A Rivalry of Wizards

What is the collective noun for a group of wizards?  A “wrath” of wizards?  An “argument”?  I’ve been gathering together some of my favourite wizards.


First, of course will always be Gandalf.  I grew up on The Lord of The Rings and of all the characters, Gandalf is the most compelling.  He has become my benchmark of what a wizard should be.  Here is my favourite image of him, from that famous poster by Jimmy Cauty :


By the by, Jimmy Cauty painted that poster when he was 17, and went on to become a founder member of The Orb.  Nou ja.

Anyway – this image shows Gandalf just how I imagine him, as a thinker as well as a fighter.  He is not a suave wizard but short tempered,  mischievous and fierce.  Here is his first appearance, in the Hobbit:

All that the unsuspecting Bilbo saw that morning was an old man with a staff.  He had a tall pointed blue hat, a long grey cloak, a silver scarf over which his long white beard hung down below his waist, and immense black boots.

Its difficult to choose a passage to describe him.  Gandalf, comfortably blowing smoke rings at Bag End. Or the terrible old man fighting wargs  and facing down the Balrog at the bridge.  But my favourite passage takes place deep inside the Mines of Moria. The fellowship is resting, and Pippin is on watch in the dark.  Gandalf:

“Get into a  corner and have a sleep, my lad,” he said in a kindly tone.  “You want to sleep, I expect.  I cannot get a wink, so I may as well do the watching.”

“I know what is the matter with me,” he muttered, as he sat down by the door.  “I need a smoke! I have not tasted it since the morning before the snowstorm.”

The last thing that Pippin saw, as sleep took him, was a dark glimpse of the old wizard huddled on the floor, shielding a glowing chip in his gnarled hands between his knees.  The flicker for a moment showed his sharp nose, and the puff of smoke.”

What is the difference between an enchanter and a wizard?  If a wizard is a  magic user and keeper of knowledge, Diana Wynne Jone’s Chrestomanci can be included in my collection.

Chrestomanci is rather different from Gandalf.  For one thing, he is a thoroughly modern.  He is slick and sophisticated and always impeccably dressed.  Here he is on the cover of “Charmed Life”:


Here is his first appearance in Charmed Life, where the young boy Cat finds him in the kitchen:

Instead, standing in the middle of the kitchen, was a tall and quite extraordinarily well-dressed man.  Cat stared in some dismay.  He was clearly a rich new Town Councillor.  Nobody but those kind of people wore trousers with such pearly stripes, or coats of such beautiful velvet, or carried tall hats as shiny as their boots.

Chrestomanci is not his name, but is the hereditary title of the enchanter entrusted with regulating magic usage the parallel universes.  This Chrestomanci utterly unflappable.  He is surrounded by a number of adolescent magic users, but their crises and temper tantrums fail to perturb him.   He is not quite as dependable as Gandalf as you never know when he will be off to deal with a crisis in an alternate universe, but when he does appear you can count on him to cut to the quick of the situation.

Quite different again from the sleek Chrestomanci is Antryg Windrose, Barbara Hambly’s “Dog Wizard”.  He first makes his appearance in The Silent Tower, and you can follow his progress in a number of books, such as The Silicon Mage and The Dog Wizard. Antryg is pretty far towards the anarchic side of the wizardly scale.  He resembles a eccentric, homeless hippy.  He is endlessly interested in everything – human, animal, technological and magical.


Here is Antryg as he appeared during his brief stay in our universe, in Dog Wizard:

He wore, as usual, a faded and unwizardly T-shirt with the sleeves cut off – this one was green and whatever rock-concert logo it once bore and long since flaked away to obscurity – and a pair of senile Levi’s.  A livid scar marked his bare left arm;  just above it, fresh and blue, the Anheuser-Busch eagle was tattooed on his bicep, the result of an exchange of services with an artist in Long Beach. His hands, where they lay upon the cards, were large, bony deft and beautifully expressive despite the twisted fingers and swollen joints.

For the rest, Antryg could have been any age from his mid-thirties to his mid fifties, though in fact his was forty three.  There was something oddly ageless about the beaky, mobile face, whose rather delicate bone structure seemed overbalanced by the cresting jut of the nose and the extravagance of mouth.  The round lenses of his steel rimmed spectacles were thick as the bottoms of Coke bottles, and behind them his eyes, enormous to begin with, were magnified still further.

Unkempt curls in the final throes of fading from brown to gray, mismatched earrings of yellowing crystal, and half a dozen strings of cheap glass and plastic beads in assorted garish colours round his neck completed the impression of an unreconstructed sixties flower child.

But his dotty and affectionate exterior hides a darker side.  In Antryg’s world, magic users are feared and persecuted. His twisted hands are crippled by torture, and he is haunted by guilt for his past actions.  Antryg is most definitely not dependable, but he is capable of humour and love and is immensely loyal to his friends.

Antryg reminds me  rather a lot of T H White’s Merlin.  In The Sword and The Stone, we meet Merlin as the guide and tutor of the young Wart, who is to become King Arthur.

