Saturday, October 18, 2008

Magician (fantasy)

The Enchanted Garden of Messer Ansaldo by Marie Spartali Stillman:  a magician makes his garden bear fruit and flowers in winter.
The Enchanted Garden of Messer Ansaldo by Marie Spartali Stillman: a magician makes his garden bear fruit and flowers in winter.

A magician, wizard, sorcerer or a person known under one of many other possible terms in fiction is someone who uses or practices magic that derives from supernatural or occult sources.[1] Magicians are common figures in works of fantasy, such as fantasy literature and role-playing games; they draw on a history of such people in mythology, legends, and folklore (see Magician (paranormal)). Although occasional practitioners of sleight-of-hand appear in modern fantasy, they are usually simulating the magic that others perform -- or sometimes concealing their actual magic.

Fantasy magicians have powers arising from their study, possibly based on innate talent, rather than having their magical abilities occur entirely spontaneously, or be granted by another source. (Other fantasy characters can use, or be, magic, but they have not generally acquired their powers by study.) Still, most fantasy wizards are depicted as having a special gift which sets them apart from the vast majority of characters in fantasy worlds who are unable to learn magic.

Wizards, magicians, and practitioners of magic by other titles have appeared in myths, folktales and literature throughout recorded history, and fantasy draws on this background. They commonly appear in fantasy as mentors and villains, as they did in older works, and more recently as heroes themselves. Although they are often portrayed as wielding great powers, their role in shaping the fantasy world they inhabit varies; much of fantasy literature writes of medieval worlds with wizards in a fairly limited role as guardians or advisors.


Fantasy media

Genre studies


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[edit] Folklore and Medieval Literature

Historically, many writers who have written about fictional magicians, and many readers of such works, have believed that such magic is possible; in William Shakespeare's time, witches like the Weird Sisters in Macbeth and wizards like Prospero in The Tempest were widely considered to be real.[2] Many figures now understood to be largely fictional, such as Merlin, were considered historical. Many historical figures, such as Virgil and Dr Faustus (Johann Georg Faust), acquired legends of being wizards.

Some figures, termed by Katharine Briggs as supernatural wizards were wizards whose abilities were innate; such wizards, such as Gwydion in Welsh legends, may once have been regarded as gods.[3] Indeed, in many medieval tales, the wizard or witch is not distinguishable from the ogre or the giant as a foe of the hero.[4] The fairy tale Esben and the Witch features a witch as Molly Whuppie does a giant, and How the Dragon was Tricked a dragon. Characters that are not human can also be wizards; in fairy tales, The Twelve Wild Ducks includes a troll witch,[5] and The Wounded Lion a giant who can transform the hero.[6]

Others, even in medieval romances, learned their abilities by study; Merlin, despite his half-human origin, studied with Blaise.[7] Still others did not have consistent stories told of them; Morgan Le Fay clearly shows her origins as an innately magical being in her name, but in Le Morte d'Arthur, it is said that "she was put to school in a nunnery and there she learned so much that she was a great clerk of necromancy".[8]

Sometimes it is not clear whether a character has innate abilities or has studied. For instance, a hag can be either a witch or a kind of fairy.[9]

Modern writers, and readers, deal with magic as imaginary, as part of the imaginary worlds in which they work, whether fantasy worlds or imaginary portions of reality.[10] Still, such historical figures and beliefs have played a large role in the development of the fantasy figure.[11] The historical figures themselves can appear in fantasy works, such as Prospero,[12] Merlin,[13] and Faust.[14]

The giant Galligantua and the wicked old magician transform the duke's daughter into a white hind by Arthur Rackham; an evil wizard from the fairy tale Jack the Giant Killer.
The giant Galligantua and the wicked old magician transform the duke's daughter into a white hind by Arthur Rackham; an evil wizard from the fairy tale Jack the Giant Killer.

[edit] Character function

In medieval chivalric romance, the wizard often appears as a wise old man and acts as a mentor.[15] Other witches and magicians can appear as villains, as hostile to the hero as ogres and other monsters.[16]

Both these roles were taken up into fantasy. Wizards such as Gandalf in The Lord of the Rings and Albus Dumbledore from Harry Potter featured as mentors.[17] Evil sorcerers, acting as villains, were so crucial to pulp fantasy that the genre that they appeared in was dubbed sword and sorcery.[18]

Ursula K. LeGuin, considering the work that was to become A Wizard of Earthsea, noted that wizards were usually elderly or ageless, which she considered proper, but her own work stemmed from the question of how wizards learned their art, and thereby introduced to modern fantasy a new role: the wizard as the hero of the quest.[19] This theme has been further developed in modern fantasy, often leading to wizards as heroes on their own quests, alongside works where the wizard appears as a mentor figure, or a villain.[20] A work with a wizard hero may give him a wizard mentor as well, as in Earthsea.[17]

Wizards can act the part of the absent-minded professor, being foolish, prone to misconjuring, and generally less than dangerous; they can also be terrible forces, capable of great magics that work good or evil.[21] Even comic wizards are often capable of great feats, such as those of Miracle Max in The Princess Bride; although a washed-up wizard fired by the villain, he saves the mostly dead hero.[22]

(Their place in world-building revolves about the use of magic in a given setting.)

