgariad as a kid, I’m 98.75% sure that I spent more time watching Star Wars. Besides, I stopped reading The Belgariad 12+ years ago, whereas I continue to watch the Star Wars series at least three to four times a year (the original series, that is, not the prequels). They’re just incredibly re-watchable.

Star Wars epitomizes one of the best arguments for Why Fantasy Matters (WFM). Ultimately the entire series boils down to two scenes:

  • Scene 1 – Anakin Skywalker is tempted by the evil, pasty Emperor and decides to pay any cost, including his soul, in order to gain power and save his life. (Despite Hayden Christensen inability to change the perfect contours of his face to express emotion, that’s what that scene was about. Trust me on this one.)
  • Scene 2 – Luke Skywalker is tempted by the evil, wrinkly Emperor and decides to pay any cost, including his life, rather than gain power at the cost of his soul.

The reason Luke is able to make the right choice where is father fails is, in my opinion, very much due to Obi-Wan’s willingness to admit his own limitations. He tries to train Anakin himself, and fails miserably. Rather than repeat his mistake, however, he sends Luke to Yoda to get the proper training that Anakin was denied. Obi-Wan pays dearly for his first mistake, humbles himself in the desert, and makes the right choice the second time. There’s a lesson in there for us, a real, life-changing lesson, but we have to look past the lightsabers long enough to see it.

And actually I think most of us do see it, even if we don’t realize it at the time. That’s the power of fantasy. We can learn to be good without realizing it.

6. Zeddicus Zu’l Zorander

49 points

Zeddicus Zu'l Zorander

Strengths

Magic: 13/15 (12 RAP; 1 REP); Exploits: 9/10;  Raillery: 9/10; Looks: 5/5; Intellectum: 5/5

Zeddicus Zu’l Zorander is the true-wizard of  Terry Goodkind’s 12 book epic / low-budget T.V. series The Sword of Truth / Legend of the Seeker. He’s a mastermind of Additive Magic, which usually involves lighting and healing and other Elemental work.

Zedd frequently uses a particularly nasty spell called Wizard’s Fire, which may or may not have been the inspiration for Fiendfyre in Harry Potter. Life Fiendfyre, Wizard’s Fire is almost alive, and burns so fiercely that a single drop of it on the skin can bore a hole straight through to the bone. Its magic sucks the heat out of its surroundings, a nifty little side effect that Zedd uses at one point to freeze a screeling in a pool of water. (A screeling is a nasty creature from the underworld that laughs like a hyena, climbs like a spider, and rips people’s faces off like Hannibal Lecter. The only way to kill a screeling is to hack it to pieces or hit it with Subtractive Magic, hence Zedd is forced to freeze this one in a pool instead. He’s a smart guy.)

Zedd also wins the award for Best Wizard Name, and fake awards have to count for something.

Weaknesses

 Normalishness: 6/10;  Story: 2/15

The Sword of Truth has the dubious distinction of being the only fantasy series that I ever stopped reading. I even read the first nine volumes, and had only to read three more to get the satisfaction of finishing the damn thing. But at that point the story had deteriorated so badly that I just couldn’t do it anymore.

Goodkind is a big proponent of Objectivism, a philosophical school based on the thinking of author Ayn Rand. Objectivism is basically the idea that the only moral pursuit of life is one’s own happiness, probably the most selfish forms of morality I’ve ever encountered. Objectivism has gotten some buzz recently, especially with conservative politicians like Paul Ryan, who look to Rand to get support for their particular visions of free enterprise economy and small-to-nonexistent government.

Though Rand’s ideas are present in most of the Sword of Truth novels, the last three books stop being stories completely and become long-winded speeches encases in fantasy book covers. I was in a bookstore about a year or two ago, and I picked up the last book of the series just to see how things were going to end for old Zedd and the gang. I flipped to the end and discovered that the main hero of the novels, Richard Rahl, was in the middle of what appeared to be twenty or thirty pages of philosophical rambling.

So for making me stringing me along for nine books and then crapping all over me, Zedd gets a 2/15 in Story category.

Thoughts

The story is still better than Mary Poppins though. Poor Mary Poppins.

Other posts in this series:

Part 1 – The Wizard Rules | Part 2 – The MERLINS Scale | Part 4 – The Ten Greatest Wizards (5-1)

Jordan Jeffers is a graduate student and future famous novelist. If you want to offer him a book deal (or if you just want to chat), write to him at whispers.earthquake@gmail.com.

 

The MERLINS Scale

In Fantasy on July 29, 2011 at 4:22 PM

A highly arbitrary scoring system for all wizards.

