Created By: homunq on March 18, 2012 Last Edited By: Morgenthaler on 5 hours ago
Troped

Fake Wizardry

Magic is known to be real, but someone fakes highly powerful magic by using stage magic

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So, you live in a world with magic. That's got to be pretty awesome, right? Wait, what?

Sorry, did you just say that you fake the tricks you do?

Yes, you might be the one guy who doesn't have magic powers in this setting and have to find some way to make up for the disadvantage, you might not have developed your wizarding powers yet but know some killer sleight of hand that will put you up with the best for whatever deceptive reason you choose, or you might be that bastard of a con-man who needs to use stage tricks for part of a certain plan to achieve something that magic just couldn't do. Presenting the trope: there's real magic here, but illusion is being used.

Reasons for this can vary wildly, but usually it's done to either intimidate opponents into backing off or as part of some elaborate scam or con scheme. One particular scene which seems to be the favourite for Fake Wizardry employment is the climactic scene where the heroes scare off the big bad through elaborately-prepared stunts that make it look as if they have some insanely powerful form of magic (which they don't even though it exists).

Other times, a certain feat of über-powerful magic may be some big rumour that it's possible for the most studious or powerful of wizards to achieve. Naturally, some guy is going to either fake this to show off or for the more practical purpose of scaring his enemies/friends either away or into treating him like royalty. That super magic might even be legendary or prophetic, and the wizard fakes having it so that he will become The Chosen One.

If it's not done for benevolent means, expect it to be followed-up by the plot where everyone discovers that the wizard is a fake and the Aesop that they shouldn't fake advanced magic powers... except for those times when you should. (These times being when you're The Hero and... well, you're the hero, or if you're a slightly shady member of the good side who gets away with ends-justifying-means actions.)

Contrast Magicians Are Wizards, where someone with actual magical powers presents them as stage trickery.

Can be related to This Is My Boomstick and Magic from Technology. See also Phony Psychic and God Guise. Compare Clarke's Third Law, which means that magic and sophisticated technology can't be distinguished.


Examples:

    open/close all folders 

    Anime and Manga 
  • On one episode of Ojamajo Doremi the girls had a magic exam, during which they had to defeat other witches who obviously had many years of experience and vast numbers of spells in their arsenals. What did they do to impress them and win the competition? STAGE MAGIC TRICKS of course, and since the witches were so used to using real magic they didn't question if the magic was real. They assumed they were rare tricks even for them (like Doremi rotating her head many times).
  • Played for Laughs in Kobayashi-san Chi no Maid Dragon when Tooru and Kanna mistake a spoon bending illusion on the TV for actual magic. They spend the rest of the chapter trying to learn how to do it (with a stereotypical martial arts training montage). It's not that it's more powerful than their own magic (Tooru is practically a full blown Reality Warper) but their pride as dragons doesn't let them accept that humans can do something that they can't.

    Films — Animated 
  • In The Prince of Egypt, Pharaoh's priests rely on magic tricks to simulate magic powers. Obviously, Moses (via God) becomes able to do what they pretend to do and more.

    Films — Live-Action 
  • Willow: Willow is seen early on doing conjuring tricks for his friends. During the climactic confrontation with the evil sorceress Bavmorda, Willow claims to have magic powers beyond her comprehension and makes the MacGuffin disappear with one of his conjuring tricks.
  • In Hocus Pocus Max is able to scare the witches long enough to flee with his friends by convincing them them that he has powerful magic. He does this by setting off the sprinkler system with a lighter, neither of which the witches have ever seen.
  • Oz: The Great and Powerful: In the climax of the movie, Oscar "Oz" Diggs devises a plan that centers on making a big stage trick that the Wicked Witches will confuse for real magic. During the "final battle", he creates a fake apparition of himself with smoke makers and a projector (helped by the friendly tinkers) while claiming that "Oscar Diggs died so the great Oz could be free". Its scare tactic works greatly as, when the witches shoot fireballs at it, he appears to vanish but then reappears himself (because the tinkers turn the projector on and off by his command).

