Who Are Most Powerful Wizards in Literature?

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In the last century, entertainment has taken huge leaps forward with the advent of first radio, then television, movies and the Internet. However, one form of entertainment has evolved – writing, specifically novels and the long form of fiction. Funny thing about that evolution is that the fiction genre of fantasy has only just started growing in popularity over the last 30 years or so, despite the best efforts of authors like J.R.R. Tolkien.

The history and fascination with fantasy has been around for centuries (think fairy tales and the Brothers Grimm), but only with modern publication and the acceptance of the geek culture has fantasy really surged in popularity. In that time, there have been at least 10 really excellent wizards and sorcerers to strut their stuff across the literary landscape – and here they are in no particular order.

10. Merlin

He has been written about since the 12th century as first a prophet and madman to eventually be fleshed out as the first full-fledged fictional wizard in the Arthurian court.

One of the most famous wizards, he has been written about or featured in novels by dozens of authors including Marion Zimmer Bradley, Stephen R. Lawhead and T.H. White. Generally portrayed as a trickster with mystical powers, he usually helps Arthur, whether Arthur has the wisdom to ask for help on the right path of life or not. And not only has he been written about, often, but he has been portrayed many times on the big and little screens on both sides of the pond.

9. Raistlin Majere

One of Tracy Hickman & Margaret Weis’ characters in the Heroes of the Dragonlance and Dragonlance Legends trilogies, he is a magic-user whose entire existence is about garnering more power. Golden skin, hourglass eyes and an all-powerful staff add to his colorful personality.

Unfortunately, a blazing intellect and immense powers eventually corrupt him and drives him to become a god. Not necessarily successful, he is nonetheless an impactful character in the further Dragonlance series.

8. Harry Dresden

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The main character in the Dresden Files has been shot, stabbed, broken and killed – all in the worst days of his life – as told by Jim Butcher. Throughout the series (at 13 books and counting), Harry Blackstone Copperfield Dresden is the only Wizard PI in the Chicago phone book.

Like Harry Potter, Harry lives in our world that is blissfully unaware of the magical counterpoint. However, in Dresden’s case, most of the magical brew-ha-ha (yes, I went there) can give you a magical wedgie, or worse, and make you think you were just had the greatest day of your life. Source

7. Allanon

Image result for Allanon wizard

Terry Brooks first introduced readers to his brooding Druid in The Sword of Shannara, which spawned a trilogy and many other subsequent novels in the World of Shannara. A tall man whose life has been elongated due to the Druid sleep, he knows more than he will ever tell anyone – you only need to know what you need to complete the task at hand. While not one of his strongest druid/mages of the world, Allanon was the most enigmatic and helped launch Brooks’ writing career.

6. Dr. Strange

Image result for Dr. Strange comic

Sorcerer Supreme of the Marvel comic universe, Dr. Strange likely has more source material than just about any wizard – with the possible exception of Merlin – as he first appeared in Marvel Comics in 1963. Once a leading surgeon, Stephen lost the delicate control of his hands after a car accident. After years of wandering and trying to find a way to fix his hands, he finally agrees to learn the sorcerous arts becoming one of the most powerful humans. Dr. Strange has also been seen on TV in a number of Marvel animated series as well as one eponymous direct-to-DVD release.


5. Pug

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Raymond E. Feist has been in the Fantasy genre for about as long as Brooks and has a much more enduring character, known primarily as Pug. Starting in the Rift War quartet, we are introduced to a young man, who is reluctantly chosen by the court wizard for an apprenticeship.

However, he struggles to learn eventually being captured by other world insurgents. This begins his journey across worlds and magical disciplines – eventually becoming one of the most powerful wizards in Midkemia and beyond. Though his journey started in the Rift War Saga, it has continued through numerous series, making him one of the wizard characters with the most longevity in this list.

4. Elminster Aumar

Dungeons & Dragons has helped launch a number of fantasy writers including Ed Greenwood under the Forgotten Realms landscape. As Salvatore’s Drow elf Drizzt Do’Urden is the quintessential fighter of the Forgotten Realms, Elminster is the quintessential wizard of the realms.