In my last post, I argued (very well and persuasively I think, with just the right amount of subtle humor) that we need a better definition of the wizard character, that there are, in fact, entirely too many people claiming the title, and that, as a rule, I spend way too much time every day thinking about this.

But now that we’ve settled the question of what a wizard is, we can ask ourselves the next question: What makes a wizard awesome? To answer that question, I present to you a new ranking scale, bound to take the geek world by storm…

The MERLINS

The MERLINS system is designed to account for all of the things that we love about wizards, from the tops of their peaked wool hats to the tips of their holly-wood wands. It is a rubric by which we can compare wizards across multiple books, movies, and T.V. shows. (OK, fine, graphic novels as well. Nerd.)

It also has the benefit of appearing to be more objective, though of course I’m making everything up based on my own personal preference. But I think you’ll agree with me on most of it.

Here’s how it works. There are seven categories representing the seven most important characteristics of any given wizard (the number seven being, as Tom Riddle points out, the most powerful magical number). Competing wizards can score 5-15 points in each category, depending on how important that category is and how awesome they are in that category.  There are a total of 70 points possible.

Sooooo

  • A “perfect” wizard would score 70 points on the MERLINS scale
  • An “average” wizard would score 35 points
  • A level 85 Mage in World of Warcraft would score -18 points

I should also note that, come hell or high water, I was set on calling this system MERLINS from the get go, and I spent a long, long time trying to get the abbreviations to work. So yes, I know some of them are a stretch, but it was totally worth it. Trust me, you’ll talk yourself into it eventually.

OK, one last note before we get started: I noticed while writing this that I kept awkwardly referring to “a wizard” to describe things, and then I wouldn’t know what pronoun to use after that (because, as I noted in the last piece, wizards can be female). This led me to write sentences like, “If a wizard is hungry, then a wizard could conjure up a delicious Subway chicken breast on hot and toasty flatbread to enjoy while on a wizard’s picnic.”

So in order to avoid terrible sentences like that, I’ll be using a hypothetical wizard named Hyp O. Thetical. (You see what I did there?) Hyp is a vigorous, balding gentleman from the low hills of southern Italy. When he’s not out helping young heroes complete their quests, he spends most of his time drinking copious amounts of red wine and shooting fireworks out of his ears. I’ll be subjecting Hyp to each of the following MERLINS categories, just so we can all see how things play out in practice. We good with that?

Excellent! Then let’s dive right into the wonderful world of…

Magic

15 points possible

Magic is the measure of a wizard’s supernatural power. There are two subcategories within Magic: Raw Power and Relative Power. The total Magic score is simply the sum of the two subcategories, like this:

Magic = Raw Power + Relative Power

Raw Power

12 points possible

Raw Power is worth 12 of the 15 points in the Magic category. We will be judging wizards in this sub-category based entirely on the absolute awesomeness of their magic. The more awesome their power, the more points we award. The precise amount of awesomeness is determined by the Theodorus Scale, named after my favorite character in Heroes of Might and Magic III, because it’s my system and I get to do whatever I want.

Below you’ll see nine different categories of Raw Power. Wizards earn points in a category by being able to do something within that category. Any one thing will do. There’s no need to do multiple things, nor do we award any bonus points for being able to do multiple things.

Why not? Because I’ve fiddled with different scoring systems for an hour now, and this is the simplest. Also, it’s impossible to list all of the things that might fit within a category. Magic, after all, is bound only by the limits of the imagination.

Remember also that you can only score 12 points in Raw Power, so any wizard that would otherwise go over 12 points will have their score reduced. Again, this is entirely because I’m tired of trying to make the numbers work out.

The Theodorus Scale is as follows, from lamest powers to coolest powers:

Party Tricks – 1 point

This category includes all of the following:

  • Lights: Abilities that create or remove light – fireworks, mage-lights, the Deluminator, etc.
  • Sounds: Abilities that create or deaden sound – snaps, crackles, pops, etc.
  • Tricks: Minor abilities that make life easier – cooking, cleaning , opening locks, starting fires, etc.
  • Jokes: Weasley’s Wizard Wheezes. ‘Nuff said.

Martial Arts – 1 point

This category includes any form of power that improves a wizard’s strength, speed, endurance, quickness, skill, aim, stamina, jumping ability, hand-eye coordination, tap-dancing, Frisbee throwing, or Kan Jamming. Basically, wizards get points here for kicking ass on a regular basis with anything other than their magic.

This also includes what most video game players would call “buffs,” where a wizard uses his/her magic to increase the strength, speed, stamina, etc of somebody else, usually before an important battle or something. I love it when Martial Arts get invoked, since they often lead to some pretty sweet sequences where old men rip through hordes of evil creatures with staff and sword. See also: Lord of the Rings, Gandalf.