    Literature 
  • Zig-Zagged in the Land of Oz. Magic is real, but the Wizard gets by on stage magic until Glinda the Good teaches him some real magic.
  • Discussed in Magicians of Gor. Tarl and his friend Marcus hire a stage magician to steal a McGuffin; Marcus, like those of Gor generally, believes in magic and that the stage magician can do real magic. The stage magician assures Marcus that he will use mundane stage magic to steal the McGuffin rather than real magic, since it will be more humiliating for those from whom the McGuffin is stolen.
  • There was a funny variant on this in the Dragon Lance series... during Raistlin's time-traveling tutelage under the Great Big Bad Evil Wizard Fistandantilus. At one point, he and several other apprentices are asked to demonstrate their magical proficiency in a room heavily warded with anti-magic - allowing them to rattle off the right incantations without actually blowing anything up.
That is, until Raistlin shows off by producing an actual fireball along with his incantations. Everyone is terribly impressed, since it seems like he's managed to break through wards set up by Fistandantilus himself, but as it turns out, it was all just sleigh of hand - he palmed a small alchemical firecracker and threw it to coincide with his spell. A skill hailing back to before he learned actual magic, when he practiced stage-magic for kicks. (Those skills also turn out to be very, very important later on, but that's another story.)
  • In A Song of Ice and Fire the sorceress Melisandre definitely has magical powers, but they are weaker than she lets on, and so to maintain her image, she uses colorful powders, chemicals and the like. Making the stage magician connection is the fact that she literally keeps her "supplements" up her sleeves.
  • In The Darksword Trilogy, not being a wizard is punishable by (sorta) death. Joram is taught sleight of hand as a child to escape this.
  • The Second Apocalypse: Faking sorcery would be very difficult and dangerous, since the practice of magic is clearly visible to actual sorcerers, but that doesn't stop Anasûrimbor Kellhus from faking non-sorcerous "miracles". He regularly uses his analytical super-intelligence to appear to read minds or to prophesize future events. One of his more spectacular "miracles" comes when, in the middle of a vast desert, he points to a spot in the sand and tells his followers to dig there. When they do, they find a wellspring that saves the entire Holy War from almost certain death by exposure. Presumably he was able to detect the presence of an underground spring by some subtle cue, but to his followers it's obvious proof that he's favored by the God. (Of course, he becomes less reliant on deceptive tricks when he learns how to use actual magic.)
  • Not stage magic proper, but at one point in The Malloreon a Grolim sorcerer uses a fake demon invocation plus an illusion spell as Step One in taking over a Karand kingdom. Belgarath counters with a fake invocation of his own and a far scarier illusion that sends the Karands fleeing for their lives.
  • In the book Blood and Honor by Simon R. Green the protagonist is a down on his luck stage actor who uses stage fire magic to good effect against his opponents while posing as a mage prince with elemental fire powers.

    Tabletop Games 
  • Dragon introduced a Prestige Class for Dungeons & Dragons called the "Charlatan", which gains various abilities to fake magical powers, either through making spells cast through items appear to be cast by you personally, faking the results with alchemical items, or placebo effect.
  • The Gates Of Hell describe a devil named Byzine, who has several undercover identities, including a necromancer serving Orcus. Since he doesn't have a lot of necromantic magic at his disposal, he mostly relies on scrolls and such to create the impression.

    Video Games 
  • In Quest for Glory I, a large group of brigands are terrorizing the countryside, aided in part by a strange wizard. Hints are dropped throughout the game, however, that said wizard isn't really using magic, and in the end the "wizard" turns out to be the local baron's old jester, who has been using a mixture of intelligence, stage magic, blinding powders, and the rudimentary magic that even a non magic user can wield by knowing the right words or ingredients to mix together.

    Western Animation 
  • On Avatar: The Last Airbender we have the elemental benders, people who can manipulate one of the four classical elements (and the Avatar who can control all of them and use them forCombat or everyday uses. However, not all people are benders, including Sokka, the Badass Normal of the Gaang. He has used some tricks to recreate similar effects, like bombs as fake firebending or using air pressure (provided by airbending, but the witnesses didn't knew that) to make rocks float on the air and pretend it's earthbending.
  • My Little Pony: Friendship Is Magic : Played with in the episode "Magic Duel". Twilight Sparkle, a magical unicorn prodigy, defeats her rival, Trixie (who currently was using an Amplifier Artifact of Doom to cast more powerful magic spells), by using a useless Magic Feather trinket and stage magic tricks to simulate even more powerful magic that Trixie was unable to do and fool her into taking off the Artifact to get the Magic Feather (and therefore removing her powerful magic amplifier).
  • Thundarr the Barbarian: In the episode "Master of the Stolen Sunsword", Thundarr battles Yondo, a "wizard" whose powers turn out to all be fake and based on stage magic. Despite this, Yondo is a formidable opponent for Thundarr and company, giving them more trouble than many real wizards they battled.
  • Young Justice: The first season episode "Denial" confirms the existence of real magic in the show's universe. The villain Abra Kadabra, however, uses advanced technology from the future to fake magical powers. Kadabra joins forces with Klarion, a genuine magic user, in hopes of getting bona fide supernatural abilities.