Featured in more than half a dozen novels, numerous games and just a few magazine articles, the wizened old man has powers learned through the various tutelage and opportunities presented by Mystra, the goddess of magic. As her chosen, he has been through many quests and trials earning the wrath and envy of many kings, sorcerers and general baddies.

3. The Crimson King

File:Crimson King Dark Tower.jpg

Only in the last novel of Stephen King’s Dark Tower series does the Gunslinger actually come face to face with his nemesis, the sorcerous Crimson King. However, King’s series spans his literary universe using villains from many of his books including The Stand, Salem’s Lot and The Eyes of the Dragon., but the Crimson King is the ultimate villain controlling most of the other minor and major villains of King’s other books. It is only in Marvel’s spin-off comic series The Gunslinger do we get to see the Crimson King’s true evilness.

2. Harry Potter

Image result for harry potter last book

J.K. Rowling’s boy wonder wizard was the titular character in the best-selling books of all time (until recently). While Harry Potter was not the most powerful wizard in Hogwarts, or the smartest, he definitely had the most gusto.

Known as the Boy Who Lived, Harry was the only wizard who had the cajones to go up against He Who Must Be Named, Lord Voldemort. He helped launch a generation into reading again and many of those kids will eventually go into the Fantasy section – so that’s maybe not so bad!

1. Gandalf

Image result for gandalf literature

J.R.R. Tolkien is likely the most well-known fantasy author having almost single-handedly launched the genre in novel format. Gandalf the Grey, as he is known through most of The Hobbit and The Lord of the Rings trilogy, is the epitome of a wizened old wizard – possibly owing to Merlin’s influence and possibly influencing Elminster’s appearance as well.

Like Allanon, Gandalf is a bit of a schemer and acts like a guide by only giving out as much information as needed to move the characters along the path needed. Tolkien described his wizard as an angelic being and was featured in many of his books beyond the famous trilogy.


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51 Comments

  1. What a great list! It mixes wizards from all walks of life, genres, and age ranges. From classic Merlin to the modern Potter, you cant go wrong with this list. My favorite of all time, is Harry Dresden. He shows that just because you have magical firepower, it doesn’t make life any easier! Nice job!

    • I admit I didn’t recognize half the wizards in this list but I approve of Harry Dresden being in it.
      as a wizard character he’s way cooler than harry potter and can walk elbow to elbow with gandalf.
      Tough wizards use staffs not sissy wands :-).
      I can hardly wait to see what happens in book 14 – Cold Days. I hope it comes out soon.

  2. I personally think Merlin should be higher than number 10 on this list. I think Merlin should be at least number 3. I can live with Harry Potter being number 1 and Gandalf being number 2. I won’t quarrel with you a lot about those two. However in my opinion Merlin should be number 3 at least.

    • They are listed in no particular order, as stated in the opening paragraph. But thanks for sharing your ranking, I’m sure most people have their own order.

      • I obviously did not read your caveat at the start of this list. Thanks for pointing that out to me. I will try to read the entire post in the future before making a comment. Thanks again for pointing your caveat out to me. Sorry about that. Oops!!

        • Your oversight is easily understood, we usually do give an order to our lists. I leave that up to each author though and this time Bill chose to list his 10 choices in a random order. Thanks for commenting.

  3. Did you seriously just put 2 comic book characters who most people have never heard of ahead of Merlin?

  4. How about Dungeon Master from the ‘Dungeons & Dragons’ cartoons? I think most people from my, ahem, generation would remember him, and his delivery of ‘I am Dungeon Master….your guuiiide….in the realms of…’….his little red cloak and comic timing and sage advice, and awesome power, is surely a match for most other wizards.

  5. I’d like to recommend The Black Company. Some of the most powerful wizards I’ve ever read are in these books. Some of them can melt mountains, make it rain something like acid, etc. But in contrast to these insanely powerful, yet often one dimensional wizards, a couple of the main characters are much much much less powerful hedge wizards who have plenty of personal weaknesses (a major one being alcohol) in addition to overall weaker abilities.

    http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/The_Black_Company

    The crazy powerful ones are under “The ten who were taken.”
    The less powerful ones are under “Members of The Black Company” named Goblin and One Eye.