Plants and Animals – 1 point

Potions, potions, potions! Also includes powers that help wizards talk with animals, improve crop yields, and encourage the local male and female goats to get friendly.

These kinds of powers are very useful to have around when you’re in a tight spot and need something to move the plot forward. Looking for a quick update on the latest evil doings of the Dark Prince? Just grab a quick chat with the local raven! They always seem to know everything. It’s like a magical version of Twitter.

Second Sight – 2 points

I’m afraid Professor Trelawny did quite a bit of harm to the reputation of Second Sight, being such a hopeless, owl-eyed fraud (well, a quasi-fraud at any rate). Future predicting is old news in the wizard world, however, so luckily there’s a large tradition of awesomeness to fall back on when old owl-eyes fails us. Also included in this category are certain “far seeing” forms of magic that can look on current people and events at great distances.

If this power worked perfectly all of the time, however, there often wouldn’t be much of a story to tell, so Second Sight is notoriously finicky and unreliable. (“Always in motion is the future,” says a wise little green man.) This probably has something to do with our distaste for the idea that our choices don’t matter. In spite of much evidence to the contrary, we like to think we are in control of our lives. See also: The Matrix, NE0.

Elemental Spells – 2 points

Almost everyone is familiar with Elemental Spells in some form? Here’s a quick review for those of you who don’t – a good, clean, elemental wizard duel.

The men faced each other across ten grim yards of broken flagstones, the two masters of Gramarye, last workers of the ancient magic of the Old Times. The ruins of the once-mighty palace stood around them like onlookers, hidden in the shadows &em; silent witnesses to this, the final battle of the Twelfth Cycle.

Then Old Maelk gestured sharply with his oaken staff, and lightning burst from its tip with a terrifying shriek, hurtling toward the heart of The Heron-Prince. With a roar the Prince struck down with his sword, turning the bolt from his heart, flinging it back to the earth.

The light broke on the ground beneath his feet, and the earth trembled as if in pain from the great blow. Then with a shudder the earth split in front of the Prince and yawned away from him like an arrow, flagstones flying into the air in its wake. But ere it swallowed up Old Maelk, it broke and passed around the old man’s steady staff, washing away like a wave around the rocks on a granite shore.

Undaunted, the Heron-Prince lifted his sapphire ring into the sky, and called upon the spirits of the wind in a strange and fell tongue, which no mortal man can speak and yet live. The blue of his sapphire burned bright in the gathering gloom, and the powers of the whirlwind spun above him. Faster and faster the darkness spun, and faster and darker, until a great tornado of black wind twisted to the ground between the two masters, dwarfing them with its howling malevolence. Again the prince called, and flung his arm toward Maelk, as if to pierce him with a javelin, and at his command the whirlwind attacked, snarling like a lioness eager for her prey.

Maelk again held his staff before him, his lined face grimacing in pain and effort. But though he stood in the midst of a black power which would have uprooted a mighty oak tree, yet still his body stood as if in a dead calm, untouched, and not a hair on his head was moved. Then the tip of his staff blazed red as if alight with flame, growing and burning, until it’s fiery light matched the icy radiance of the Prince’s sapphire. A red serpent of flame blazed forth, hissing through the black wind, shattering its power, twisting up into the sky. Then down the serpent struck, mighty as a comet, red fangs tipped with a fire so hot that they burned white.

The Prince called aloud again, desperation twisting his face. With a rushing roar came a solid wall of water, surging out of the earth, still cracked before his feet. Water and flame met in a great crash, and steam billowed forth in rolling waves, obscuring Old Maelk and the Heron-Prince, enveloping, indeed, the whole palace, so that even the silent stone watchers could not have seen how the battle fared.

Though many years later, some old women still swore that one could look on that great battle of the elemental powers from a distance, and see in the rolling steam clouds two great and terrible shapes, throwing lightning back and forth like a child’s ball…

Mind Control – 2 points

The two uses of mind control that stick in my memory the most are:

  1. Obi-Wan Kenobi talking to the Storm Troopers in Mos Eisley. (“These aren’t the droids you’re looking for…”)
  2. Mad-Eye Moody jerking a spider around like a puppet in Harry Potter. (“Think it’s funny do you?” he growled. “You’d like it, would you, if I did it to you?”)

The weird part is that one is the action of a good guy, and the other is supposed to demonstrate the incredible evil of the exact same action. Mind control is both a Jedi trick and an Unforgivable curse, and somehow I manage to hold both of these contradictory characterizations in my head at the same time. Thus it’s awesomeness is tempered by the dangers of it, and the fear we all have that our choices are not our own.

