The 8 Greatest Mages of Fiction (Happen to be Minorities)
Author’s Note: I submitted an article to Cracked.com a few years ago. It didn’t get accepted because it wasn’t insightful enough and allegedly didn’t portray a real enough pattern. I was told that if it had been about real life professions and modern day minorities (i.e. 8 reasons why plumbers are usually italian) they might have been interested. Cracked has gone down the tubes since then, but here’s the pitched article I sent them, complete with references to places where links should be placed. It should be noted I did attempt to write in that traditional, Cracked style, mildly condescending and at times flat out insulting, so please take some of these jokes with a grain of salt and enjoy my first and only foray into freelance article writing.
Okay, before we get started with the inevitable loathe child of Racism and Nerd Rage in the comments below, let’s do some house cleaning.
The word “minority” comes with a slew of connotations running a gamut of the political and cultural worlds. For the sake of clarity, and simplicity, we’ll be defining it as a group of people met with systematic: stereotyping, persecution, discrimination, and or the deprivation of fundamental rights/opportunities for general advancement.
Now to assuage the sexually frustrated Sci Fi/Fantasy fans out there who will be quick to point out a Wizard is different from a Sorcerer, is different from a Druid, is different from a Shaman, etc. We’re defining a mage as an individual who can accomplish extraordinary or supernatural feats through the focus of their mind or the use of, supposed, esoteric truths about how the world/universe functions.
Alright, with the lawyer talk out of the way, let’s get to the meat of this thing. The odds are slightly in our favor when we say that if you’re reading this particular article, you probably look more like The Vlog Brothers than LeBron James. From there it’s not much of a stretch to make the bold and world shattering claim that the fantasy genre typically panders to the enfranchised, heterosexual, white- nerd type. All of this to say that it’s pretty damn interesting to note that every character on this list happens to be none of the above.
Arguably the most famous wizard of all time http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Fiction_featuring_Merlin and often regarded as one of the most powerful to have ever lived. Depending on the iteration, his powers range from shape-shifting and prophecy to time travel, immortality, and the ability to alter reality as he sees fit. He has been traditionally cast in the role of the wise old mentor, but in more recent times has enjoyed driving stories as a protagonist. Wise, mysterious, and powerful, anyway you want to slice it, Merlin is the archetypal wizard.
In the earliest examples of Merlin’s character he was anything from the son of an incubus to a would-be antichrist. Later incarnations ignore the demonic ancestry and just have him born as an illegitimate child. Regardless of how he was fathered though, canonically speaking he was still a bastard son. Being fatherless in the patriarchal society of 12th century Wales was the present day equivalent of dropping out of junior high. Simply put, no matter how hard you worked after the fact, your future was bleak. http://books.google.com/books?id=a5eBFyqWhCMC&pg=PA11
The Mage: No stranger to Cracked
Dumbledore was a must for this list. Generally regarded as Hogwarts’ resident BAMF and the most powerful wizard in J.K Rowling’s sandbox, Dumbledore is as close to a modern day Merlin as you can get without Merlin’s agents knocking at your door. Throughout the books we see or hear of him conjuring items from thin air, creating everlasting fire, turning invisible, and defeating an Elder Wand wielding Grindelwald.
The Minority: We’re sure you all saw this one coming. Back in October of 2007, (http://www.today.com/id/21407911)Rowling blew our collective minds when she told the world that Dumbledore was gay. In case you have been living in a cave on Mars for the last…ever… being homosexual is the quickest route to a hard life, even today.http://www.itgetsbetter.org/pages/about-it-gets-better-project/
The Mage: Infamous as well as famous in the Dragonlance series, Raistlin Majere went from being the condescending magic user of the party to the unarguably evil, condescending magic user of the party, eventually becoming the single most powerful mortal in the world of Krynn. Not satisfied with the notion of world domination, he attempted to become a god. Hilarity and the utter negation of all deities, the world, and life itself ensued. Things got better though.
