Thursday, November 21, 2013

Top 10 Good Magic Users of the Movies

Returning to the "Top 10" themes I was doing a couple months ago, I was thinking about the slingers of magic. Luckily for those of us who enjoy such things there are a lot of movies that highlight the wizards, witches, sorcerers and other such people who have magic, more or less, under their control.

When trying to list my top magic users I found there was actually too many!  So I've divided the list into the two camps: Good & Evil.  Like the other lists I'll quickly set up my parameters: The user of 'magic' has to have powers that are magical or like magic: something paranormal, not science and not card tricks.  I also have to have seen the movie, so there could be worthy magic users out there I haven't seen, if so I'd be interested to know, but they can't make my list if I haven't seen them.  For ranking, I'm not only considering degree of power, but the whole package: their nature, character, personality, how they use their magic.

Alright, on to the Good users of Magic!

#10: Akiro

Side-kick of Conan.  Pretty cool character actually.  Unfortunately we don't get a lot of insight into him.  But then, it's pretty dark under the shadow of Conan.  He's burdened with that "mystery of the East" trope, but he's got a scoundrel turned martyr aspect that helps him rise above what such characters typically get.
I always thought a  prequel movie about this character could have been fun.

#9: Miracle Max

"To blave." Awesome.  How often do you get a vocabulary lesson in a movie and enjoy it?
This is one of my favorite Billy Crystal characters, and he didn't really have much screen time.  But Miracle Max, the washed up has-been had one more miracle in him, and while he is far from being the main character, his role was vital to the hero's journey, which is one of the most important and revealing qualities of the archetype of the Good Magic User.
By this definition he's a success, even if he uses a bellows instead of a staff.

#8: Avatar

No, not the big blue aliens.  Long before them, Avatar was a ... dwarf? deadhead hobbit? I don't know, but he was a wizard, one of those who bears the title of the movie, Wizards.  Avatar is a wizard that might remind you of your crude uncle.  Or perhaps yourself, if you've grown up to be your family's crude uncle.  He gripes and moans, and would rather be off enjoying snuggletime with his vampy faerie girlfriend, but in true underdog fashion he heads out with a few heroes to save the world from the evil Nazi Wizard.

#7: Tim the Enchanter

A very minor character when you think about it, but the fact that you can think about it, and likely often have, as many have, shows what an impressionable character this is.  Tim portrays the daunting, over-powered, so-out-of-your-league, mysterious magic user, that he has become a cultural phenomenon in his own right.  Yet he's humble, going simply by the name Tim. Tim doesn't really get involved in the story, serving only to remind the heroes just how outclassed they are, and to give fair warning of an even greater danger.  And after seeing this pyromaniac slinging field nukes around with the flick of his fingers you'd think Arthur and his Knights would pay heed to his warning, but do they listen?  Noooo. No wonder Tim doesn't spare much care for these questors.

#6: Carrie

For everyone who ever got picked on or bullied growing up, Carrie should be the patron magic user for their cause.  Bitchy girls giving you problems?  Rain down blood and fire on them.  Fundy mother making your life a not-mythological hell? Shut her up quick with a cutlery cyclone.  Even the Greatest American Hero better watch his back if he sets you up to look stupid.  Imagine how different school years would be if suffering bullies unlocked these kinds of powers.
Carrie sure suffered some idiots, but nothing a night of fire couldn't fix.

#5: Severus Snape

Probably the most interesting of the magic using characters from the Harry Potter movies, Snape kept them guessing about his true motivations, sympathies and plans.  Well, spoiler alert, he's here on the Good list, so hope I didn't give anything away.  Snape also has that awesome voice (see movie at the bottom).  Alan Rickman is just cool.  I'll admit I'm not the biggest 'Harry Potter' fan.  I find the movies uninspiring.  They feel more like extended episodes of a TV series, rather than solid movies in their own right.  It takes a long time for characters to develop and most stay disappointingly two dimensional. For interest and depth of character, Snape is about as good as it gets in these movies.

#4: Willow

Willow. No, not the hot redhead witch. The hobbit wizard.  Oops!  I mean Puck? No, wait.. Peck.  I think they were called Pecks. I think.  Well, no matter, we all know they were hobbits. What better underdog than a hobbit?  I mean, Peck? Usually the wizard is the one who helps the hero in their journey, but in this case, the hero and wizard was rolled up into one overwhelmed wizard's apprentice.

#3: Merlin

At first glance you'd have to be forgiven if you thought Excalibur's Nicol Williamson was an Evil Magic User, given that he's rockin' the Ming metal skullcap. But that's just one visual clue-in that this isn't your standard white wizard.  Merlin may be playing for the Good team, but he's not so good he's wearing the white hat.  This is one complicated, scheming, manipulating Magic User.  He may be 'good', but in that Machiavellian sense of good, where the good end, such as establishing a peaceful realm, justifies the decidedly not-good means of obtaining it, such as orchestrating rape. He is also not immune from his own fleshly temptations.  But then, if I was holding the balance of a peaceful Britain on one hand, and Helen Mirren on the other.. well, prepare for some dark days ahead Brits.

Merlin is an interesting character: some noble aspirations, but wrestling with his own character flaws while at the same time condemning Arthur for his, but he keeps trying for all that.  In exceedingly dark days, this character shines and gives a hint at what could be possible while being a neon sign as to why it just isn't going to happen.