Transfiguration – 3 points

I’m thinking more about human transfiguration here. Turning a porcupine into a pincushion is closer to a Party Trick than an awesome power. But turning yourself into a wolf or a bear or a penguin? Pretty awesome.

Space and Time – 3 points

Space and Time powers help wizards bend the laws of physics to suit their purposes. We’re talking Apparition, Traveling, super-speed, stopping time, traveling through time, and confusing people by traveling through time.

One of my favorite Space and Time powers is in The Wheel of Time series, where magic wielders can use a fearsome (and forbidden) weapon called balefire. Balefire looks like liquid light and destroys everything it touches. The unique part is that this destruction occurs backwards through time, so that a very strong beam of balefire can undo a person’s life for hours, days, or sometimes even weeks. Thus anything that person had done within that erased time period is undone, people they kill become unkilled, sandwiches they eat become uneaten, etc.

Light or Darkness – 3 points

There are a lot of really awesome powers that don’t seem to fit into any particular category except what I’m calling Light or Darkness. Some examples include:

  • Darkness
    • Necromancy – Communicating with the dead or raising undead servants like zombies, Inferi, skeleton warriors, Cauldron-Born, etc.
    • Demonology – Calling on demons, Satan, or evil spirits.
    • Corruption – Causing disease, pain, or madness.
    • Unmaking – Killing or destroying with dark magic.
  • Light
    • Protection – Defending or shielding someone from evil, like a Patronus charm or Gandalf’s last stand on the Bridge of Khazad-dum.
    • Brilliance – Hard to describe, it’s basically anytime you see a beam of white light shooting at a bad guy
    • Healing
    • Love

Relative Power

3 points possible

So that’s all for Raw Power. Not all magical worlds are created equal, however, so I wanted to build in a small correction that recognizes wizards who are stuck in less powerful worlds. We’ll call it Relative Power.

Relative Power = Power of a wizard relative to all other magical beings within a given world.

For example, I think we’d all agree that if Hyp (remember him?) could do everything on our Magic list, he’d be pretty awesome. But I’d also say that even with all those cool abilities, Hyp would become a lot less awesome if there were fifty other characters in his world who could do exactly the same things that he could do, since all those marvelous wonders would suddenly be rather commonplace. It would still be a pretty sweet common place, but not as sweet.

The Relative Power scale (often called the Einstein Scale by absolutely no one) is pretty simple.

  • 3 points – for being the most powerful being in your fictional universe
  • 2 points – for being in the top three
  • 1 point – for being in the top twelve
  • 0 points  – for being below the top twelve

Hyp’s Score: Unfortunately, the only supernatural thing that Hyp can do is shoot sparks out of his ears (the ability to drink copious amounts of red wine being, of course, quite common). So he’s stuck in “Party Tricks” category and scores only 1 point in Raw Power. However, since he hypothetically lives in our hypothetically real world, which (as far as we hypothetically know) does not contain any other person with magical powers, Hyp would score 3 points on the Relative Power scale.

So his total Magic score would be:

1RAP + 3REP = 4 points

Exploits

10 points possible

This is not “exploits” the verb, as in “That greasy oil tycoon regularly exploits Nature for his own gain.” This is “exploits” the noun as in, “The court bards sang songs of his exploits for three ages of men.”

Exploits refer to adventures, deeds, and other risky and unexpected undertakings. This category is basically a list of everything cool that a wizard has ever done. Harry Potter lovers can think of this as very similar to Chocolate Frog Cards. Wizards receive points based on the number, nature, and importance of their Exploits. So the more things you do, the cooler those things are, and the more important those things are to the history of your world, the more points you get.

This is a highly subjective category, and a really fun one, since we basically have to make impossible decisions.

For example, tell me which of these famous wizard Exploits should receive more points:

  • Dumbledore’s defeat of the Dark Wizard Grindewald.
  • Gandlaf’s defeat of the Balrog of Moria.

I’d personally go with Gandalf. The gigantic Balrog is more badass and terrifying than the blond, blue-eyed, second-most powerful Dark Wizard of all time; the battle between Gandalf and the Balrog actually appears in the books and movies (and is satisfyingly epic); and the stakes of that battle were higher. It’s a bigger deal if Gandalf loses that fight, since there’s a good chance the Balrog would have gotten it’s demonic claws on the One Ring. I don’t think that would’ve ended too well for Middle Earth.

But you could make arguments against it, so this can lead to some fun debates.

Hyp’s Score: Hyp doesn’t have a whole lot to go on in this category. He is regionally famous for allegedly breaking the world speed record for drinking a yard of ale, but that’s never been confirmed. Other than that, old Hyp O. strikes out.

