“…they are real. It’s all real. Think about it. Haven’t Luke Skywalker and Santa Claus affected your lives more than most real people in this room? I mean, whether Jesus is real or not, he… he’s had a bigger impact on the world than any of us have. And the same could be said of Bugs Bunny and, a-and Superman and Harry Potter. They’ve changed my life, changed the way I act on the Earth. Doesn’t that make them kind of “real?” They might be imaginary, but, but they’re more important than most of us here. And they’re all gonna be around long after we’re dead. So in a way, those things are more realer than any of us.” – Kyle Broflovski
That’s right…I started this post with a Southpark quote. Kyle Broflovski, a cartoon character lecturing us living and breathing humans on what’s real…and you know what? He’s right. If you look deeper into what he’s saying, you can see the truth in it. Imaginary characters do have an effect on us and the lives we lead and the decisions we make. It’s that thought that inspired me to write this post. When you’re growing up, you read stories about witches and wizards and fantastic beings and you can’t help but be enthralled. I used to read stories about King Arthur and his knights but it was the character of Merlin who I was most drawn to. Who’s to say why we become enamored with magic and the people that can wield it but it’s a worldwide phenomenon. Look no further than the Harry Potter series for proof of that. An entire industry spawned from the idea that there is a school where children can learn magic and grow up to be witches and wizards. Films, theme parks and merchandise were crafted around the idea that people would like to see themselves in that exact situation. And I’m absolutely one of them…
Below you’ll find a list of my 7 favorite wizards in pop culture. Each sorcerer supreme is discussed in length with several categories to distinguish them: Skills, Accomplishments, Wizardness, and Beard Length. I go into what each character means to me personally and I’ll also drop some Words of Wizdom to help us stay positive during these trying times. One note… The wizards below are all good people. I didn’t want to sully the reputation of Wizards by filling this list with evil ones such as Emperor Palpatine and Saruman the White. In my opinion, Wizards should be inherently good and strive to help beings of all races and creeds. So…without further ado… go ahead and pick up your pointed hat, grab your staff or wand and get ready to fall through another dimension… with one flick of the wrist and a couple of well placed words… Higitus figitus zumba ka zing! I want your attention every thing!…
- Skills: Spell-casting, shape shifting, backwards aging and some time manipulation.
- Accomplishments: Trains King Arthur; successfully changes the trajectory of the world; travels backwards through time.
- Wizardness: Merlin is the quintessential wizard. When you think of that type of character, you see the tall pointed hat, you see some sort of staff or wand, you see the long white beard and you see a trusty owl. It’s these characteristics that led to the stereotypes future wizards would be written and portrayed with. Merlin also embodies the slightly eccentric nature of a wizard. (A characteristic wizards like Gandalf and Dumbledore would heavily lean into in future iterations).
- Beard? As mentioned above, Merlin made the flowing white beard famous as a classic characteristic of the Wizard. Perhaps it’s representative of his immense wisdom, maybe it represents his advanced age or perhaps he simply didn’t know the spell to properly trim his beard. Either way, Merlin’s beard is so long that he sometimes has to tuck it into his belt which…you know…#goals.
- What I Like: When I first saw Disney’s The Sword in the Stone as a kid, I wanted to be like Wart. I wanted to pull the sword out of the stone and I wanted to aspire to something greater. As I’ve grown older though, I realized Merlin was really the star of the show. Merlin got to live in a tall tower with his talking owl and he didn’t have to lift a finger the majority of the movie. He packed his bags with magic, he washed dishes with magic and he even trains the future king with magic. For Merlin, magic worked for him and not the other way around. While his character in the book The Once and Future King isn’t quite as loveable, he still exudes the same amount of charm and wisdom that makes Merlin an unforgettable character.
- Words of Wizdom:
- “Fate will direct him to me, so that I, in turn, may guide him to his rightful place in the world.”
- “It was worth it, lad, if you learned something from it.”
- “Don’t take gravity too lightly or it’ll catch up with you.”
