Would you trust a young wizard? Of course not. We all know wizards are supposed to be of a certain age, which can be clearly proven by their beards — maybe long, maybe short, probably gray or white, but always there. But of all the elderly, facial-hair-bearing sorcerers out there, who reigns supreme?

9) Shazam, DC Comics

According to DC’s current continuity, Shazam was a 3,000-year-old wizard who lived in the subway and kept summoning people, including children, to him in order to find someone worthy of the powers he possessed. That’s weird, but it’s even weirder that Shazam couldn’t find anyone he found morally upright enough to bestow his powers on until 10-year-old Billy Batson presented the argument that no one is perfect and the wizard gave him the powers. First of all, even if there are no 100% good people in the world — which is not necessarily true at all (and a pretty bleak worldview for a 10-year-old no matter what) — that doesn’t mean there isn’t someone better equipped to save the world over some random kid. Second, if you can abandon your moral philosophy after a five-minute conversation with a child, perhaps you shouldn’t be in charge of handing out the Strength of Sampson (etc.) anyways. Besides, his straggly beard makes him look more like an elderly hermit than a powerful sorcerer.

8) Dumbledore, Harry Potter

As headmaster for the Hogwarts School of Wizardry, Albus Dumbledore is beloved by his students as well as countless Harry Potter fans around the world. However, a closer examination of his school policies reveals that Dumbledore was actually quite horrible. He’s responsible for hiring some insanely awful teachers (mostly for the Defense Against the Dark Arts classes); he did nothing to address the constant, terrifying dangers in Hogwarts itself (including a loose basilisk on the grounds); and rather than explain pretty much anything to Harry Potter or his compatriots, he basically hampered Harry’s ability to defeat Voldemort at every single opportunity — never more so than when he pulled an Obi-Wan Kenobi and allowed Snape to kill him, ostensibly to allow Snape to stay undercover but definitely denying Harry some badly needed information for a significant amount of time, and prolonging Voldemort’s reign of terror. Hell, even if Dumbeldore just dropped a note for Harry to be on the look out for Horcruxs back in The Sorcerer’s Stone, he could have made all the difference in the world. Plus, Dumbledore’s massive, frizzy beard is more Santa Claus-y than majestic.

7) Ice King, Adventure Time

I’m sure some of you are rankled at the prospect of Dumbledore being ranked behind Adventure Time’s Ice King. I’ll fully admit that the Ice King is even less competent than Dumbledore in many respects, and if he were in any position of responsibility, the results would be infinitely worse than in Dumbeldore’s Hogwarts. However, the Ice King isn’t in any position of responsibility, meaning it’s much more difficult for him to needlessly endanger the lives of children. Thanks to his magic crown, he has some pretty tremendous ice powers, and we know he’s been around for 1,000 years or so. Sure, he has a bad habit of kidnapping princesses in order to marry them against their will, but if you’ve watch Adventure Time, his motivations for this are understandable and heartbreakingly tragic. Basically, as goofy and crappy as Ice King seems, he’d undoubtedly be a better elderly bearded wizard pal than Dumbledore.

6) Fizban, Dragonlance

This wizard from Dragonlance is cast almost completely out of the Gandalf mode, from his pointy hat to his secretly being a divine being. But while Gandalf is a smaller god in the Lord of the Rings universe, sent to Middle-Earth to keep Sauron from screwing everything up, Fizban is one of the most important gods in the fantasy world — Paladine, the chief god of good in the Dragonlance pantheon. Although in his human avatar he acts clumsy and absent-minded, he’s one hell of a wizard, with a snappy wizard beard. But given that he’s secretly a semi-omniscient deity, it feels like he’s cheating a bit.

5) Yen Sid, Fantasia

The titular sorcerer in The Sorcerer’s Apprentice chapter of Disney’s Fantasia, the wonderfully named Yen Sid (say it backwards), manages to be incredibly impressive during his short amount of screen time. Basically, all he does is tell his sentient mouse servant to do some mopping, leave, and come back. But when he comes back to find his home flooded and a sentient army of broomsticks in control, he kicks both the brooms’ and the water’s collective asses with nothing but a few arm movements and his scowl. Of all the wizards in this list, Yen Sid is the one you’d least like to meet carrying a wand while walking down a dark alley — partcularly if you’re a broom. (Also, that’s one hell of a beard.)

4) Elminster, Forgotten Realms

If Dragonlance’s Fizban is in the Gandalf mold, then Forgotten Realms’ Elminster is the uncanny forgery. He has the same hat, the same beard, the same basic job of protecting the realm, loves smoking his pipe, has the same attitude as Gandalf… I mean, you’d almost expect Elminster to have appeared to die fighting a Galrob on the bridge of Zakad-Doom and come back a few weeks later as Elminster the Whiter. I’m sure Dungeons & Dragons would have done this is they’d felt they could get away with it. Still, Elminster has a few things going for him that Fizban and the others don’t: he can shapeshift, he used to be a brigand and a thief, and he regularly had sex with the goddess Mystra — who, it should be noted, turned him into a woman for a few years just so he’d know what it would be like. Also he went to Hell for a while. Elminister’s been around, guys.

3) Gandalf, Lord of the Rings

Let’s put it plainly. None of these guys (except #2 below) would be here if it weren’t for Gandalf. The original pipe-smoking, pointy-hat wearing, disreputable-looking but secretly badass wizard working for the forces of good, Gandalf is like the Beatles of Elderly Wizards with Beards — whoever came along after him, Gandalf did it first and did it better. As the wisest of the Maior of Valinor, he was sent to Middle-Earth to help keep Sauron from conquering everyone and everybody, and he did a damn fine job of it, too, whether it was picking an unlikely hobbit to carry a Ring of Mass Destruction to Mount Doom or fighting the giant, demonic Balrog. Of course, he was outsmarted for a long time by the older, more impressively bearded wizard Saruman, so he’s docked a few points for that.

2) Merlin

The guy behind the guy! Yes, Gandalf became the iconic elderly bearded wizard for the entirety of fantasy fiction, but he wouldn’t have existed without Merlin, the wizard who help train and serve King Arthur. In virtually all his incarnations, he’s depicted as old and bearded in most media, although his age and beard length varies wildly. Perhaps his most iconic version is in T.H. White’s The Once and Future King, and its loose Disney adaptation The Sword in the Stone. There’s he’s kindly and clever, helping turn the young Arthur into a man worthy to be King of England. In other stories he’s a druid, in some he’s crazy, and in at least one he’s supposedly an attempt as creating an Antichrist (thanks, Geoffrey on Monmouth!). No matter how he’s depicted or what his deal is, he’s generally considered the greatest wizard of all time.

1) Belgarath, The Belgariad

So who could possibly beat Merlin as the greatest, oldest, beard-iest wizard of all time? How about a Merlin you’d actually want to hang out with? In David Edding’s Belgariad book series, Belgarath is basically Merlin — the oldest and most powerful wizard on that particular fantasy world — but he hasn’t let 7,000 years of fighting against the dark god Torak and forces of evil give him a bad attitude. He became a wizard when he got angry at a tree; he hung out with a god for several centuries; he fell in love with a she-wolf and it learned to transform itself to be a human woman to be with her; he was the father to Polgara, the greatest sorceress in the world. He once defeated an entire army of demons by making an illusion of the sun rising. Despite all these achievements, he managed never to lose his sense of humor, his bad habits, or his penchant for drinking, flirting, and thieving. To be immortal, the most powerful wizard in the world and a regular dude all at the same time? That’s true magic.


Contact the author at rob@io9.com.