(By the way, isn’t it great that something like the yard of ale exists? Thanks 17th century England!)

o points

Raillery

10 points possible

Word of the day! Raillery is defined by the internet as “good-natured banter or teasing.” As a category, it’s basically a measure of how funny a wizard is. Everyone likes funny people, especially old funny people, and the best wizards offer plenty of quips, jokes, and well-pointed sarcasm.

Some good ones:

  • “Brides are radiant. Bridegrooms are nervous. Does that give you any inclination as to who really runs this world?” – Belgarath the Sorcerer
  • “What do you mean, [“good morning”]? Do you wish me a good morning, or mean that it is a good morning whether I want it or not; or that you feel good this morning; or that it is a morning to be good on?” – Gandalf
  • “Now I think I’ll have a nice cup of tea, or a large brandy.” – Dumbledore
  • “People are stupid; given proper motivation, almost anyone will believe almost anything.” – Zeddicus Zu’l Zorander

Hyp’s Score: Big points here! Hyp is a natural clown, and a blast at parties. He’s spent much of his two hundred years of life collecting a growing assortment of dirty jokes, and is currently the six-time defending champion of the annual O’Henry Pun-Off in Austin, Texas. There’s not a whole lot of wisdom in Hyp’s jokes though, so we’ll dock him a few points for that, as well as another point for getting pretty cruel around 2:00 AM most nights.

7 points

Looks

5 points possible

No fake scoring system would be complete without taking into account the visual appeal of a wizard, so here it is. This category is pretty wide open, but some common point scorers include:

  • Hats, especially pointed, wool ones in solid colors
  • Spectacles, especially if the story refers to them as “spectacles,” instead of glasses. (Isn’t it odd that wizards can move space and time and the minds of men, but they’re still a bit behind the Muggles when it comes to laser corrective surgery?)
  • Sandals or boots
  • Beards
  • Long robes
  • “Active” eyes. If they twinkle at you, penetrate you, or swallow you up, then they score. Also, that last sentence sounded vaguely dirty.
  • Rope belts
  • Unusual height, either tall or short
  • White hair, especially if it is “wild” or “unruly”
  • Staffs, wands, rings, or other magical items

I’m usually not one for style (cut to my wife Madelyn nodding vigorously), but I’ve always loved the traditional wizard look, as well as all of the various permutations and combinations of that look. It marks a wizard out as a unique being, with a unique purpose. It’s fairly easy to fake or mimic though, so it’s not worth as much as some of our other categories.

Hyp’s Score: Points here for Hyp’s wine gut and red-face, as well as his distinctly mismatched Wellington boots. Hyp is also often spotted wearing the unused celebratory T-shirts for Super Bowl runner-ups, particularly the 2007 Patriots. Hyp is severely short-sighted, but, alas, he wears contacts.

3 points

Intellectum

5 points possible

Yeah, I know, I’m really stretching for this one.

Intellectum is a Latin word that means “to understand.” This category basically measures a wizard’s wisdom. I could have just called this “Intelligence,” but that doesn’t have quite the same connotation as “understanding,” and “I”  was the only letter left. Also Intellectum looks more wizard-ish.

Wisdom is one half of Wizard Rule #2, so you might think it would be worth more than five points. But it’s actually worth less because it is so necessary. All wizards have wisdom; if one didn’t, he would cease to be a wizard. Therefore there’s not really as much range in the amount or quality of wisdom among wizards. They’re all fairly equal.

We’ll score this one simply by adding up the number of wise things that a wizard says or does, scoring one point for every instance of wisdom, up to a maximum of five. We can expect that most wizards will score four or five.

Hyp’s Score: Hmm…Well not all wizards. Let’s just move on.

1 point

Normalishness

10 points possible

Yeah, I know, I’m really really stretching on this one.

Normalishness is a nonsense word that I made up. It is defined, roughly, as “the extent to which you think you would enjoy yourself if you split six beers with this guy/gal over a ballgame.” Sure it’s great to be stoic and somber and serious and unruffled and phelgmatic and imperturbable and halycon. (Thanks thesaurus.com!) But I also want to know that my wizard is a real person, with actual human emotions. I want to know that he could still exist outside the world of dangerous adventures and epic battles, even if I never get to witness him actually living in that world.