    • Yeah I really liked ONE EYE he was a really fun wizard to read about especially his antics and duels with goblin when the mercenaries of the black company were not out slaughtering armies and slaying powerful beings

    • Good point. These are all males, what would a female list of magic users look like?. David and Leigh Edding’s Polgara would be an excellent example, as would Morgan le Fey. Elphaba from Wicked might be a good one to add, too. Hmmm, who else would be a good addition to the list? Everyone chip in and see if we can make a spontaneous top ten list here. 🙂

      • Hermione since Potter’s on here
        Thessaly from the Sandman comics
        The 3 witches from A Wrinkle in Time (drawing a blank on them right now)
        Melisandre from Song of Ice and Fire

        I should know about a billion more, but it’s 4 in the A.M. where I am and my brain is tired.

    • Not being a fan of the Terry Goodkind series (too much torture for my taste) I can understand why Rahl did not make the top ten. And I think the author wanted only one sorcerer per series so Gandalf beats out the guy he helped defeat. I mean seriously, Sauron is defeated by Gollum, how can you take the guy seriously? 🙂

  6. What about Ged from A Wizard of Earthsea by Ursula K. Le Guin? He went through an incredible transformation over the course of just one book, and he was an enormously powerful wizard at a very young age.

  7. I would say Gerald Tarrant, from the Coldfire trilogy, that is one powerful guy and a fascinatingly complex character!

  8. Dallas Honeycutt on

    I am very disappointed that Belgarath didn’t make this list. Belgarath is found in 12 novels and is every bit as powerful and fun as many, if not all, of the ones included on this list.

  9. Until recently for Harry Potter? It is by far the most popular series in the history of the world. Beating the second most sold sold series by over a 100 million sales.

  10. Harry Potter is still the best selling book series of all time, it has sold nearly 500 million copies. Nothing has even come close to it yet. So what is it referring to?

    • pfff 500 million copies? that’s what makes him popular? i’ve be searching for great wizards and potter only showed up a couple times. Gandalf and Merlin are far more popular.

  11. not sure if this was said yet or not but Gandalf is not actually a wizard. He is an Istari.

  12. I love that fact that Pug of Crydee is on the list. I haven’t seen him on similar blogs, and he is the most powerful sorcerer in not only his world, not only his universe, but in at least two (If he is more powerful than the most powerful Dasati, he is more powerful than the most powerful being in the universe that directly opposes the Dasati home-plane) other universes. This doesn’t even count the creatures of the void. (Tomas hinted that he could defeat any of the dread, and Pug/Milamber is as strong as Tomas) I’m not sure where Pug’s family (Miranda, Macros at his strongest, and Magnus especially) fits in power-wise.

  13. no way merlin is #10 harry potter gets topped by merlin every time. All the other wizards can go to hell. Merlin #1 fashion sense

  14. I’m sorry, but how is Harry Potter even on this list? Much less the number 1 wizard? The world of Harry Potter has by far the weakest wizards in literature much less all of fiction! My god, pick any wizard from Malazan and they could annihilate Potter with barely a thought! :/ If anyone from Harry potter was on this list at all it should be someone like Dumbledore, you even say in your list he’s not the strongest from his universe, so how can he be the #1 most powerful wizard in literature?

  15. I don t know how you can put Harry Potter stronger than Merlin . Harry need a damn magic wand to to magic , without that he is useless . Merlin is the most powerfull wizzard

  16. The correct answer is Raistlin, given he became the most powerful God in his universe. Thus greater than Merlin, Strange or Rand (Wheel of Time). Harry is sooooo insanely weak and slow in comparison.

  17. Nathan McAndrus on

    Harry Potter? How could he make any list. Gandalf is a far better and far wiser wizard than Harry. How can Harry be in the top one over the wizards of classical stories?

  18. It’s not the same Merlin, but I think Merlin, son of Corwin, could take out most if not all of these pretty easily.

  19. Thank you for listing Pug/Milamber! First time i have seen his name on one of these lists!