Jay & Miles X-Plain the X-Men

HAWK TALK – Wizards

This would usually be a skip week, but the world is still being a jerk, so we made you a bonus, entirely unedited, and almost entirely off-topic episode. This time, we talked about wizards.

Topics, roughly:

  • Fantasy wizards
  • Space wizards
  • Beards and wizards and gender
  • Vancian spellcasting
  • Wizard taxonomy
  • The Baal Shem
  • Book learnin’
  • Towers and Discworld wizards
  • Dragonlance wizards
  • Tolkien wizards
  • Iceman with a wizard beard
  • Which animals make the best wizards
  • Magic: the Gathering
  • Our wizardy D&D characters


  1. For a deconstruction of the male/female wizard dichotomy you discuss here, it’s definitely worthwhile to read Ursula K. Le Guin’s Earthsea books! The first trilogy is amazing in many ways, but one issue is that it plays the stereotypes you discuss here fairly straight. Then, 20 years later, she wrote three more books in the series that totally rethink how the world works from a self-critical feminist perspective. Absolutely worth reading both for cool wizard stuff and for watching a smart author criticize and rethink her own ideas over a long period of time.

    1. Worth mentioning that even when Le Guin began Earthsea, first published in 1968, the central, flourishing cultures in her world were peopled by black and brown folks. The white folks had a barbaric, oppressive home in the north. The covers of her books were white-washed for decades.
      I started reading the books in the early 70s. I was delighted by how she dealt with the issues she saw in her work. She took nothing back in the narrative, she made the story bigger, allowing the reader to see the earlier narrowness. It’s so elegant.
      There are also awesome dragons in these books -always remember who you are writing for…

      1. I remember discovering that the copy of the Earthsea Trilogy (It wasn’t a quartet at that point) that I had found in a book sale and read and reread for years, was the one with the whitewashed cover Ursula K Le Guin perhaps disliked most of all, with Ged (of all people) depicted as a blond haired, pale skinned guy with blue eyes.

        And her comments on the Sci-Fi channel’s “adaption” of Earthsea are a masterclass in restrained fury, though to her infinite credit she only really laid into it after the producer chose to put words in her mouth about what she had meant in the books, whilst studiously never having asked her for her input on the movie despite having many opportunities to do so.

  2. It’s interesting thinking about this in the context of not only having read a lot of fantasy fiction as a kid, but also watching how anime handles it – where in Western-Style fantasy anime, unless you’re specifically called out as being a cleric (i.e. Etoh in Lodoss, Grimm in Combatants Will Be Dispatched) or magic is intrinsic to being, for example, an Elf (i.e. Deedlit), you’re a wizard. Lina Inverse? Wizard. Zelgadis Greyswords? Also a wizard. Megumin (who is a parody of Lina) – Wizard. The entire membership of Fairy Tail? Wizards (some of whom, like Natsu, have the main magical abilities of “Breath Fire” and “Punch Real Good”)

    Vancian Spellcasting, by the way, came from an author by the name of Jack Vance, who wrote the Dying Earth series of novels which are… a deeply problematic mixed bag.

    Also, one of the AD&D 2nd Edition Player’s Option books introduced a spell point system. IIRC, Runequest and the most recent edition of Hackmaster use Spell Points as well.

    Finally, getting into Magic, we have some female wizards as well – Chandra Nalaar and her mentor Jaya Ballard, Liliana is a rare heroic Necromancer (Chandra and Liliana are both members of the Gateswatch – basically the Magic the Gathering Planeswalker version of The Avengers).

  3. Merlin’s origin in the Arthurian Vulgate would make for a cold open. A very medieval-misogyny cold open. “The devils responded to Christ descending into hell by deciding to make their own person who would have all their knowledge of the past, and then one of them said that he knew a woman that he could corrupt, and then that woman told this devil that to get to her husband, the devil should go after her husband’s property, so the devil killed his livestock, and then his horses, and then his young son, and then the woman committed suicide, at which point the husband despaired and turned away from God, and then died of illness, but he and the woman had three daughters, and the devil enticed the middle one to have an affair with a squire, so she was disgraced, and then he enticed the youngest daughter to sleep with lots of men, but, thanks to the presence of a wise confessor, the eldest daughter remained untouched by the blandishments of the devil, but then the youngest daughter and she had a quarrel, and the youngest daughter said that she would tell everyone that the eldest daughter was sleeping with the confessor, and so the eldest daughter became angry with the youngest daughter, and, you see, anger is a sin, so then the devil was able to impregnate her while she was asleep and entirely unaware, but she confessed her sin to the confessor, and so she gave birth to Merlin, who was baptized, and so the devils’ plan was thwarted, and God not only allowed Merlin to keep the devils’ knowledge of the past but also gave him knowledge of the future.”

    I think that’s worth at least a “Huh.”

  4. Vegetable wizards? Guys, even I, who has never even played Kid Icaurs, know of the Eggplant Wizard. Admittedly mostly through having been exposed to the “Captain N” cartoon which had him as a main character, though I was mostly watching for Levi Stubbs voicing the nightmare fuel in cartoon form “Mother Brain”.

