Five Great Practitioners of Magic in Literature

Posted on 10th December 2015 by Reece Dinn
Lev Grossman's The Magician's is soon to hit the small screen so bookseller Reece Dinn has compiled a list of the five best magicians in fiction.
In honour of the soon to be released TV adaptation of Lev Grossman's superb The Magicians, I thought I'd talk about some of the great magicians, mages, wizards, and other magical beings that have graced the realms of fiction over the years.
But first, a bit about The Magicians.

The Magicians follows the story of Quentin Coldwater, a young man hoping to enrol in the Princeton whose life is changed when he finds his interviewer dead. On the interviewers corpse he finds a strange envelope bearing Quentin's name and thus begins an adventure that leads him into a dark, mystical, and mysterious world. The Magicians series has fast become one of the most popular fantasy trilogies of recent times. It is a deeply imaginative series, and one that we cannot recommend heartily enough.

A wealth of great magicians have graced the pages of our books, but I'm going to forgo talking about the most famous of them, Gandalf and Saruman from The Lord of the Rings and Harry Potter, Albus Dumbledore and Voldermort from the Harry Potter series, and of course Merlin, as I feel everyone knows who they are and what they're capable of.
Without further ado here are some of the other greats of the world of magic:

Pug from Magician by Raymond E. Feist
A young kitchen boy, raised in the keep of Castle Crydee by his adoptive parents, and alongside their son Tomas, Pug is selected by the strange magician Kulgan to be his apprentice. When war breaks out between the Kingdom of the Isles, which Crydee is apart of, and a nation on the other side of a magical portal called Tsuranuanni, Pug is caught up in it. During his first battle he is captured, along with his friend Laurie, enslaved, and taken across the portal to the land of Tsuranuanni to work in the fields. It is here that he discovers his true power and his destiny, and the fates of both nations, is changed forever.
The definition of epic, Magician is one of the true greats of the fantasy genre, and Pug one of its greatest mages. He becomes one of the strongest beings in existence, capable of incredible feats of power, both curative and destructive. His power becomes so great that he even defies ageing, and even death, though at great costs. His story spans over twenty books, across over a century of history in the world of Midkemia, the world where the Kingdom of the Isles resides, yet the first novel of the Riftwar Cycle is by far Pug's most defining moment. The chronicling of his rise to power, from slave to master magician, is still one of the most awe inspiring stories I've ever read. A story that you don't forget in a hurry.

Rupert Angier and Alfred Borden from The Prestige by Christopher Priest  
Adapted to the big screen by Christopher Nolan in 2006, starring Christian Bale, Hugh Jackman, and Scarlett Johansson, the rivalry between 19th century illusionists Angier and Borden is one of the most captivating duels that have ever been written. Always out to outdo one another, Angier and Borden stop at nothing to come up with the most elaborate and ingenious illusions to impress their audiences with, even going so far as to dabble with arts that no one should ever play with.
What makes the rivalry so engrossing is the relationship between the two illusionists. Their relationship quickly changes from friendly oneupmanship to something altogether more sinister as the two delve into each others pasts to try and ruin the other, even going so far, at times, to hurt one another's loved ones to discover the other's secrets.
A true masterpiece, both book and film are exceptional stories, and brilliantly showcase the darker sides of the magical arts, and the costs they can have on one's life.
Sonea from The Magician's Guild by Trudi Canavan
Canavan's sublime The Black Magician trilogy, and subsequent prequels and sequels, are a fantastic series of novels that portray the powers of a magician. Following the story of Sonea, an angry, frustrated, and outraged young woman whose act of defiance against the Magicians of Imardin sets in motion a chain of events that threaten to destroy the whole city, and its inhabitants.
A natural magician, Sonea's journey to learn the true extent of her power will take her beyond the realms of what she believes is possible, and reveal to her things she didn't even know about herself as she learns the arts of the magician. What makes Sonea such a great character is that her story is one of personal conflicts between the various people she encounters, friends, family, and even the greatest of the Magicians of Imardin. Where in some novels the smaller, personal dramas can be lost in the grander scale of the story, Canavan keeps the story close to Sonea, and thus we become more attached, and in turn are allowed to feel closer to the magic that she learns to wield, almost as if we ourselves learn alongside her.
Sparrowhawk/Ged from The Earthsea Quartet by Ursula Le Guin 
Le Guin's Sparrowhawk is perhaps the most famous of the characters listed here. A Wizard of Earthsea, the first of the Earthsea novels that he appears in, is largely regarded as one of the greatest works of fantasy ever committed to paper. Like most of the great wizards, Sparrowhawk comes from humble beginnings. Originally named Duny by his late mother before she died, but nicknamed Sparrowhawk, he grew up in a mountain village on the island of Gont. Trained in the magical arts from a young age, Sparrowhawk saves his village from raiders by creating a fog to conceal it from them. His feat catches the attention of Ogion the Silent, a powerful mage, who takes him to be his apprentice.
What makes the magic of Earthsea so interesting is not what you can do with magic, but the ethics behind its use. Sparrowhawk's story delves deep into these ethics, and his character is shaped as he explores what a magician should and shouldn't do. It is this understanding of the ehtics of magic is what makes a magician in the world of Earhsea truly great. What makes the lessons Sparrowhawk learns really interesting is that they can be extended to real life. Just because you can do something doesn't mean that you should. Food for thought.

Bayaz from The Blade Itself by Joe Abercrombie
The last magician I'm going to talk about  is quite different from the others, and my personal fave, due to his dark nature. Bayaz, the First of the Magi, from Joe Abercrombie's The First Law Trilogy, and the standalone sequels that follow it, is not a nice man at all. Whereas a character like Obi-Wan Kenobi, say, would subtly brainwash some guards to bypass them, Bayaz would take an altogether different route and blow apart each guard in a horrible, fiery death. He is powerful, more powerful than nearly every one else in the world, and well aware of it. He cares nothing for the people he is supposedly trying to protect, and will quite happily manipulate, intimidate, or just outright dictate what every should and shouldn't do. And those that dare to defy him are made to regret it. Even the magic he wields comes from the Other Side, the realm of Demons.
If magicians were real it is my opinion that they'd be more like Bayaz than they would any one else. Power corrupts and Bayaz is the definition of that. You can only really consider him on the side of good purely because the people he is trying to defeat are even worse than he is, cannibals that derive their power from the people that they eat. In most novels he would be cast as the villain, but in the dark world of The First Law he is who the world must place their faith in to protect them. A horrible, arrogant, selfish piece of work, but undoubtedly one of the best magicians there is.
There are so many more magicians I could talk about, but I fear this article would never end if I did.  Magicians, mages, and wizards are a cornerstone of great books. They're characters we look up to, whose lessons we heed, whose guidance we accept, as if they were real people teaching us the ways of the world. You could argue that they have been for centuries, and probably will for centuries more.


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