Encyclopedia of Fantasy (1997)

In Genre Fantasy, a wizard is most often a male, human practitioner of Magic. Several hierarchies have been proposed: Lyndon Hardy's Master of the Five Magics (1980) suggests ascending ranks of thaumaturgist, alchemist, magician, sorcerer and wizard. Other magical titles include: adept, enchanter, hedge-wizard, mage, Magus, necromancer (> Necromancy), shaman (> Shamanism) and warlock. Alchemists are more often viewed as proto-scientists (> Alchemy). This encyclopedia's preferred term for stage conjurers is Magician; where magic is unacceptable or Taboo, wizards may pretend they are stage magicians using sleight of hand, as in G K Chesterton's Magic (1913) and Stephen Bowkett's Spellbinder (1985) (>>> Zatara). Conversely, the eponym of L Frank Baum's The Wonderful Wizard of Oz (1900) is a fake wizard hiding behind "magical" stage effects.

Questions of Gender and Feminism arise: are Witches simply female wizards (as warlocks are male witches, and Enchantresses female enchanters), or are Witchcraft and wizardry profoundly different? The question is variously answered. In Ursula K Le Guin's Earthsea books, the Roke Island school of magic admits no women, and women's magic is proverbially "weak" and "wicked"; Terry Pratchett's Equal Rites (1987) turns on whether a girl may be admitted to male-only Unseen University for wizardly training, since her magic does not operate in the witch mode expected of women; but Diana Wynne Jones's Witch Week (1982) simply designates its world's magic users, whatever their sex, as witches, and Diane Duane's So You Want to be A Wizard (1983) comfortably accommodates both female and male wizards.

Learning wizardry is apt to involve uncomfortable Initiations and/or Rites of Passage, like the ordeal by poison through which wizard-to-be Sun Wolf passes in Barbara Hambly's The Ladies of Mandrigyn (1984). For younger trainee wizards, the process is partly a metaphor for accepting adult power and responsibility: in L E Modesitt's Recluce books, despised youngsters tend to mature with improbable speed and pit themselves single-handed against leading Chaos wizards.

Careers for major wizards, besides instructing new recruits, are not numerous. Those who manipulate the essential stuff of magic which differentiates Fantasy from mundane narrative should be deeply entangled in the Story; at the simplest they will directly attack Evil, like Doctor Strange in Comics, or may function as the representative of evil. They may be kings, like cruel Gorice XII in E R Eddison's The Worm Ouroboros (1922) or the various kings of Piers Anthony's Xanth (where powerful Talent is required of all monarchs). Far more frequently they are Mentors, like Merlin, or Gandalf in J R R Tolkien's The Lord of the Rings (1954-1955); or form a Pariah Elite, as in Hambly's The Rainbow Abyss (1991). Wizards who practise Black Magic and make Pacts with the Devil generally hope for wealth, Love, Vengeance or – like the initiates in C S Lewis's That Hideous Strength (1945) – secular power, and will be withered by their activities. Unusually, the slightly withered Theron Ware of James Blish's Black Easter (1968) employs black magic to seek scientific knowledge. In Diana Wynne Jones's Chrestomanci sequence, the eponymous enchanter works for an Alternate-World English government to prevent exploitation of ordinary folk via magic; in the society of Randall Garrett's Lord Darcy stories, wizards replace our world's scientists, with the Dr Watson character Master Sean o Lochlainn being a forensic sorcerer.

Historically, noted scholars often attracted Legends of wizardhood: examples include Virgil, Roger Bacon (> James Blish), Michael Scot (> Michael Scott Rohan; Sir Walter Scott), and the original of Faust. [DRL]

see also: Bards; Smiths; Sorcerer's Apprentice.

This entry is taken from the Encyclopedia of Fantasy (1997) edited by John Clute and John Grant. It is provided as a reference and resource for users of the SF Encyclopedia, but apart from possible small corrections has not been updated.