[edit] Appearance

Illustration by Arthur Rackham:  Wotan visiting Mime
Illustration by Arthur Rackham: Wotan visiting Mime

The appearance of wizards in fantasy art, and description in literature, is uniform to a great extent, from the appearance of Gandalf, in The Lord of the Rings to that of Albus Dumbledore in the Harry Potter series. The association with age means that wizards, both men and women, are often depicted as old, white-haired, and (for men) with long white beards. It predates the fantasy genre, being derived from the traditional image of wizards, such as Merlin.[23] Some theorize that this is modeled after the Germanic god Woden or Odin as he was described in his wanderer guise as being an old man with a long gray beard, baggy robes, a wide-brimmed hat and walking with a staff.[24] Women, especially those termed "enchantresses" are the more likely to appear young, though that is often the effect of magic.[25]

White-haired and -bearded wizard with robes and hat.
White-haired and -bearded wizard with robes and hat.

Their clothing is often typical as well. Wizards commonly wear robes or cloaks and pointed hats. These are often brightly colored and spangled with stars and moons, astrological symbols, or with magical sigils. They may also be of gold.[26] The coloring may have significance within the wizards' fantasy worlds; in The Lord of the Rings, the wizards have colors assigned to them, indicative of rank. When Gandalf the Grey becomes Gandalf the White, it is a major ascension of status; whereas in the Dragonlance Dungeons and Dragons setting, the wizards show their moral alignment by their robes. When wizards and witches are distinct groups, witches may dress in the same clothing but in black. Terry Pratchett described this common attire as a way of establishing to those they meet that the person is capable of practicing magic.[27]

Of late, in England, the dress of wizards has varied; numerous younger wizards in various stories seem to favour wearing modern clothes.[citation needed] Some wizards merely wear whatever the normal populace wear.[citation needed] A notable variant of the generic wizard archetype is that of the Wizard in the Conan the Barbarian film, whose clothes are heavily based on the sea, as he lives there.

Wizards may accessorize their wardrobe with magical props, such as crystal balls, wands, staves, books, potions, scrolls or tinkling bells[28], while often rounding out their appearance with ever-present animal companions, which may act as familiars.

[edit] Limits

In any given fantasy magical system, a person must have limits to his magical abilities, or the story has no conflict - problems facing the magician may be too easily solved via arbitrary magic.[29]

One of the most common techniques is that the person has only a limited amount of magical ability. In The Magic Goes Away, Larry Niven made it a factor of environment: once the mana is exhausted in an area, no one can use magic.[30] A more common use is that a person can only cast so many spells in a day. This is the most common use in role-playing games, where the rules rigorously define them.[31]

Magic can also require various sacrifices or the use of certain materials. Blood or life can be required, and even if the magician has no scruples, obtaining the material may be difficult.[32] Harmless substances can also limit the magician if they are rare, such as gemstones. Many fictional magic-users must speak spells aloud or gesture with their hands in order to cast a spell.

The need for learning may also limit what spells a wizard knows, and can cast. When magic is learned from rare and exotic books, the wizard's ability can be limited, temporarily, by his access to these books. In Earthsea, the changing of names weakens wizards as they travel; they must learn the true names of things in their new location to be powerful again.[33]

Magic may also be limited, not so much inherently, but by its danger. If a powerful spell can cause equally grave harm if miscast, wizards are likely to be wary of using it.[34]

[edit] Names and terminology

People who work magic are called by many names in works of fantasy, and the terminology differs widely from one fantasy world to another. While derived from real world vocabulary, "wizard", "witch", "warlock", "enchanter/enchantress", "sorcerer/sorceress", "magician", "mage", or "magus" have within a work of fantasy the meaning the writer invests in them.[35] The term archmage, with "arch" (originating in Greek) indicating "preeminent", may be used to indicate a powerful magician, or a leader of magicians.[2]

"The Love Potion" by Evelyn de Morgan.
"The Love Potion" by Evelyn de Morgan.

