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Why Gandalf Never Married?

1985 talk by Terry Pratchett:

….One may look in vain for similar widespread evidence of wizards. In addition to the double handful of doubtful practitioners mentioned above, half of whom are more readily identifiable as alchemists or windbags, all I could come up with was some vaguely masonic cults, like the Horseman’s Word in East Anglia. Not much for Gandalf in there.

Now you can take the view that of course this is the case, because if there is a dirty end of the stick then women will get it. Anything done by women is automatically downgraded. This is the view widely held — well, widely held by my wife every since she started going to consciousness-raising group meetings — who tells me it’s ridiculous to speculate on the topic because the answer is so obvious. Magic, according to this theory, is something that only men can be really good at, and therefore any attempt by women to trespass on the sacred turf must be rigorously stamped out. Women are regarded by men as the second sex, and their magic is therefore automatically inferior. There’s also a lot of stuff about man’s natural fear of a woman with power; witches were poor women seeking one of the few routes to power open to them, and men fought back with torture, fire and ridicule.

I’d like to know that this is all it really is. But the fact is that the consensus fantasy universe has picked up the idea and maintains it. I incline to a different view, if only to keep the argument going, that the whole thing is a lot more metaphorical than that. The sex of the magic practitioner doesn’t really enter into it. The classical wizard, I suggest, represents the ideal of magic — everything that we hope we would be, if we had the power. The classical witch, on the other hand, with her often malevolent interest in the small beer of human affairs, is everything we fear only too well that we would in fact become.

Oh well, it won’t win me a PhD. I suspect that via the insidious medium of picture books for children the wizards will continue to practice their high magic and the witches will perform their evil, bad-tempered spells. It’s going to be a long time before there’s room for equal rites.

Hat-tip

Comments

  1. #1 Romeo Vitelli
    March 15, 2009

    Not always. For every wicked witch, there was still a good witch to oppose her. At least that’s how it worked in Oz where the only wizard was a charlatan.

  2. #2 Joshua Zelinsky
    March 16, 2009

    This essay was written in 1985. Since then the fantasy genre has changed a lot. One obvious Harry Potter. Although there are interesting claims about the depiction of females in HP, Hermione is a witch of the first caliber. An even better example is Diane Duane’s Wizards series (which for the record kicks HP’s ass. Much better written. Much better plotted. All around much better). In the first two books in that series “So You Want to be a Wizard” and “Deep Wizardry” the main character is a female with plenty of magic power and the main male character is to some extent her sidekick. And that book was written in 1982 although it didn’t become popular until a few years later. The third book in the series focuses on the sister of the main character from the first two books. (Now, in that series everyone is called a “wizard” so there may be a point there).

    Certainly the genre does still have some of these issues, but it isn’t nearly the same as when this essay was written and the situation is getting better daily.