    Discworld wizards, and magic users in general are terrific (as well as leading to such delightful folk classics as “A Wizard’s Staff Has a Knob on the End”) though he swiftly did away with the likes of “The Law of Consercation of Reality” (Which states that a magical feat must involve the same outlay of energy

    I’d never thought of the David Jason take as being that effective, since he seemed a little too “curmudgeonly over cowardly” to me, but Jay makes a persuasive case. (However, Rincewind will always look like Nigel Planer in my head, even when he showed up as a different wizard in the later “Hogfather” adaption)

    The difference between wizards and witches is an interesting one there too, especially as one of the early books introduced the concept of a Esk, a woman who inherited a wizard’s staff (She also shows up again years later), and the very last book gave us Geoffrey, the first known example of a man becoming a witch. (There’s a female wizard in the very first book, but she’s from distant parts and is never mentioned again)

    Wizards, being academics, will consult and analyse a situation to death before using magic for anything other than the most minor and petty reasons involving their own comfort (and their natural laziness helps a LOT)

    Witches, being proud, only use magic as a last resort, preferring “headology” where possible.

    Though Pratchett clearly grows more interested in such things as regards the Dwarf approach to sex and gender as the series progresses, he doesn’t perhaps have quite the same focus (Though I’m probably overlooking something) in wizards/witches. He does seem to hold to the “Men have itemisation, women have intuition” throughout, whilst acknowledging that that seems to be more cultural than any other reason.

    However, I’ve always loved the description of the difference in approach in his short story “The Sea and Little Fishes”:

    Unlike the magic of wizards, the magic of witches did not usually involve the application of much raw power. The difference is between hammers and levers. Witches generally tried to find the small point where a little changes made a lot of result. To make an avalanche you can either shake the mountain, or maybe you can just find exactly the right place to drop a snowflake.

    As for favourite other wizards, I always liked Alan Dean Foster’s “Spellsinger” series set in a nearby dimension of humans and anthropomorphic animals where magic is channelled through music and song, with new music being more powerful. A turtle wizard, who stores magical artefacts in the drawers he’s had installed in his plastron (these books are the only reason I know the word “plastron”), summons an “engineer” from another world, and ends up with a sanitation engineer who was smoking pot at the time. Jon-Tom is a good natured hippie-type who knows a LOT of songs, and since they are new to the world, they have a LOT of power. Add in his new best friend, an alcoholic, womanising, kleptomaniac otter, and fun ensues.

    In the later books his son appears too, who can’t sing as well, but does learn how to rap!

    (Admittedly I haven’t re-read them in a good few years, and I hope they they would stand up).

    Also Diane Wynne-Jones has a nice line in magic users, though she doesn’t seem to use too many “wizards” per se, but does mention Enchanters, Magicians and Witches, which seem to be a matter of power levels more than anything else.

  5. @Voord 99: Oddly enough Merlin’s Origin in the Type-Moon/Fate universe is actually *less* convoluted than that. Type-Moon Merlin’s origin is just that his mother was a Princess of Wales and his father was an Incubus from the Moon… which is also a vast computer system that’s as old as the Solar System.

    One of the rare cases where Kinoko Nasu made things *less* complicated.

  6. With the exception of Final Fantasy IX, Black Mages haven’t been ties to any specific gender. Remember, Lulu for Final Fantasy X was a Black Mage (and, arguably, the most powerful party member). Admittedly, Final Fantasy has largely stepped away from defined roles for their characters and has had a few entries using the Job System over assigned roles. (III, V, VII, VIII and XII forward with the exception of the Online entries. At least as far as the mainline games are concerned.

    1. I also wanted to mention that, according to anime “Haganai” an otaku that reaches 30 without getting laid automatically becomes a wizard.

  7. I had heard the witch thing was more linked with how women were forced out of the brewing industry as it was becoming more profitable (i.e. the pointy hat was a way for them to be found in markets….and eventually their brewing became more linked with adding impurities/poisoning etc) – one of the classes I took in grad school on medieval/early modern history was taught by a scholar who has spent a lot of time on women and brewing (Judith Bennett). Granted, it could be multiple causes converging. One other thing she noted about the witch/warlock distinction is that even when both of them ARE evil, the warlock tends to have more control over things (again, having studied) whereas the witch – traditionally – would get her powers from the Devil after sleeping with him. So yes, regardless of how you cut it, sexism.

    1. Such things generally don’t have some single cause or origin. There definitely were connections between ideas about witches and ideas about Jews (which didn’t just go one way).

      This looks promising as a place to start: Yvonne Owens. “The Saturnine History of Jews and Witches.” Preternature: Critical and Historical Studies on the Preternatural, vol. 3, no. 1, 2014, pp. 56–84. JSTOR, http://www.jstor.org/stable/10.5325/preternature.3.1.0056. Not open access, unfortunately.

      1. Yeah, that makes sense. And yeah, the blood libel DEFINITELY seems to have a throughline to witch mythology (which I’m guessing this goes into).

  8. Oh, and no discussion of wizards can be considered complete without mention of Tim Curry as the Grand Wizard in 1986’s “The Worst Witch”


    I do like the comment someone makes that this wasn’t even a scene, this was just how Tim Curry arrived on set each day and someone decided to film it.

    1. I don’t know why, but that made me think of Jeremy Irons in that God awful Dungeons & Dragons movie.

  9. There are female Wizards in Jim Butcher’s the Dresden Files. I was champing at the bit listening to this episode wanting to bring up Harry Dresden.

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