Ask yourself the following ten questions about whatever wizard you are scoring. If you can answer “Yes” to a question, then give your wizard a point for that question, up to the maximum of ten. Just be sure to replace the word “Hyp” with the name of your wizard, OK? And remember to breathe…(OK I’m running out of jokes, need to wrap this one up)

Hyp’s Score

  1. If you went to a ball game with Hyp, would you enjoy yourself?  +1
  2. Would you let Hyp babysit your kids? +0
  3. Would Hyp go with you to a sports bar and buy a pitcher for the table? +1
  4. Would Hyp ever fart in a crowded elevator? +1
  5. Would he admit it? +1
  6. Would Hyp ever consent to letting a five year old girl ride him like an imaginary pony? +1
  7. If Hyp made a mistake, would he apologize for it? +1
  8. Would Hyp cry from watching any of the following movies: Old Yeller, Titanic, E.T., It’s a Wonderful Life, or Ghost? +1
  9. Does Hyp ever seem worried about anything? +0
  10. Has Hyp ever been in love? +0

7 points

Story

15 points possible

In this category we award wizards points for the quality of the story in which they appear. This is one of the most subjective and personal categories, and thus is likely to see the largest swings from one judge to the next, and the most contentious debates.

Here’s how you score. Think of every story you’ve ever read or seen in a movie that has a wizard in it. Every single one. OK got it? Now rank them 1-15. You don’t have to do it exactly if you don’t want to, just get an approximation. Some of you, n fact, may be struggling to come up with fifteen, in which case I say, God bless you for reading this whole damn thing.

Now, where does the wizard in question appear? Wherever he/she is, give him/her a corresponding number of points such that number one on the list receives 15 points, number two receives 14, number three 13 and so on until number 15, which receives one point. If the wizard in question does not appear on your list, than give them 0 points.

For me, Lord of the Rings still holds the title belt in this category, and probably always will. It’s really not even very close. I’m not going to get into all of the reasons why in this post (cut to Madelyn weeping with relief), but I’ve got a lot of them.

The big problem with this category is that it’s almost totally dependent on everything else that you’ve read. For example, I hear that The Mists of Avalon is a really good book, but I’ve never read it. I have no idea how it compares to Lord of the Rings or Harry Potter. Same goes for Discworld and Xanth and a hundred other fantasy series. So if you’ve never read Lord of the Rings, I can’t really fault you for picking Harry Potter as your number one and giving Dumbledore a full 15 points in this one. Though if you’ve read both and you still think Harry Potter is better then you are crazy.

Hyp’s Score: Since Hyp doesn’t really have a story yet, and never will, he gets a fat goose egg in this final category.

0 points

Recap

So that’s it! The MERLINS scoring system for ranking all wizards. Hyp ended up with the following score:

Magic: 4
Exploits: 0
Raillery: 7
Looks: 3
Intellectum: 1
Normalishness: 7
Story: 0

That gives Hyp a grand total of 22 points, a significantly below average score. But I’m sure a few cases of wine will cheer him up.

And now we’re finally there! A yard of ale for all of you who read everything up to this point. Now on to the list!

Other posts in this series:

Part 1 – The Wizard Rules | Part 3 – The Ten Greatest Wizards (10-6) | Part 4 – The Ten Greatest Wizards (5-1)

Jordan Jeffers is a graduate student and future famous novelist. If you want to offer him a book deal (or if you just want to chat), write to him at whispers.earthquake@gmail.com.

The Wizard Rules

In Fantasy on July 26, 2011 at 9:44 PM

Power, wisdom, and why Harry Potter is not a wizard.

A friend of mine recently sent me a TIME magazine list of the “Top 10 Most Beloved Wizards.” I guess I should give the magazine a pass since they called it “beloved” wizards and not “best” wizards, but I hated almost everyone on their list. (Not that they care what I think any way. And I probably read that list half a dozen times, so they certainly got plenty of traffic from someone who claims he doesn’t like their work. (Yes I just referred to myself in the third person. I couldn’t think of any better way to write that sentence. Plus it gave me an excuse to do a double parenthetical phrase)).

So I asked, why not make my own list? Why not come up with the ultimate, definitive, irreproachable roster of the ten greatest wizards in fictional history? Why not show that highly successful, multi-million dollar magazine how the real professionals do it? Why not ask yourself a number of rhetorical questions in order to introduce a really over thought and unnecessary essay? Why not talk to yourself?

What Makes a Wizard?

I’ll get to the list and the ranking system in a bit. First I want to deal with the two problems I had with the TIME list:

  1. Gandalf was not number one. (Did I just spoil the ending of this piece?)
  2. The list basically includes everyone who has some sort of magical association, even if only by name. Hence their list includes such greats as Mickey Mouse (from Fantasia‘s “The Sorcerer’s Apprentice”) and Thomas Edison of all people, who was apparently referred to as the “Wizard of Melo Park” for all of his inventions.

But Thomas Edison is not a wizard, neither is Mickey Mouse or the Wizard of Oz or even Harry Potter. Yes you read that right – Harry Potter is not a wizard. He is a stupendous, short-sighted, brave, remarkable, frustrating hero who also happens to be able to do magic. But he is not a wizard.

