Wednesday, October 13, 2010

10 FAVORITES (6) - Halloween PART II: Witches & Wizards

It is the second week of October and this month's 10 FAVORITES are dedicated to the holiday of Halloween. The icons, the images, the symbols and the monsters all define the day. This week, I focus on people with magical powers. In short, the Witches and the Wizards of our cultural lexicon. Witches have been part of our history since...well, since forever. The very idea of witchcraft and wizardry has perplexed philosophers, enchanted children, excited audiences and even angered the religious community. There are so many famous magical characters but I have narrowed my favorites down to my usual list of 10 (11, if you count the Honorable Mention!). So, with a wave of my wand, let's begin!


The Wizard of Oz, The Wonderful Wizard of Oz
Okay, let's get this SPOILER out of the way. He isn't really a Wizard. He's just a guy from the Midwest who landed over the rainbow in the Land of Oz and was declared its new ruler. But just the power and cadence of his name within the original L. Frank Baum story (and the many adaptations of said story including the beloved 1939 edition) means things will be resolved. For many of us, he was the first Wizard we new about and we have no other name for him other than "The Wizard."

The White Witch, The Lion, The Witch and The Wardrobe
Witches and Wizards are powerful beings and, like the Great and Powerful Oz, this Witch ruled a magical world. But her rule was an iron fisted rule filled with cold Christmas-less winter and she terrorized her subjects by turning lawbreakers (as she deemed them) into stone. Her cold emotionless demeanor (perfectly portrayed on film in 2005 by the brilliant Tilda Swinton) was equalled by her hatred for the Christ-like lion Aslan and all the good he represented in the C.S. Lewis created Narnia.

Sabrina, Sabrina: The Teenage Witch
This series has its fans and it has its detractors. But the charming and innocent titular Witch first appeared in a series of comics (created by the people behind Archie). In the 1990's, she transported to Primetime TV (ABC's TGIF night) where the spunky Melissa Joan Hart took on the role and played it for almost an entire decade (going way beyond teenage years!). The success of the series prompted an animated version that also was quite popular with the Saturday morning crowd.

Maleficent, Sleeping Beauty
As I said when I talked about Sleeping Beauty in my 100 Movies List, Maleficent is one of my all-time favorite Disney villains because of her motivation. Sure, she takes it WAY too far, but we all get upset or angry when we feel slighted or snubbed. Maleficent has such massive power and pure anger that she declares herself the "Mistress of ALL Evil!" and no one dares contradict her.

The Witches of Eastwick, The Witches of Eastwick AND The Halliwell Sisters, Charmed
I put these two trios together because they represent the modern fantasy about Witches and covens. Men and boys everywhere (at least the ones born in my generation and after) think about the sensual and out-and-out hotness of both of these sets. The first (which appeared in John Updike's novel and its 1988 film adaptation) are just three women who have a strong connection and (subconsciously) call upon a devilish and charming man to turn their world around. The latter (which appeared on the smash-hit WB series that has legions of fans) was another Eastwick-like coven that fought demons and villains while still trying to deal with everyday life.

The Sorcerer, Fantasia
Sure, some of you may be wondering why this guy (who does NOT speak a word in Disney's musical masterpiece sequence of The Sorcerer's Apprentice) is so high on my list. Let me explain. As a kid, this guy frightened me. The darkness of his first appearance, the coldness of his glare, and just the manner in which he enters the room intimidated me. For me, Wizards were either kindly like the phony Wizard of Oz or this polar opposite, who could put the fear of God into the sweet and iconic Mickey Mouse.

Samantha Stephens (and her mother, Endora), Bewitched
Bewitched is one of the most beloved series of the 1960's. Elizabeth Montgomery's sweet and resourceful Samantha and Agnes Moorehead's catty and sarcastic Endora were immense reasons why the show was (and IS) so popular. We always loved when Samantha would twitch her nose or snap her fingers AND we grinned (with guilty pleasure) when Endora would purposely get her daughter's husband's name wrong!

Gandalf the White, The Lord of the Rings Trilogy
I just think Middle Earth was a better place because of wise and powerful beings like Gandalf the White. He was a magnificent wizard, a great fighter and companion, and a beloved grandfather figure who could advise and make decisions. In my opinion, he is the best character in the series and competes to be one of the greatest characters created in literary history. J.R.R. Tolkien's fantastical opus was brilliant enough on the page and was brought to even greater heights when Sir Ian McKellan played the part of Gandalf in Peter Jackson's grand film versions.

Merlin, The King Arthur legend
There have been so many adaptations of the Arthurian legend from action films to TV series to musicals to animation to even Monty Python! Throughout the many adaptations, Merlin the Wizard tutor of the young Arthur has been an integral part of the legend. To many, Merlin is considered the ultimate Wizard, which is very understandable. But there are two franchises that eclipse the power of this mystical sorcerer (for me, at least).

Harry Potter (and Friends), The Harry Potter series
J.K. Rowling's tremendously successful franchise has gotten children (families, even) reading again and they are all fascinated by the Wizarding world of Harry, Ron, Hermione and all of their friends and teachers. Even the last two films in the franchise (Rowling's seventh and last book is being split into two parts to cover as much as they can of the 700 page novel) are so eagerly anticipated that the studio is sticking to the announced release date (despite not being able to convert the first part into 3D in time).

The Wicked Witch of the West AND Glinda the Good, The Wonderful Wizard of Oz AND Wicked
The Wizard himself was an absolute phony, but the two Witches in Oz (each from different sides of the spectrum, at least in Baum's version) were the true powerful beings in the land. The Green one was wicked, villainous (or misunderstood depending on which version you pay attention to) and just HAD to have those shoes! The Good one was beautiful, kind (or stuck-up, once again, depending on which version you pay attention to) and taught us the final moral of Dorothy's journey. Plus, how many Witches, who serve as supporting characters in one of the most beloved books/films of all-time, get to be the stars of their very own Broadway smash-hit musical?!?

So, there you have it: The Best Witches and Wizards from Pop Culture. Next week, more magical beings as I explore the many magical creatures from folklore, fairy tales and modern films. Enjoy October and...

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