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On Writing a Wizard – A Discussion On The Word

I’ve alluded to the fact that I’m not a professional writer, unless you count blogging. However, over the years I’ve discovered that my favourite style is high fantasy, in which I’ve gotten through dozens upon dozens of books. One thing that has been interesting to me in literature, films and even video games, is how the portrayal of wizards have been changed over the years, to where they’re not what they used to be – Or at least to my understanding. Today, I thought I’d discuss the term wizard and what it means to me, as well as the classical meaning of the term.

If you take the Old English meaning of wizard, which comes from Wys + Ard, I.E “one who is wise”, media these days has taken it to just meaning anyone who is magical. Wizard’s weren’t typically denoted as magical people, but they were typically learned folk, or wise folk, who were knowledgeable enough to be looked up to, sort of as a figurehead for the area they’re interested in. Naturally, that’s not what we fantasy folk know of as a wizard.

You know who we see? Gandalf. We see Gandalf.

Okay, there are many other huge examples of wizards, Gandalf is just one of them. We could think Dumbledore, or perhaps Harry Potter himself. If you’re a Pratchett fan, you may see Rincewind. All in all, these are all wizards who have had to study and learn, they have to be wise beyond their years – and then some. These are all learned peoples who are far more than mere magic users – Afterall, magic is a resource in fantasy realms.

But, one name amongst these that really stands out is Harry Potter. J.K. Rowling has her view on wizards and witches, which is great and in her world, it works really well. This article isn’t about to slate Harry Potter, but rather to discuss what a wizard is – and how can we mention the term wizard without bringing up arguably one of the most, if not the most popular piece of fiction mentioning wizards?

When you look at the definition of a witch, you get a female practitioner of magic. When you look at the definition of a warlock, you get a male practitioner of magic. As ever, these are always typical, as you can have crossovers. However the term wizard is often used to denote a grizzled, grey old man who has been studying for so long, that you ought to question how relevant his knowledge is.

The term wizard can be used for both men and women, but equally, the most important part when defining our language is the use of the “one who is wise”. Whilst you can indeed have people wise beyond their years, typically a wizard is someone who has had to study to get to where they are. They become an authority, which is why I love Gandalf as a prime example of wizardry. I also love Dumbledore for this very same reason… And whilst I adore Rincewind the ‘Wizzard’ and Harry Potter as the Boy Who Lived, I struggle with them as wizards.

Again, this article isn’t to slate, or to take apart a particular series, as I absolutely adore all of Harry Potter and all of Discworld, as I’m sure many of our regular readers will know. However, when you create a wizard-ly character, remember that their knowledge shouldn’t be limited to just the realm of magic. Wizards are wise, meaning that they should know more about the general world around them, not just magic.

I mentioned how I think of Gandalf as a prime example – He knows the world, he knows what creatures are out there. He knows even more than he lets on and he’s travelled, remarkably knowledgeable and demonstrates only what he needs to and when. Compare this to young Harry Potter, or even young (enough) Rincewind (Until we get further into Discworld) and we have a completely different vision.

The point of this article was more to encourage people to write a diverse range of wizard characters, but seriously consider the use of language. Consider the fact that wizard is generally a gender neutral term for a person who is wise, usually through years and years of experience. Want to write a younger wizard? I think there are better terms for them. A warlock, if they’re dubious and a sage if they’re of some character.

But I want to pass this over to you – When you write your own characters, do you tend to lump them all in as a wizard, or do you consider going for alternatives, such as witch, warlock, sage or otherwise? How do sorcerers fit into all of this? Share your thoughts in the comments below, or over on our Facebook and Twitter pages.


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