Merlyn is as much a scientist as a wizard.  His home is filled with experiments and specimens, and creatures he has rescued.  In fact he reminds me very much of Gerald Durrel’s tutor Theodore – but in personality rather than appearance.  Here is Merlin, with his Owl Archibald on his shoulder:

The old man was streaked with droppings over his shoulders, among the stars and triangles of his gown, and a large spider was slowly lowering itself from the tip of his hat, as he gazed and slowly blinked at the little boy in front of him.  He had a worried expression, as though he were trying to remember some name which began with Chol but which was pronounced in quite a different way, possibly Menzies or was it Dalziel?  His mild blue eyes, very big and round under the tarantula spectacles, gradually filmed and clouded over as he gazed at the boy, and then he turned his head away with a resigned expression, as though it was all too much for him after all.


Another wizard from the tales of my childhood is Ged from the Wizard of Earthsea.

Ged is very young when we first meet him and in the Earthsea series we see him grow from an insecure and arrogant young man into a slower wisdom. His pride drives him to do evil,  and he only recovers his balance through a long and hard journey towards self knowledge.  Here is a small illustration of the young Ged with his familiar Otak:


From the last homely house

The Earthsea books seem to have attracted a number of talented illustrators.  Here is an edition with a cover by David Smee:


from the isolate tower

It depicts the young Ged driven to showing off his power to his rival Jasper at the Roke school of magic.  And here is another cover, this time by David Smee:


from {feuillton}

Here is another cover by Ruth Robbins.  She also did the wood cut style illustrations below:



From the last homely house

Well of course there are many more.  Michael Ende’s Proffesor Hora in Momo surely qualifies. And all Terry Pratchett’s exasperating Discworld wizards.  But who is your favourite wizard?

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13 Comments (+add yours?)

  1. John Coulthart
    Apr 18, 2009 @ 15:16:57

    Hi Masha. The Puffin paperback of Earthsea credits David Smee with the cover illustration (Ged turning into a hawk). The woodcut-styled illustrations are credited in the same edition to Ruth Robbins.

  2. jenclair
    Apr 18, 2009 @ 15:39:57

    Quite a collection! My favorite is, of course, Gandalf.

  3. mashadutoit
    Apr 18, 2009 @ 16:31:17

    @ John Coulthart – you are quite right! I went and mixed them up. Let me fix that…

  4. mashadutoit
    Apr 18, 2009 @ 16:37:11

    …there fixed it.

    I found it strange that David Smee did two different covers for The Wizard of Earthsea – how often does that happen?

    @ Jenclair – yes, Gandalf is the grand old wizard after all :)but I find it interesting that wizards are, after all, so diverse.

  5. Trackback: The Hamish Hamilton Book of Princesses « Masha
  6. deslily
    Apr 22, 2009 @ 18:44:05

    Gandalf wins … but a close second is Belgarath from David Eddings Belgarian series.

  7. GeraniumCat
    Jun 12, 2009 @ 12:22:58

    Merlin was the one who got me hooked on wizards – I love the description from White that you quote. Later I read the Crystal Cave and sequels by Mary Stewart, and I think he’s still my favourite. The Barbara Hambly books are new to me, I must find them.

  8. mashadutoit
    Jun 12, 2009 @ 12:42:52

    Yes I’ve heard about those Crystal Cave books. Have you read Peter Dickenson’s “The Changes” series? Merlin also features in those, and its a fabulous series apart from that. I love Barbara Hambly, but some of her books (I think they are some kind of Dragon series) are way too “horror” for me . I loved “Bride of the Rat God” though – its fabulous fun. Magic and mayhem on the set of a silent movie. The “Darwarth Trilogy” is great, and I also liked the “Sun Cross” series. Some of the other series (there are tons of them, she is very prolific) are very weak though.

  9. deciduous_me
    Dec 10, 2009 @ 09:00:12

    Yeah, I remember these gents- good reading all around. My favorite has to be Antryg, as he is the only one on the list to live through Los Angelos in the 1980s. That was a beautiful series, and if barbarahambly.com is to be believed, it may be completed in the coming years, or at least augmented with short stories.

  10. mashadutoit
    Dec 10, 2009 @ 09:18:21

    Oh goody! Another Antryg fan. I dont know anyone else who has read that series. Antryg short stories would be great, lets hope it happens 🙂

  11. bheansidhe
    Mar 07, 2011 @ 16:26:50

    Antryg, Antryg, Antryg. A significant chunk of my fourteen-year-old heart was carved off and permanently devoted to that character. Where did you find that illustration, btw?

  12. bheansidhe
    Mar 11, 2011 @ 22:04:04

    Well, have you read the “Further Adventures Of..”?


    New Antryg & Joanna short!

    If Antryg had a more stable childhood and lived in a happier universe, he would have grown up to be Albus Dumbledore, only cooler. And I know he was based off of Tom Baker’s portrayal of Dr. Who but for some reason I always pictured him as looking more like New York-era John Lennon.

  13. L Dawson
    May 03, 2012 @ 02:53:05

    Chrestomanci isn’t an hereditary title. It is a government title. Gabriel de Witt (the previous Chrestomanci) was not related to Christopher Chant. Sorry, I just love the Diana Wynne Jones so much! especially the Chrestromanci series

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