The sorcerer and its evolution in movies

Why are we so fascinated by the sorcerer? Over the years, the role has evolved past its initial duty, going from a wise and elderly supporting character to a leading man and, in some cases, a sex symbol for the geeky set.

The archetype represents power, freedom, and knowledge, as well as transcendence from the physical and mortal world into a higher plain and state of being. Magic in all its forms is a prize, a gift that so few people get and almost everyone would die to have.

The sorcerer archetype is one of the most dynamic, a near ever-changing figure of mythical proportions and a staple of fantasy stories. Going back as far as the Middle Ages, the sorcerer has enthralled thanks to the supernatural abilities that separated him from earthly characters.

In chivalric romances, the sorcerer was always old and brilliant, the ultimate mentor to guide and nurture the young and inexperienced knight in his quest for immortality — Merlin, arguably the prototype for all sorcerers to come, embodied the archetype perfectly.

Sorcerer and its evolution in movies

The sorcerer was stoic and incorruptible, detached from all earthly pleasures, in stark contrast to his female counterpart, the tempting and provocative sorceress.

Succumbing to his desires usually represented the sorcerer’s doom; for example, most versions of the Arthurian legend have Merlin dying, becoming imprisoned, or simply vanishing after falling madly in love with the Lady of the Lake, his former student.

Without him, Arthur and Camelot weaken, eventually leading to their downfall. Indeed, Merlin was the power behind the throne and the main reason for Arthur’s dominance.

The fantasy genre immortalized the sorcerer as an almighty, all-powerful, all-seeing, and all-knowing figure above everyone else. Without him, the story broke apart; in fact, it didn’t even exist.

The archetype in literature

saruman pointing his staff in the lord of the rings.

Fantasy authors followed the Merlin archetype with almost unyielding devotion, with characters like Gandalf and Saruman from The Lord of the Rings and Dumbledore from Harry Potter serving as thinly veiled stand-ins. However, as sensibilities changed, so did the sorcerer. Taken away from his near-perfect status, the sorcerer became a shifting figure in fantasy. Authors often depicted him as either a clumsy and bumbling buffoon prone to accidental brilliance or a manipulative and cunning figure with questionable morals. Merlin himself has been all these things, depending on his role in the story.

Still, for all his power and knowledge, the sorcerer remained a supporting figure away from the spotlight. This decision was probably deliberate, considering how absurdly overpowered he was. His immense abilities and wisdom easily resolved most problems in any given plot, and what’s rewarding about a story where a protagonist goes through nothing to achieve everything? If the sorcerer wanted to become the leading man in his story, he’d need to be considerably humbled down. However, it would take centuries before anyone attempted to bring him down to Earth, and it wouldn’t be in literature.

The sorcerer in movies

the wizard as a giant head in the wizard of oz.

Since its inception, cinema has challenged audiences’ perceptions of well-known tropes and ideas. Still, the early examples of sorcery in the medium stick to the mysterious and all-powerful idea that first popularized the trope. However, Victor Fleming’s adaptation of the 1900 novel The Wonderful Wizard of Oz introduced a significant change to the sorcerer by turning him into a human posing as the almighty ruler of Oz. The shift came to represent a new side to the trope, confirming its elasticity and adaptability. Directors enjoyed exploring the charlatan side of a supposed sorcerer while still suggesting a genuine supernatural connection. Prime examples include Ingmar Bergman’s The Magician and Richard Attenborough’s Magic.

Films also showcased the s