- Skills: Powerful force-user, expert with a lightsaber, leader of troops during war times.
- Accomplishments: Defeats Darth Maul, General Grievous and Darth Vader in single combat; awarded the rank of General in the Clone Wars; helps and trains Luke Skywalker in order disable and destroy the first Death Star and save the galaxy.
- Wizardness: Let’s get this out of the way now… Jedi are essentially space wizards. Their wands are lightsabers, their magic is The Force and they speak in riddles half the time. Most of all though, wizards are teachers and Obi-Wan is one of the best teachers on this list. Sure you can give him a bad grade for what happened to his first apprentice, but Obi-Wan still made Anakin Skywalker into one of the strongest Jedi the order had ever seen. Training Luke in the same way allowed him to atone for his mistake with Vader as Luke ended up destroying his father and the emperor (for the time being….) and saving the galaxy. So… good work Obi-Wan.
- Beard? Obi-Wan sports a full yet close cropped beard. While not your typical long Merlin-esque beard, Obi-Wan plays the part of fashionable space wizard.
- What I Like: Obi-Wan is my favorite Star Wars character for a number of reasons but chief among them is his knowledge. Whether it’s Alec Guiness or Ewan McGregor portraying him, Obi-Wan Kenobi is wise and level-headed and he drops some serious knowledge on all those who care to listen. His calm demeanor and cool attitude exude a kind of space Bruce Lee as he moves like water throughout 4 Star Wars movies defeating Sith lords, droids and stormtroopers in any way that he can.
- Words of Wizdom:
- “The Force is what gives a Jedi his power…it binds the galaxy together.”
- “The truth is often what we make of it.”
- “If you strike me down, I shall become more powerful than you can possibly imagine.”
- and of course the classic line…“I have the high ground.”
- Skills: quick learning curve, spell-casting, incredible courage in the face of danger, natural born leader, solid detective
- Accomplishments: Defeats Voldemort in single combat; finds and destroys 6 horcruxes (including the one living inside him); becomes the master of death (by bringing together the Deathly Hallows); retrieves the Philosopher’s Stone; kills a basilisk
- Wizardness: Harry Potter is brash, stupid and naive and he’s also currently growing up during the times we are with him. He isn’t at all what you would picture in your head as a classical Wizard but he’s certainly the most relatable. If you go back and re-read those accomplishments and skills above, you’ll see his qualifications outnumber nearly every other Wizard on this list. Merlin’s Beard!, he does all these things before even having the ability to grow a beard or pass his OWLS. He’s loyal, he’s selfless, he’s wise beyond his years and he’s able to determine the right thing to do even when it seems like he’s in the wrong. He’s not a classic wizard in the Merlin-sense but Harry Potter created a new mold for kids to aspire too. If you ask any kid to “play wizard” he’ll inevitably pick up a stick and wave his wand like Harry Potter while screaming “Wingardium Leviosa” (shoutout to Hermione!)
- Beard?: Not a beard or whisker to speak of…but we won’t hold it against him.
- What I Like: For me, Harry Potter is the character that changed the perception of what I believed a wizard to be. He didn’t need to posses an immense sense of knowledge or wisdom, he didn’t need the long flowing beard or pointy hat and he didn’t need to be all knowing or powerful. Harry was just a kid like you and me. Sure, he was incredibly selfless and he gives his own life to destroy a dark wizard based on a prophecy but that was still a very real sacrifice. All you needed to be a wizard like HP was an invitation to Hogwarts and a wand from Ollivanders. For a young man like me, that was not only appealing but also seemed more attainable than becoming a space wizard or an interdimensional being living his life backwards through time.
- Words of Wizdom:
- “Time will not slow down when something unpleasant lies ahead.”
- “It was, he thought, the difference between being dragged into the arena to face a battle to the death and walking into the arena with your head held high. Some people, perhaps, would say that there was little to choose between the two ways, but Dumbledore knew — and so do I, thought Harry, with a rush of fierce pride, and so did my parents — that there was all the difference in the world.”
