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The 10 Best Witches & Wizards in Pop Culture

April 21, 2011  |  9:03am

From the legends of Merlin to the Boy Who Lived, the idea of magic has captivated our imagination. But who were the most beloved witches and wizards in pop culture? After eliminating some clever suggestions from Twitter and Facebook—including the Cookie Crisp Wizard, Ozzie Smith, the Washington Wizards, those kids at Waverly Place and Christine O’Donnell—we narrowed it down to 10 from books, movies, TV and even poetry. We chose only one entry per fictional universe and define the terms “witch” and “wizard” very, very loosely.

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10. Samantha Stephens
Bewitched
Creator: Sol Saks
Actor: Elizabeth Montgomery

Samantha gets the nod over that other ‘70s TV witch Sabrina thanks to her charming endurance of meddling family members who keep trying to get in the way of her dream—to be a suburban housewife.

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9. Glinda The Good Witch
The Wonderful Wizard of Oz
Creator: L. Frank Baum
Actor: Billie Burke

While the “Wizard” of Oz gets top billing, Glinda is truly the most magical creature in Baum’s books and the 1939 film adaptation.

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8. Mrs. Whatsit, Mrs. Who and Mrs. Which
A Wrinkle in Time
Creator: Madeleine L’Engle
Never referred to specifically as witches, these three angelic beings nonetheless have the power to transform and transport themselves as if by magic.

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7. The Sorcerer’s Apprentice
The Sorcerer’s Apprentice
Creator: Goethe
Actor: Mickey Mouse

In the original 1797 poem, the sorcerer’s apprentice gets himself in trouble by using magic he can’t control to do his chores. Walt Disney entered it into the pop canon with one of the shorts in Fantasia, with Mickey as the overwhelmed assistant.

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6. Miracle Max
The Princess Bride
Creator: William Goldman
Actor: Billy Crystal

“You rush a miracle man, you get rotten miracles.” Fortunately for the cause of true love—which everyone knows is the greatest thing in the world except a nice mutton, lettuce and tomato sandwhich—Wesley was only mostly dead.

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5. Merlin
The legend of King Arthur
Creator: Unknown, first recorded by Geoffrey of Monmouth
No discussion of wizards is complete without Merlin, first put to paper around 1136. His prophetic knowledge and ability to shapeshift made him a valuable asset to Arthur, and he’s been reinterpreted more times than can possibly be listed here, most recently in a BBC series of the same name.

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4. Willow Rosenberg
Buffy the Vampire Slayer
Creator: Joss Whedon
Actor: Alyson Hannigan

The nerdy, insecure member of the Scooby Gang blossoms in college as she begins to dabble in magic. We’ll forgive her for becoming temporarily drunk with power and anger and almost ushering in the apocalypse.

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3. Yoda
Star Wars trilogies
Creator: George Lucas
Actor: Frank Oz

Wizard he most certainly is. You can argue the scientific merits of Midichlorians all you want, but he levitated objects with his mind, sensed the presence of other Jedi and was able to shield himself from the lightening of Darth Sidious with his fingertips. Magic doesn’t always mean parlor tricks.

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2. Albus Dumbledore/Harry Potter
Harry Potter series
Creator: J.K. Rowlings
Actors: Richard Harris and Michael Gambon (Dumbledore), Daniel Radcliffe (Potter)

Yes, I know we said only one entry from each fictional universe, but how to choose between the Headmaster of Hogwarts and his heroic student? For that matter, we could add Hermione, Ron and the rest of the non-Muggles.

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1. Gandalf
Lord of the Rings trilogy
Creator: J.R.R. Tolkein
Actor: Ian McKellen

One of the most powerful wizards in all of Middle Earth, Gandalf The Gray still made time to entertain a few humble hobbits with magical fireworks. It’s for his wisdom in realizing the importance in preserving his world for its simplest folk when his peer was seduced by evil that Gandalf tops our list. Well, that and Ian McKellen proclaiming “You shall not pass!”

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