When a writer uses more than one term for reasons other than gender-based titles, except in the rarest of cases, it is to sharply distinguish between two types of magic. The precise nature of what the distinction is differs from writer to writer, and the usage can flip-flop between works. In the Enchanted Forest Chronicles, Patricia Wrede depicts wizards who use magic based on their staves, and magicians who practice many kinds of magic, including the wizards'; in the Regency fantasies she and Caroline Stevermer depict magicians as identical to wizards except for being inferior in skill and training.

Within a given work, such distinctions can be important, as the writer defined them. Steve Pemberton's The Times & Life of Lucifer Jones describes the distinction thus: "The difference between a wizard and a sorcerer is comparable to that between, say, a lion and a tiger, but wizards are acutely status-conscious, and to them, it's more like the difference between a lion and a dead kitten."

In role-playing games, the types of practitioners of magic are far more clearly delineated, and named, in order that players and game masters may know the rules by which they are played.[36] In the original edition of Dungeons and Dragons, Gary Gygax and Dave Arneson invented the term "magic-user" as a generic term for a practitioner of magic (in order to avoid cultural connotations of terms such as "wizard" or "warlock"); this lasted until the second edition of Advanced Dungeons and Dragons, where it was replaced with "mage" (later to become "wizard"). The exact rules vary from game to game. In Dungeons and Dragons, a wizard or mage is a character class, distinguished by their ability to cast certain kinds of magic and their weak combat skills; subclasses are distinguished by their strength in some areas of magic and their weaknesses in others.[37] Sorcerers are distinguished from wizards as having an innate gift with magic, as well as possessing dragon blood.[38] In GURPS, magic is a skill that can be combined with others, such as combat, though in most campaigns, the ability "magery" is required to cast spells.[39]

Some names, distinctions, or aspects may have more of a negative connotation, than others, depending on the setting and the context. (See also Magic and Magic and religion, for some examples.)

[edit] Gender-based titles

The term "wizard" is more often applied to a male magic-user, as in Ursula K. LeGuin's Earthsea, just as a "witch" is more often female, as in Andre Norton's Witch World. In Witch World, a man who, anomalously, showed the same abilities as the witches was termed a warlock. The term "warlock" is sometimes used to indicate a male witch in fiction.

However, either term may be used in a unisex manner, in which case there will be members of both sexes bearing that title. If both terms are used in the same setting, this can indicate a gender-based title for practicers of identical magic, such as in Harry Potter, or it can indicate that the two sexes practice different types of magic, as in Discworld.[2]

While "enchantress" is the feminine of "enchanter", "sorceress" may be the feminine, not only of "sorcerer" but of "wizard" or "magician", which terms have no precise feminine equivalent. Piers Anthony, in the comedic Xanth series, describes "sorceress" as "sexist for magician." Indeed, in the Diana Wynne Jones Chrestomanci series, there are many titles such as witches, warlocks, wizards, magicians, fakhirs, medicine men, enchantresses and, of course, enchanters. Nine lived enchanters are the strongest and are given the title "Chrestomanci" by the government; warlocks are corrupted enchanters, magicians and wizards are both very potent and witches can have ranks but are fairly weak (certified witches are very weak, accreddited witches little better).

[edit] Types of magic

While the terms are used loosely, some patterns of naming are more common than others.

Enchanters often practice a type of magic that produces no physical effects on objects or people, but rather deceives the observer or target, creating illusions. Enchantresses, in particular, practice this form of magic, often to seduce.[25] For instance, the Lady of the Green Kirtle in C.S. Lewis's The Silver Chair has enchanted Prince Rilian into forgetting his father and Narnia; when that enchantment is broken, she attempts further enchantments, with a sweet-smelling smoke and a thrumming musical instrument, to baffle him and his rescuers into forgetting them again.[40]

Sorcerer is more frequently used when the magician in question is evil. This may derive from its use in sword and sorcery, where the hero would be the sword-wielder, leaving the sorcery for his opponent.[41]

Witch also carries evil connotations. Indeed, L. Frank Baum, having named Glinda the "Good Witch of the South" in The Wonderful Wizard of Oz, merely titled her "Glinda the Good" in The Marvelous Land of Oz and referred to her there and in all books after as a sorceress rather than a witch, apparently to avoid the term that was more regarded as evil.[42]

Hedge wizard or hedge witch is a widely used contemptuous term for a magician whose magic is unable to win him enough of a living to keep him from poverty or even vagrancy. Herb witch is less contemptuous, and generally indicates skill with plants (whether magically making them grow or using them magically), but generally also indicates a low level of education, and possibly skill. Such characters are often taught informally, by another hedge wizard, rather than receive a formal apprenticeship or education at a school.[43]

Terms derived from more specific magics, such as voodoo, alchemy, or necromancy, generally remain closer to their real-world inspirations. Fantasy necromancers often work magic that has something to do with death, although the exact connections vary widely from work to work.