Dr. Stephen Strange
- Skills: Master of the mystic arts; interdimensional travel; able to manipulate energy in the form of blasts or shields; astral projection; extreme intelligence; flight (through The Cloak of Levitation)
- Accomplishments: Becomes Sorcerer Supreme, saves the world multiple times in Marvel comics and the MCU
- Wizardness: In the Marvel universe, Dr. Strange isn’t called the Sorcerer Supreme for nothing. Dr. Strange is who you get when comic book writers decide they need a hero who has the mystical powers of Merlin but looks like Tony Stark. He’s not your typical wizard; he’s more of a wizard for the modern age. He lies somewhere between Harry Potter and Gandalf but in a metropolis city like New York. In a world where multiple beings have power and abilities; Dr. Strange is one of the strongest and I think that skews closely to classic wizarding stereotypes. All the wizards on this list are among the most powerful beings in their respective worlds and Dr. Stephen Strange is no different.
- Beard? Close-cropped goatee which if we’re being honest….barely qualifies him. Sure it looks nice but c’mon Strange… get weird and bring the full beard back.
- What I Like: Dr. Strange is the resident cool guy in my particular group of wizards. He’s the only one in the Avengers willing and able to match wits with Tony Stark and put him in his place; he’s always quick with a quip or insult and he lives in a world similar to ours where he has to maintain a certain level of realism. In the MCU, Strange is a little arrogant and a little overconfident but he ends up being one of the most powerful and important characters. In the comic book world, he’s one of the smartest individuals the universe has to offer and he is constantly fixing problems with his brain before he resorts to force or his mystic arts.
- Words of Wizdom:
- “You came back from a place there’s no way back from. I’m trying to find my own way back”
- “I believe observation and knowledge must precede action.”
- “By the light–By the truth–By Sangreal and sword and Pendragon’s Fire–By Defender’s might and Dragon’s Circle’s destiny–Behold thy bane!”
Author’s note: Alright, I’ve run the gamut of all the different types of wizards I love and respect. We’ve got the archetype (Merlin); we’ve got the space wizard (Obi-Wan); the young, chosen one (Harry Potter) and the superhero (Dr. Strange). The next three wizards you’ll see below are the primary reason I wanted to write this post. My personal favorites and the characters I think of most when I need advice or wisdom. These next three are the cream of the crop, the the wisest with wands and the best with beards…
- Skills: leadership; spell-casting; sword wielding; horse-riding; ability to rise from the dead; incredible crafter of smoke rings
- Accomplishments: helps some dwarves and a hobbit named Bilbo defeat Smaug the dragon; has a crucial leadership role in defeating Sauron and raising up the King of Men (Aragorn); fights a Balrog to a draw; resists the power of the one ring; makes the best fireworks the Shire has ever seen.
- Wizardness: On the eye test alone, Gandalf is the most wizardly of all the wizards this side of Merlin. He’s so old that he’s ancient; he has eyes that twinkle and sparkle with knowing; he speaks in riddles without giving a straight answer and he carries a huge wizarding staff to cast spells with. On one hand, he’s a grandfatherly type with mischief in his eyes on the other he’s a whirling dervish of death dealing it out with swords, spells and words of wisdom. Gandalf travels the lengths of Middle Earth going by many names but always carrying an air of mystery about him.
- Beard? Gandalf sports a huge grey beard that looks like too many smoke rings have been lost in its depths. When he rises from the dead he comes back with an immaculately combed white beard that if we’re being real… is not as cool as his original grey beard. Nonetheless, his facial hair is true to the archetype.
- What I Like: Gandalf is the wizard I would want to be if I could choose any of them. He’s strong and wise and he does a lot of badass things while still holding a very real level of mortality. From the very instant we meet him in Lord of the Rings, we are drawn to Gandalf and what he is doing. In a lot of ways, he’s the main character of the Fellowship of the Ring as he carries the story most of the way and leads the Fellowship on their first leg of the journey. Gandalf’s famous line “You shall not pass!!!” has been uttered by me on too many drunken occasions. When I re-read Lord of the Rings earlier this year, I realized how much wisdom this man spews nearly every time he opens his mouth. Gandalf is a bit cantankerous but quite simply he’s the man.
