Note: Some of you may recognize this series from my old blog, "Whispers in the Earthquake." I'm working on a novel at the moment and have decided to repost some older stuff for the next four weeks to give myself more time with it. I think it still holds up. In fact, I guarantee you'll love it, or your money back.
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.
Every wizard on this list qualifies as a "true-wizard" in accordance with the two Wizard Rules:
- A wizard must have supernatural power
- 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!
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.
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.
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
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 1970s 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.
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.)
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
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."
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?)
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
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…)
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.
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
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.
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 form 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 encased 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 stringing me along for nine books and then crapping all over me, Zedd gets a 2/15 in Story category.
The story is still better than Mary Poppins though. Poor Mary Poppins.
Jordan Jeffers has almost purchased the Yoda backpack several times. Feel free to give him electronic encouragement via the little Facebook and Twitter buttons below. It means more to him than you might think.