In certain Asian fantasies, the practice of wuxia is used to achieve super-human feats, as in Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon.[44] Such martial artists attain these abilities through practice as much as, if not more than, studying to gain knowledge, making them in some respects like magicians, and in others not.

[edit] Traits of magicians

A common motif in fictional magic is that the ability to use it is innate and often rare.[10] In J. R. R. Tolkien's Middle-earth, it was limited to non-humans — even Aragorn, whose hands heal, has some elven blood — but in many writers, it is reserved to a select group of humans, as in J. K. Rowling's Harry Potter books, Katherine Kurtz's Deryni novels, or Randall Garrett's Lord Darcy universe. This is often a secretive or persecuted group. In these settings, non-magician characters, no matter how learned, cannot actually cast spells. In such instances, magic could be inherited, or perhaps it is a random ability appearing in some children, or the result of some other unique effect or situation. Inherited powers may be a simple genetic trait -- for Katherine Kurtz's Deryni, a sex-linked trait -- or appear apparently at random in lines that have the blood, as in Patricia A. McKillip's The Riddle Master Trilogy, where the shapeshifting Earthmasters attempt to get their blood into royal houses, but fail because although one succeeds in getting the king's wife pregnant, the child's descendants rarely have the powers.

In worlds where Alchemy exists as a form of working magic, Alchemists are more likely than most magicians to have their powers be the result of study. For them, and most other practitioners of magic that is not innate, the study is long and hard. This can produce a lack of magicians even in worlds where anyone could in theory learn the art.

Magical practitioners on the Disc (of the Discworld series) are rare, and often innate (with exceptions - the eighth son of an eighth son must become a wizard, even if the son is a daughter), and do require some form of training (again, with exceptions - see Sourcery). Also, magical practitioners on the Disc treat the use of magic not unlike the use of nuclear weaponry; it is acceptable for people to know that you possess such powers, but everyone will be in trouble if it is utilised.

[edit] Education

"The Alchemist" by William Fettes Douglas:  studying for arcane knowledge.
"The Alchemist" by William Fettes Douglas: studying for arcane knowledge.

A common trait of magicians is that, no matter how spontaneously their abilities manifest, they must learn to use them. Occasionally these terms are used for people with innate abilities, but the typical magician is surrounded by books in his tower owing to his studies. Fictionally, it provides a way for the writer to ensure that his wizard characters can not do everything, thus eliminating conflict from the story.[45]

When the magician is not the main character, this may not be visible, but magician protagonists including Ursula K. LeGuin's Ged in A Wizard of Earthsea and Harry Potter have gone to wizardry schools. Others have taken on the roles of apprentices, such as Haku in the movie Spirited Away. In the movie Willow, Willow receives a magical wand but has great difficulty learning to use it; only with the tutoring of Fin Raziel is he able to master magic. Harry Potter, like many young wizards in his universe, accidentally casts spells before he is taught to do it properly.[46]

Another means of learning can be books; weighty, ancient tomes, often called grimoires, which may have magical properties of their own.[47] Conan the Barbarian's sorcerer foes often gained powers from such books, whose strangeness was often underscored by their strange bindings. In worlds where wizardry is not an innate trait, the scarcity of these strange books may be a factor; in Poul Anderson's A Midsummer Tempest, Prince Rupert seeks out the books of the magician Prospero to learn magic. The same occurs in the Dungeons and Dragons-based novel series Dragonlance Chronicles, wherein Raistlin Majere seeks out the books of the sorcerer Fistandantilus.

It may be impossible, in a given work, to determine whether a given practice of magic is innate, because the length of time needed for the study, the scarcity of the books or teachers, or the preciousness of the materials required mean that most characters are necessarily excluded. In some fictional worlds, such as David Eddings' The Belgariad, magic is inherently dangerous, and many of those who develop the talent for magic destroy themselves in learning how to use it, thus limiting their numbers even further.

[edit] Magical materials

"The Crystal Ball" by John William Waterhouse: using material for magical purposes; besides the crystal, a book and a wand.
"The Crystal Ball" by John William Waterhouse: using material for magical purposes; besides the crystal, a book and a wand.

Historically, many magicians have required rare and precious materials for their spells. Crystal balls, rare herbs (often picked by prescribed rituals), and chemicals such as mercury are common.

This is less common in fantasy. Many magicians require no material at all;[48] those that do may require only simple and easily obtained materials. Role-playing games are more likely to require such material for at least some spells, to prevent characters from casting them too easily.