The only real wizard at Hogwarts is Albus Dumbledore. In my opinion he is the only wizard in all of the wonderful magical world that Rowling created for us. And I don’t mean that he’s the coolest or most powerful, and so everyone else looks insignificant next to his greatness. I mean he is literally the only one that qualifies

Wizards have a very specific function in a story; they exist for very specific reasons, and it takes more than the word “wizard” to make you a real wizard. Otherwise we could put Michael Jordan on the top-ten list for his brief stint with a certain Washington DC basketball franchise that shall not be named (and coming in at number 6,385…Kwame Brown!). But of course that’s not at all what we mean by the title of “wizard.”

As a devoted reader of fantasy stories, and especially as someone who (cough) takes them seriously, I’ll take a little time to try to explain what I mean. Let’s try to answer the question: What makes a wizard?

There are two rules:

Rule #1

A wizard must have supernatural powers

OK, so this is the most obvious rule, the one that just about everyone outside of TIME will agree on. Shoot lightning, move swords with your mind, turn yourself into a badger, do something.

This immediately rules out the Thomas Edisons of the world, as well as the Wizard of Oz. The Wizard of Oz is clever and interesting and a great character, he just doesn’t qualify as a wizard. The whole point of his character, in fact, is that he’s masquerading as something he’s not. The fire and the booming voice are masques to cover who he really is, a lovable conman without any real power.

But a character needs more than magic to be a wizard. Consider the following characters:

  1. Tinkerbell
  2. Professor X
  3. Harry Potter

I think we would all agree that the first two characters are not wizards. Tinkerbell is a fairy, darting about, slinging dust on unsuspecting children, and generally being rather spiteful.

But she has magic correct? So why wouldn’t we call her a wizard?

“Well she’s not really even human is she?” you say. “A wizard at least has to be a human.”

“Aha!” I say in reply, smugly happy with myself. “But what about number 2 on our list, the great Professor X? He is human (even if everyone calls him a mutant, the bigots!) and yet he also has extreme super natural powers. He can take control of people’s minds and force them to do whatever he wants them to do.” I lean in very close, punctuating each word with a jab of my pale, bony finger into your shoulder. “Sounds an awful lot like an Imperio curse doesn’t it? A power which one Mr. Harry. Potter. also has, and which power you claim somehow gives him the title of wizard? Admit defeat!”

“I think I’ll have lunch with someone else now,” you say, as I feverishly turn back to my computer screen.

If magical power is the only thing that turns an ordinary human into a wizard, then the only difference between a super hero and a wizard is a relative tightness of clothing. Sure Harry can do a lot of different things with his power, but so can the Green Lantern.

My wife, Madelyn, (who is never going to agree with me on this) says that I’m being stupid and that no one is going to agree with me or like me. And I agree with some of her points, like, for example, that there is a difference between the power that Green Lantern has and the power that we usually refer to as “magic.” Her argument is that:

Wizard = Human + magic

It’s that word “magic” that throws me off. Magic comes in so many shapes and sizes and methods that it’s impossible to say with certainty what should be and what should not be considered magic. It is governed by hundreds if not thousands of different rules and regulations, depending on the world you happen to be inhabiting. Rowling treats it rather like a machine in many ways –  say certain words, flick your wrist just so, and (poof!) magic happens. Tolkien, on the other hand, is much more obscure about the mechanics of his wizards’ power; Gandalf uses his staff, many different languages and words, and what seems to be simply his will to accomplish all kinds of magic. Robert Jordan (late author of the Wheel of Time) calls his magic the One Power, his magic-wielders “Aes Sedai,” (which means “Servant to All” in the language he made up) and describes the use of magic as a kind of weaving. Ursula LeGuin’s Sparrowhawk uses words taken from the Making of the World, which have power in and of themselves.

Then take Stephenson’s Thomas Covenant, who uses neither words nor spells to wield the wild magic contained within his white-gold ring. He just wills it to happen, in basically the same way that the Green Lantern does. So what is the difference between these two characters? That one calls his power “magic” (and thus must be a wizard) and the other calls it simply “power” (and thus must be a super hero)?

My point is that there lots of different kinds of supernatural power, and trying to determine which powers do and do not qualify as “magic” is impossible (though fun). At least, it’s impossible to do with any kind of consistency. So using the magic criteria is kind of like using an “I’ll know it when I see it” approach, which may work for Potter Stewart and hard-core pornography, but doesn’t work for me. That’s the kind of thinking that lands Mickey Mouse a spot at number 4 on the list, and I can’t deal with that emotionally. We need a much simpler, better defined system.