The Minority: Aside from being born poor, he was born sick. His illness was the single most defining aspect of his personality. You see, the perpetual chip on Raistlin’s shoulder was his lack of physical strength and general loneliness, both of which he attributed to his sickness. He specifically resented constantly asking his bigger, stronger, and athletic twin brother for help and support. Throw in a curse on his vision, which forces him to see the negative affects of time on everything he sees and you have yourself quite the set of obstacles. In our world he would be a lonely, mathematical, genius hung up on his physical disability while forced to hang out with his quarterback twin brother, who grew up poor and was diagnosed with a case of depression as he, literally, cannot see the future in a positive light.
4. Archmage Ged, aka Sparrowhawk
The Mage: Regarded as the single greatest wizard of his time, with literal songs written of his deeds, Ged made history both in the fictional world of Earthsea and in the states during the time of his publication. He was known in Earthsea for: his unusual aptitude with magic at a young age, sailing The Dragon’s Run unharmed, becoming a Dragon Lord, restoring the lost Ring of Erreth Akbe, and being crowned Archmage before sacrificing his powers to restore the balance between Life and Death. Ged’s story made a splash in the fantasy genre for not only featuring a wizard as a protagonist, but for featuring a dark skinned wizard who was not evil.
The Minority: As crippling a problem as having dark skin in a fantasy setting would normally be, Ursula K. LeGuin populated Earthsea mostly with with red-brown skinned characters so he was not a racial minority in his own world. Rather, Ged had to overcome his childhood experience of living in a poor, single parent, household. He grew up without a mother’s tenderness, living instead with an abusive and neglectful father, who had him herd goats all day without supervision. The only reason he started learning magic in the first place was because he was so starved for attention he wanted to impress all the other children his age. It was the need for recognition that fueled his pride and it’s the literal manifestation of his pride he spends the entire first book overcoming.
5. Shang Tsung
The Mage: The only man who could yell “GET OVER HERE!” before Goro stomping you for even thinking of using Sub-Zero’s slide attack. We’ve been yelling at his move-stealing cheapness since his debut in Mortal Kombat (1992) and enjoying his move stealing cheapness since Mortal Kombat 2. Aside from being able to literally steal your soul, Shang boasts the combat abilities of a master martial artist and various magical abilities, typically showcased as shape shifting and projectile flaming skulls.
The Minority: The current MK Bio claims he was originally from Earth, and that it was through his sorcery that he found a way to Outworld where he fell in league with the primary antagonist of the series, Shao Khan. Combine this with a comic released by Midway that says he was the winner of the shao lin competition 500 years ago and an interesting picture is painted. 500 years from 1990 puts him squarely in the Ming Dynasty. The Ming Dynasty, while slowly becoming more religiously diverse predominantly favored Taoism, often awarding Taoists with higher positions than non-Taoists. Considering his knowledge of Raiden and the Elder Gods, Tsung was in no way Taoist, which means he was almost certainly denied his ambitions by the local government, and probably had his accomplishments diminished on account of his beliefs. Is it any wonder the first thing he asked Shao Khan for was power?
6. Rand al’Thor aka The Dragon Reborn
The Mage: Rand is not only the chosen one, he is the reincarnation of the most powerful channeler (mage) in the history of the world. His power is head and shoulders above most other channelers and throughout the Wheel of Time series we see him: cast lightning, create fire, make it rain in the desert, harden the air, manipulate metal, cause earthquakes, rip holes in time/space, teleport, mold the land of dreams, literally erase people from existence, impossibly slice through a piece of magic that should have erased him the moment it touched whatever he was holding, and none of this includes what he does subconsciously or what happens around him simply because, again, he’s the chosen one.
The Minority: We find out early on that though Rand was raised in the Two Rivers, his parents were Aiel, a proud warrior race inhabiting the desert that the rest of the world seems to despise prejudicially. These people have tanned skin, and light colored eyes. Robert Jordan quashed all the comparisons to the middle east though when he openly stated that the Aiel are supposed to be an Irish culture in the desert. Because lord knows the irish have never been discriminated against. Despite his ancestry, Rand actually gets more grief simply for being who he is. He is The Dragon Reborn, aka the man who will save the world from the Dark One… by breaking it. The world needs him, and hates him for it, with entire factions and nations individually rallying to throw a wrench in his plan to: strengthen national ties and rally an army big enough to fight off the literal embodiment of evil. He is feared more than trusted and visibly undermined by entire institutions for something entirely out of his control. Remind you of anything?