One factor in this development has been that wizards in fantasy more frequently go on quests; the wizard who is merely consulted in his tower may be surrounded by useful equipment and substances, even in a fantasy work, but the questing wizard must carry what he needs. Wizards who remain in one place, such as those a hero consults, often own many magical items. One who lives in a cottage may have it filled with drying herbs for their magical properties, fantasy herbs being particularly noted for their healing powers;[49] richer ones may own more valuable materials, such as crystal balls for scrying purposes.[50]

Wands and staffs are a common piece of property, long used in tales involving wizards.[51] The first magical wand featured in the Odyssey: that of Circe, who used it to transform Odysseus's men into animals. Italian fairy tales put them into the hands of the powerful fairies by the late Middle Ages.[52] These were transmitted to modern fantasy. Gandalf refused to surrender his staff in The Lord of the Rings, and breaking Saruman's staff broke his power. Magical wands are used from Andre Norton's Witch World to Harry Potter. One element of this is the need to limit a wizard, so that opposition to him (necessary for a story) is feasible; if the wizard loses his staff or wand (or other magic item on which he is dependent), he is weakened if not magically helpless.[45] In the Harry Potter setting, a wizard can only perform weaker magic without a wand and only a few can control their wandless magic.[53]

[edit] Use of magic

Larry Niven once urged, in a twist on Clarke's third law, that "any sufficiently advanced magic is indistinguishable from technology", and many other writers have observed that functional magic could replace technology in many situations.

Nevertheless, many magicians live in pseudo-medieval setting in which their magic is not put to practical use in society; they may serve as mentors (especially if they are wise old men), or act as quest companions, or even go on a quest themselves,[2] but their magic does not build roads or buildings, or provide immunizations, or construct indoor plumbing or printing presses, or any of the other functions served by machinery; their worlds remain at a medieval level of technology.[54] In many, perhaps most, high fantasy works, this is treated as an intrinsic feature of the world, requiring no explanation.

Sometimes this is justified by the use of magic bringing about worse things than it can alleviate, and the need of wizards to learn restraint.[55] In Barbara Hambley's Windrose Chronicles, the wizards are precisely pledged not to interfere because of the terrible damage they can do. In Terry Pratchett's Discworld, the importance of wizards is that they do not do magic. This may be direct effect, or the danger of a miscast spell wreaking terrible harm.[56]

In other works, developing magic is difficult. In Rick Cook's Wizardry series, the extreme danger of missteps with magic and the difficulty of analyzing the magic has stymied magic, and left humanity at the mercy of the dangerous elves, until a wizard summons a computer programmer from a parallel world -- ours -- to apply the skills he learned here to magic.

At other times, a parallel development of magic does occur. This is commonest in alternate history genre. Patricia Wrede's Regency fantasies include a Royal Society of Wizards, and a technological level equivalent to the actual Regency; Randall Garrett's Lord Darcy series, Robert A. Heinlein's Magic, Incorporated, and Poul Anderson's Operation Chaos all depicted modern societies with magic equivalent to twentieth-century technology. In Harry Potter, the wizards have magic equivalent or superior to Muggle technology; sometimes they duplicate it, as in the train that brings students to Hogwarts.

In the Dungeons & Dragons campaign setting Eberron, masses of relatively weak wizards mass-produce spells and magical items for public consumption.

The power ascribed to wizards often affects their role in society. In practical terms, their powers may give them authority in the social structure; wizards may advise kings, such as Gandalf in The Lord of the Rings, or Belgarath and Polgara the Sorceress in David Eddings's The Belgariad, or even be rulers themselves as in E.R. Eddison's The Worm Ouroboros where both the heroes and the villains, although kings and lords, supplement their physical power with magical knowledge, or Jonathan Stroud's Bartimaeus Trilogy, where magicians are the governing class.[2] On the other hand, magicians often live like hermits, isolated in their towers and often in the wilderness, bringing no change to society. In some works, such as many of Barbara Hambly's, wizards are despised and outcast specially because of their knowledge and powers.[57]

In the magic-noir world of the Dresden Files, although wizards generally keep a low profile, there is no specific prohibition against interacting openly with non-magical humanity. The protagonist of the series, Harry Dresden, openly advertises in the Yellow Pages under the heading "Wizard", as well as maintaining a business office. His main source of income in the series is derived from acting as a "special consultant" to the Chicago Police Department in cases involving the supernatural. Dresden primarily uses his magic to make a living finding lost items and people, performing exorcisms, and providing protection against the supernatural to ordinary humanity.[58]

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