“The Wizards of Perfil” — Kelly Link

Kelly Link is a short fiction specialist whose stories have been collected in three volumes: Stranger Things Happen, Magic for Beginners, and Pretty Monsters. Her stories have appeared in The Magazine of Fantasy & Science Fiction, Realms of Fantasy, Asimov’s Science Fiction, Conjunctions, and in anthologies such as The Dark, The Faery Reel, and Best American Short Stories. With her husband, Gavin J. Grant, Link runs Small Beer Press and edits the ’zine Lady Churchill’s Rosebud Wristlet. Her fiction has earned her an NEA Literature Fellowship and won a variety of awards, including the Hugo, Nebula, World Fantasy, Stoker, Tiptree, and Locus awards.

A common issue that comes up when discussing wizard stories is this: Why don’t wizards rule the world? After all, wizards supposedly wield immense magical powers, and yet most fantasy kingdoms still seem to be governed by kings and dukes and lords, whereas the wizards are relegated to being merely advisors, or else they’re off skulking in some humble tower or hovel or cave. Why don’t any of these so-called wizards aim a little higher? Where’s their ambition? Couldn’t they just march into town, toss around a few fireballs, and declare themselves boss?

Of course, many of them are probably happier contemplating arcane mysteries, but surely some must take an interest in local affairs? Can’t they use their powers for good? In Peter S. Beagle’s The Last Unicorn, Molly Grue admonishes Schmendrick the Magician, “Then what is magic for? What is the use of wizardry, if it cannot even save a unicorn?” Answer: “That’s what heroes are for.”

But why? Our next story, which originally appeared in the young adult anthology Firebirds Rising, is built around this basic conundrum: Why don’t those darn wizards ever get off their butts and actually do something for a change?