#2: Galadriel

It has been pointed out that Tolkien did not have many female characters.  Alright, that's an understatement.
But one of the ones he did have, Galadriel, was one of the most powerful beings in Middle Earth.  If judging Magic Users by their power, Galadriel would certainly be on the list.  She's the bearer of Nenya, one of the three great rings of power given to the Elves.  She also has her mirror, which can see far into the past, future or distance. Her power isn't flashy, but it is substantial.  She's been able to keep her realm free not only from the overwhelming powers of evil that border Lothlorien, namely Moria and Isenguard, but she's managed to keep time itself out of her realm.  The time of the elves is passing from Middle Earth, the ages march on, but not within Lothlorien where it is essentially the same as it was when the elves first arrived, and only because of her power.

She rules with her husband, but no one is foolish enough to confuse things: everyone knows the real power is her, not her husband.

How tempting would it be, for someone who is immortal, has watched the world around her slowly wither and corrupt, and then be offered the power to destroy the evil that threatens to destroy the sanctuary she has spent all her energy creating and defending?  She's given the chance to do just that, but she has the power to not only look into the hearts of others, but in her own as well, and she resists, knowing her limitations and weaknesses. A sign of great power: knowing where the limits of your abilities are and not having the hubris to try for more.

#1: Gandalf

There was never a doubt was there?

And in case you were wondering, no, Dumbledore didn't make the list.  Why? Because Gandalf is everything Dumbledore hopes and tries to be, but is a pale comparison at best. Harry didn't make the list either.  I'm sure there will be some avid Harry Potter fans that feel slighted, but the HP characters just don't capture my imagination.

Back to Gandalf.

As impressive as Galadriel is, as much as the character of Gandalf owes to Merlin, the ultimate good wizard is Gandalf.  Gandalf serves the position of the 'Magic User who makes the hero's journey possible' but he is more than that: much more.  Gandalf knows when to play a supporting role and when to step up and lead.

That is an important distinction for a character and shows great depth.  Most often in movies it is clear who the hero is and who the support staff are.  But not here.  Like Merlin, Gandalf pulls the strings: runs all over Middle Earth, yanking hobbits from their second-breakfasts, enabling dwarves to regain kingdoms and swaying councils and kings to his way of thinking.  But he also challenges rogue wizards, balrogs, nazgul and reconstituting dark lords as well as leads armies. His resume is pretty impressive.

He also has the interesting aspects of the martyr and resurrected hero archetypes.  Like Beowulf, he faces death, saving the lives of others.  Like Jesus in the 'Harrowing of Hell' story, Gandalf falls, vanquishes evil, and is reborn to come back and finish what he started.  Gandalf's sacrifice is all the more impressive and interesting however since it is not clear at all that Gandalf knew he would come back as Gandalf the White.

Another thing I like about Gandalf is that he values everyone for who they are, not what they are.  He sees the nobility of spirit and potential for strength and helps the person recognize it and use it.  But he remains someone you can relate to, even if he is an immortal being of great power, he's not above threatening to toss a foolish hobbit down a bottomless Moria pit or entertaining the rubes with fireworks. It must have been a very sad day when Gandalf left Middle Earth.

Of all the movie Magic Users, Gandalf is the most interesting and impressive and the one I'd most likely enjoy meeting.


So that is my Top 10 Good Magic Users.  Agree, disagree, have others in mind? 

I will be covering my Top 10 Evil Magic Users in the near future. 
You can look through past Top 10's by the topic tag. 

And as promised above, an Ode to Alan Rickman: 


Michael Awdry said...

Another excellent list, Snape was a brave decision though, after all Dumbledore made the ultimate sacrifice and of course Harry himself defeated 'He who must not be named'.

Laughing Ferret said...

Thanks Michael :) True enough, but neither of those characters feel very 'full' to me. Perhaps that can be said for some of the others on the list near the bottom but they don't suffer from the huge expectations built up for them. D & HP just don't live up to the hype the story demands of them... in the end I just found them not very interesting or convincing for what was set up for their characters, but Snape seemed to fill his required role in the story and push past it, which I find more interesting.

Francis Lee said...

I always liked Miracle Max!

Scott said...

Interesting list a few I hadnt come across - Miracle Max? What movie was he in? Same for the cartoon avatar...

I loved the Merlin character and great movie too ... I loved the line "theres always something cleverer than yourself" as he falls in the stream...

I have to agree with you about Harry Potter stuff, I am certainly more a LOTR guy... but again Snape made a great character and agree about Alan Rickman - loved him in Dogma too - Brilliant!

Willow was cute - enjoyed that one.

Galadriel and Gandalf - what more can one say! The nice thing about them , and magic in general in MiddleEarth too, was more the sense of restrained power, rather than overtly lashing fireballs everywhere - it just seems to set them apart from the rest... different league and all that...

Laughing Ferret said...

Fran: I agree, He was a fun addition to the movie.

Scott: Miracle Max was from A Princess Bride. Yeah, I don't want to come across as 'bashing' Harry Potter, I'm neutral about it I guess, it just doesn't grab me. Maybe it's the fault of promotion or fans of the books, but the expectation is for awesome and for me anyway, it just doesn't deliver. I agree with you about how magic is handled in Tolkien: less is more. You get the sense of great power that you only glimpse a hint of, which is more compelling than the flashy effects brought about by blurting out pigeon latin. If that's all it takes I should have been flying and throwing around fireball frogs in university. ;) How Tolkien handles it, magic is something real, but beyond humans.. the humans, and reader/viewer are left knowing that magic is going to shape their world, but they can't expect to go toe to toe with it, which places the users of magic in a different category altogether: the world is the fantasy, rather than being a personal fantasy of 'what would I do with that power' which is the appeal of Harry Potter, I find the former more interesting, just a preference :)

Sean said...

Another good list. I don't think I've ever seen Wizards, need to see about that.

Lou Rollins said...

A very well thought out list! And I have to second your nomination of Miracle Max, as well as echo Francis "I always liked Mircale Max" GREAT snipit by Billy!

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