Now I admit that this is a hard case to make to most people, especially people whose first encounter with magic was in the pages of Harry Potter. It’s harder to unlearn something than it is to learn a new thing, so if you were introduced to the word “wizard” by Rowling’s books, than you’re probably going to have a natural inclination to agree with Rowling’s use of the word. Very respectfully, however, I would say that Rowling is misapplying the word in this case, that she is taking one of the most obvious aspects of the wizard archetype (magic), and assuming that this is the only thing that anyone needs in order to claim the wizard title.

The main difference between Rowling and I is that Rowling depicts “wizard” as a race, whereas I believe that wizard is more of a profession. The other main difference between us is that she’s sold about 450 million books.

I’m sure I haven’t convinced most of you, but I will go to my grave defending this, so if it makes you feel better, we can call the kind of wizard I’m insisting on a “true-wizard,” and you can substitute that word from now on whenever I use the word “wizard.” A true-wizard must have some sort of supernatural power, sure, but he (or she! – my particular brand of nerdishness is equal opportunity) also has to serve a particular function, have a specific role in a story.

Which bring us to…

Rule #2

A wizard must try to use their Wisdom to mentor a hero

Rule  #2 is really what separates the true-wizards from the faux-wizards. Tinker Bell or the Green Lantern may have power very similar to that of a wizard, but they lack Wisdom, as well as someone to give it to.

Rule #2 contains a couple of sub-rules:

  1. A wizard cannot be the hero.
  2. A wizard cannot exist without a hero.

This rule also helps us see the difference between faux-wizard Harry Potter and true-wizard Dumbledore. Dumbledore is there to guide Harry, to defend him from the things he’s not strong enough to handle, to correct him when he’s being selfish or obsessive, to give him the Wisdom that he will need to defeat the evil both outside and inside of himself, and, in the process, to help him grow into an adult (and all the power and responsibility that adulthood carries with it). In short, Dumbledore is the replacement for Harry’s parents, the father and mother that he was denied.

This is actually often the case with wizards – they step in to help heroes who parents have died or are otherwise unable to fulfill their roles. Gandalf is another good example of this. He is present in The Lord of the Rings to guide and protect Frodo, whose parents die when he is twelve, and whose adopted father leaves him as soon as he comes of age, and to a lesser extent, Aragorn, whose father dies when Aragorn is only two.

The Wisdom of a true-wizard is much like that which Solomon received from God – a discerning heart to see right from wrong, and the courage to choose what is right. It is much more than just directions to the next stage of the quest or advice on the latest evil-fighting spells. Wisdom is timeless and powerful. In fact, it is often more powerful and more important to the story than the wizard’s magic.

If you’re like me, you can quote some of these true-wizards by heart, or at the very least, you’ve absorbed some of their lessons:

“Many that live deserve death. And some that die deserve life. Can you give it to them? Then do not be too eager to deal out death and judgement. For even the very wise cannot see all ends.” – Gandalf the Grey

“It takes as much strength of heart to share in honor as to face shame.” – Dallben

“Great warrior, eh? Wars not make one great.” – Yoda

“You thought, as a boy, that a mage is one who can do anything. So I thought, once. So did we all. And the truth is that as a man’s real power grows and his knowledge widens, ever the way he can follow grows narrower: until at last he chooses nothing, but does only and wholly what he must do.” – The Master Summoner

“Nitwit! Blubber! Oddment! Tweak!” – Albus Dumbledore

Rule #2 also allows evil characters to claim the title of wizard, though the guidance they give is demonic rather than holy, leading the hero on the path of destruction rather than salvation. Emperor Palpatine is a good example of this. (He’s the old, evil guy in the black cloak, from Star Wars, though, if you don’t know that, then I’m amazed that you made it this far. Perhaps you are my mother). His guidance turned a would-be hero (Anakin Skywalker) into a villain (Darth Vader), who then helped his new master bring evil to power rather than defeat it. Thus, in my informed and humble opinion:

Wizard = (Wisdom + Hero) x Magic

Such are the rules of wizards both good and evil. They use their wisdom and influence as much as their magical power, and they always use both to try to turn a hero towards the proper path…or else towards destruction. Where a good wizard will become a mentor and friend, an evil wizard will become a tyrannous master. Remember that, if the fate of the world is ever on your shoulders.

Other posts in this series:

Part 2 – The MERLINS – A Ranking System for all Wizards | Part 3 – The Ten Greatest Wizards (10-6)Part 4 – The Ten Greatest Wizards (5-1)

Jordan Jeffers is a graduate student and future famous novelist. If you want to offer him a book deal (or if you just want to chat), write to him at whispers.earthquake@gmail.com.