Who doesn’t want to be a wizard? In that secret little place in our hearts – the place that still thinks the admissions letter from Hogwarts might come in the mail at any moment – there’s an undying dream that one day we might discover that we can wield magic. And while we’re waiting for our powers to kick in, we consume everything there is to know about our comrades in books about magical escapades. Wizards abound in literature right now, making reading a magical event indeed.
We bring you the Canary collection of top wizards in literature.
Septimus Heap, from the Magik series by Angie Sage
Something about this young wizard is so intriguing. It may be Sage’s straightforward writing style, but the no-nonsense, always-ready-to-do-right and eager-to-prove Septimus is just so dang endearing. The reading level is fairly low – I’d say a precocious fifth grader could tackle the books just fine – and he is a great introduction to the wizarding world.
Oscar Zoroaster Phadrig Isaac Norman Henkel Emmannuel Ambroise Diggs, from The Wonderful Wizard of Oz by L. Frank Baum
Better known at the Great and Powerful Oz, this character ends up the Supreme Ruler of a magic kingdom, all the while having no actual magic powers at all. In a world of witches and fairies and flying monkeys, it’s all the more impressive that this magician from a small circus show in Omaha, Nebraska manages to pull the wool over everyone’s eyes.
Ged, from A Wizard of Earthsea by Ursula Leguin
From pretty disastrous beginnings that could have spelled the end of Earthsea, Ged becomes the most powerful wizard in the lands. Known as Sparrowhawk, his stories are full of intense soul-searching, plenty of sacrifice, and eventually (and all too briefly) a high priestess named Tenar.
Raistlin Majere, from the world of Dragonlance by Tracy Hickman and Margaret Weis
Born weak and sickly, Raistlin makes up for his physical weakness by cultivating his magical gifts and his tendency towards vicious fits of ill temper. Over the course of over a dozen books in the Dragonlance world, Raistlin goes adventuring, betrays his friends, betrays his friend’s enemies, saves the world, falls in love (maybe), attempts to murder his twin (at least a few times), sacrifices his girlfriend, loses his powers, and becomes (for a very brief time) a god.
Unpredictable as he is clever and morally ambiguous, Raistlin, with his trademark gold eyes and hourglass pupils, is the kind of wizard that just keeps on plotting.
Merlin, from the Modern Knight series by Peter David
A different Merlin shows up on the Top Five list, but this Merlin was the best part of this entire series. The series played with the legend that Merlin aged backwards. When the series opens, he is a wise-cracking, sarcastic old mage in the body of a ten-year-old. The dynamics between him and an adult Arthur were positively delightful.
Everyone else from the Harry Potter series
There’s no time to list all the wizards in the series. Dumbledore, Black, hell, even Voldemort was a pretty amazing wizard. Any of them could have made the top five below. They’re heavy-hitters and created one of the best magical worlds we’ve ever been invited to.
Top Five Wizards:
5. Gandalf, from The Lord of the Rings by JRR Tolkien
Confession time: I hate Lord of the Rings. Well, hate might be a strong word, but dear lord, those books and their tendency to veer off topic for chapters on end almost single-handedly destroyed my ability to read high fantasy. The one saving grace was Gandalf, the quintessential picture of what a wizard should be. A wise, riddle-speaking man whose magic was a subtle thing, more application of knowledge rather than big explosions and sparkly lights. He is the proper gentleman’s wizard — and my absolute favorite big screen magic man.
Though not the first incarnation of Merlin in literature, TH White’s soul-stirring speech-maker is my favorite. In truth, there isn’t much more I can say about the character that this quote does not do:
“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.”
A wizard after my own scholarly heart — and the fact that he trained the greatest king in history isn’t much to sneeze at, either.
3. Harry Potter, from the Harry Potter series
Arguments abound as to who is the real star wizard in this series – with Albus Dumbledore likely topping the list. But, for me at least, Harry is a reflection of something in myself — a plain-Jane mortal who always dreamed of something better. And once that something better came along, he had to learn all the ins and outs of the wizarding world and his own history and the mess of baggage that came with both. He is a wonderful example of a young adult hero – someone with flaws, convictions and a hefty dose of humor.
2. Rincewind, from the Discworld series by Terry Pratchett
Oh, Rincewind, the constantly confused, the terminally bamboozled, and the chronically heroic. From the very first moment I read his interactions with Twoflower’s ambulatory luggage, I knew he’d be one of my ultimate favorite wizards. He’s a working-man’s wizard assuming the role of nuclear physicist in order to save the known universe. There’s just something to be said about a man who is fully aware that he is mediocre and is prepared to fake it all the way, throwing in some magic just for a sense of flare.
1. Harry Dresden, from the Dresden Files
My first true literary love was Piers Anthony’s Xanth series. My second was absolutely everything the hard-boiled detective writer Dashiell Hammett ever produced, especially The Maltese Falcon. Finding Harry Dresden was like discovering that those first two loves got together and produced a smart-talking, magic-wielding offspring. Harry Dresden is the perfect resurgence of noir fiction, taking the rough and tumble streets of Chicago by literal fire. And what he has, perhaps above all the other wizards listed, is some serious character development, something that makes him a little more human.
Now fourteen books in (Happy Cold Days drop day, everyone!), he is a wizard that continues to grow and stretch and change, but never loses that edge of dark humor that made him such a terrific character from the beginning.
What do you think of our top five, canaries? What wizards are in your top five?