As a young man with a bookish bent, I’ve always been fascinated by the idea of wizards. At first as a power fantasy, but while wielding eldritch energies and compelling strange creatures to do their bidding is often a hallmark of wizardry, I think there’s something more useful and compelling about wizards. Wizards often make heroes, and because of that become heroes themselves. And they don’t do it by waving around staves and throwing fireballs, but by having a unique understanding of the human condition and using that to help others.
For example, in the Sword and the Stone (both the novel and the film), Merlin changes Wart into all manner of animal in order for him to learn the lessons of kingship. But in order to do that, Merlin has to recognize the most important qualities of kingship. It’s this kind of wisdom, rather than any kind of fantasy magic, which makes a person a wizard. The word even comes from the Middle English word for wise man or philosopher. We can find all kinds of other examples of wizards as guides, whether in Gandalf, Obi-Wan Kenobi, or Dumbledore. They promote self-confidence and self-reliance in others, and help to create experiences for them which are more than memorable, they facilitate growth.
But what does this have to do with anything? Well, wizards remind me that there are things we can do which seem small to us, but have a great effect on other people. At the most commonplace level, it’s a small thing to get a door for someone or to say “Thank you,” but it can make someone’s day. Using language to change people’s moods or attitudes and giving meaningful gifts are both things which wizards do, and which we can do. I make words of power, for instance.
Some of these things can be bigger. A few months ago I wrote about how Jeff Pulver sent a few friends and I to Toronto to meet Mark Horvath, and what that meant to us, and the kinds of things that I learned there. Well, the things that Jeff and Mark do are wizardly things. They invest in people and help them realize their agency, can often do so with efforts that seem monumental to others, but are still small to themselves. Sometimes that involves a little sleight of hand. Isn’t this what we’d all prefer? To have people who are willing to show us how they value us, to take the time to create moments in which we can improve ourselves? It seems like at the end of the day, the world needs more wizards. What do you do that makes you qualified?