7. Hao Asakura aka The Shaman King
The Mage: We’re introduced to Hao in the manga Shaman King, where he spends most of his time cruelly murdering his enemies and burning their souls afterward. As far as all powerful villains go, they don’t make them much bigger. To begin with, he hears your thoughts just as easily as your voice, and his mastery of onmyougi has given him complete control over the five classical Chinese elements as well as an actualized karmic destiny. In other words, he can choose when, where, and how his spirit is reincarnated, born with all memories of his past lives. His raw power is such that, in a rare example of magic vs. technology, he singled handedly destroys an entire military fleet. After shrugging off a high powered laser beam from a military satellite of course. Still not impressed? By the end of the series, he merges with the King of Spirits aka God.
The Minority: Hao was born in the Heian Era, a particularly bloody time in Japan’s history, where he and his mother were persecuted for their ability to see and speak to ghosts. His mother was eventually executed by a mob of people under the belief that she was a demonic fox spirit. As such, Hao grew up a poor orphan on the streets. Eventually his shamanic abilities earned him enough prestige that he was able to start The Asakura House, but by the end of his first life, the discrimination and wrong doings he had suffered at the hands of ordinary humans made him genocidal. So, at the core of his character is a kind hearted kid who had everything taken from him and snapped as result. He also spent a lifetime as a Native American, which probably didn’t help his genocidal urges.
8. Darth Vader
The Mage: Shut up! We know! The reason we saved him for last is because of the controversy in even having him on the list. Most of you would not want to, or expect to, see Vader with a collection of wizards, shamans, and sorcerers, (although we're pretty sure we just sparked a series of bad fan fiction) but seeing as how The Force has a hell of a lot more in common with The Tao than the twin ion engines that supposedly power the empire’s space fighters, it is safe to say that it is more mystic than scientific. Yes, yes, midichlorians and biology, whatever. All mystical universes have restrictions on who can be a magic user and why, Star Wars is no different. The Force is also notorious for being a catch all explanation for characters gaining new powers as the plot demands(link), (kind of like learning new spells) and seeing as how not everyone can replicate every force ability, it’s magic and not science. Plus, it’s a lot of fun to picture Emperor Palpatine as an evil space wizard. Anyway, you’re probably well aware of Vader’s abilities but if you’re hankering to know them all, The Wookiepedia has a list here (link)
The Minority: Whether we like it or not, the prequels are part of the canon. Which means that Darth Vader really did begin life as a bastard slave child. As far as minorities go, bastard slave boys are about as low as you can get.
What It All Means:
If you’re any kind of sane person, you’re probably hard at work determining what this particular pattern in fiction is reflective of. But seeing as how you’re reading Cracked, we’ll just go ahead and tell you. There are two forces at play when you encounter these characters, and others like them. The first is a conscious effort on the author’s behalf. It is the job of the writer to put their characters through the shittiest day of their lives. Conflict is what drives a story, as any high school English teacher will tell you, but when your character can voodoo their way out of trouble, their biggest conflict becomes internal by default. So the simplest way to write a compelling character is to make them a minority. You put your hero(or villain)in a situation where he is treated unjustly, and for no good reason, where they are forced to rise above the narrow minded beliefs of people holding them back or snap and become just as bad as their tormentors. (this is true for all manner of fiction by the way, not just the kind with magic and monsters, see the movie Precious as an example). The second force, is a bit more subconscious and just happens to play into the first. While the notion of compelling fiction is the main factor in these examples, the fact that it’s compelling in the first place, arguably makes each of these characters derivatives of the “noble savage” and “magical negro” archetypes. While most people are more likely to think of these characters as mages who just happen to be racial, social, or fiscal minorities,(link) the message authors usually send out is more along the lines of: “look at how amazing this person is EVEN THOUGH they’re a minority” which is a lot less empowering. Portraying being a minority as a massive obstacle still undermines the nature of equality. It’s the same reason black people hate black history month. (link) So what’s the solution? Beats the hell out of us, we just think magic is cool.