- Quotes to live by:
- “I wish it need not have happened in my time,” said Frodo. “So do I,” said Gandalf, “and so do all who live to see such times. But that is not for them to decide. All we have to decide is what to do with the time that is given us.”
- “Deserves it! I daresay he does. Many that live deserve death. And some that die deserve life. Can you give it to them? Then do not be too eager to deal out death in judgement. For even the very wise cannot see all ends.”
- “May the wind under your wings bear you where the sun sails and the moon walks.”
- Skills: Master Jedi; expert force-user; expert with a lightsaber; tremendous teacher and leader
- Accomplishments: Head of the Jedi Council; rank of General in the Clone Wars; finishes Luke Skywalker’s training (resulting in the fall of the Empire)
- Wizardness: We really don’t learn much about Yoda during the course of Star Wars. He’s sort of a mysterious and powerful being who is simply there. Sort of like Merlin, Yoda’s old age plays into his mystique. He could have come from anywhere and done anything in the years before we meet him but for some reason, those things don’t matter. All that matters is that Yoda is there now and the other characters defer to him as one of the most powerful beings in the Star Wars universe. Like I stated above with Obi-Wan, a wizard also means being a teacher and Yoda doesn’t just have one apprentice like Obi-Wan but a whole school. Yoda is a war hero and a leader but ultimately what he loves best is molding young padawans into strong and moral Jedi.
- Beard? No beard but the wisps of white hair surrounding his ears and bald head give him some bonus points.
- What I Like: I love everything about Yoda. I love the way he talks, I love his green skin, I love his sense of humor and I love his attitude. He’s 900 years old living in exile on a swamp and he still manages to smile and crack a couple jokes. Yoda seems like a guy who’s lived his life the right way and though his code is strict, he’s able to understand the pain and suffering of an individual. You’d love to have Yoda as your therapist.
- Words of Wizdom:
“Do or do not. There is no try.”
“Named must be your fear before banish it you can.”
“The greatest teacher, failure is.”
- “Luminous beings are we…not this crude matter.”
Albus Percival Wulfric Brian Dumbledore
- Skills: powerful spell-caster; clairvoyant; natural leader; gifted teacher
- Accomplishments: Defeats Grindelwald in single combat (winning the Elder Wand in the process); successfully orchestrates the downfall of Voldemort; becomes Headmaster of Hogwarts School of Witchcraft and Wizardry.
- Wizardness: Take one look at Dumbledore and what you see is a wizard. Dumbledore is like Merlin incarnate. He’s got the long white beard, the half moon spectacles, the funny hat and the twinkling eyes. He speaks in riddles and is eccentric as the day is long but he always seems to know what he’s doing. He makes all the right decisions as if he knows they are going to happen and he moves all his pieces on the chessboard to make the maximum impact. In my opinion, Dumbledore is second only to Merlin within the Harry Potter universe for the title of Greatest Wizard Of All Time.
- Beard? Beautiful white flowing beard of a perfect length.
- What I Like: For me personally, Dumbledore was like a grandfather. He drops so many nuggets of wisdom throughout 7 books and 8 movies that it’s impossible not to be touched by Dumbledore’s brilliance. It’s like we vicariously grew up with Harry under Dumbledore’s tutelage, wisdom and hard-won lessons. Dumbledore is also powerful. Voldemort is terrified of him and we constantly hear rumors of his electrifying battle with Grindelwald in his youth. Even though he ends up getting offed (SPOILER ALERT) before he can see Harry accomplish his goal, Dumbledore’s fingerprints are all over the conclusion.
- Words of Wizdom:
- “It does not do to dwell on dreams and forget to live”
- “It is our choices … that show what we truly are, far more than our abilities.”
- “It is the unknown we fear when we look upon death and darkness, nothing more.”
- “Do not pity the dead, Harry. Pity the living, and, above all those who live without love.”