Community Feedback Replies: 44
  • March 19, 2012
    Damr1990
    • On Avatar The Last Air Bender we have the elemental benders, people who can manipulate one of the four classical elements (and the Avatar who can control all of them and use them forCombat or everyday uses, however not all people are benders, includding sokka, the Badass Normal of the Gaang, who has used some tricks to recreate similar effets to some of them, like bombs as fake firebending or using air preassure(provided by airbending, but the witnesses didn't knew that) to make rocks float on the air and pretted it's earthbending
    • On one episode of Magical Doremi the girls had a magic exam on which they had to defeat on a contest various other witches(who obvously had many years of experience and vast ammount of spells on their arsenals). what did they do to impress them and win the competition? STAGE MAGIC TRICKS of course, and since the witches were so used to use magic they didn't questioned if those were real, they asumed they were and that they were rare tricks even for them(like doremi rotatig her head many times)
  • March 19, 2012
    JobanGrayskull
    What about stories where it's unknown if magic is real, but still considered a possibility (perhaps due to superstition)? I'm thinking of the first Sherlock Holmes movie, where the villain used stage magic that appeared quite real simply because people did not know the science behind it.
  • March 19, 2012
    Lumpenprole
    Willow, when the title character uses a stage trick to momentarily confound the evil queen.
  • March 19, 2012
    Michael
    In The Darksword Trilogy, not being a wizard is punishable by (sorta) death. Joram is taught sleight of hand as a child to escape this.
  • March 19, 2012
    deuxhero
    Dragon introduced a Prestige Class for Dungeons And Dragons called the "Charlatan", which gains various abilities to fake magical powers, either through making spells cast through items appear to be cast by you personally, faking the results with alchemical items, or placebo effect.
  • March 29, 2012
    randomsurfer
    • Zig Zagged in the Land Of Oz. Magic is real, but the Wizard gets by on stage magic until Glinda the Good teaches him some real magic.
    • Discussed in Magicians of Gor. Tarl and his friend Marcus hire a stage magician to steal a Mc Guffin; Marcus, like those of Gor generally, believes in magic and that the stage magician can do real magic. The stage magician assures Marcus that he will use mundane stage magic to steal the Mc Guffin rather than real magic, since it will be more humiliating for those from whom the Mc Guffin is stolen.
  • March 30, 2012
    Arivne
    Wizards Are Stage Magicians, to make it clear that they're faking their magic?
  • March 30, 2012
    BlackDragon
    There was a funny variant on this in the Dragon Lance series... during Raistlin's time-traveling tutelage under the Great Big Bad Evil Wizard Fistandantilus, at one point, he and several other apprentices are asked to demonstrate their magical proficiency in a room heavily warded with anti-magic - allowing them to rattle off the right incantations without actually blowing anything up.

    That is, until Raistlin shows off by producing an actual fireball along with his incantations. Everyone is terribly impressed, since it seems like he's managed to break through wards set up by Fistandantilus himself, but as it turns out, it was all just sleigh of hand - he palmed a small alchemical firecracker and threw it to coincide with his spell. A skill hailing back to before he learned actual magic, when he practiced stage-magic for kicks. (Those skills also turn out to be very, very important later on, but that's another story.)
  • March 31, 2012
    TropeEater
    I don't like this name. It sounds too much like Magicians Are Wizards.

    How about Fake Wizardry?
  • March 31, 2012
    Jordan
    In A Song Of Ice And Fire, the sorceress Melisandre definitely have magical powers, but they are weaker than she lets on, and so to maintain her image, she uses colorful powders, chemicals and the like. Making the stage magician connection is the fact that she literally keeps her "supplements" up her sleeves.

    • In The Prince Of Egypt, Pharaoh's priests rely on magic tricks to simulate magic powers. Obviously, Moses (via God) becomes able to do what they pretend to do and more. I can't find a source for this online, but I remember reading that some stage magic tricks actually do originate from Ancient Egyptian priests.
  • September 5, 2016
    Morgenthaler
    Since it seems the OP has forgotten about this one, I'll take up sponsorship.

    Updated to here. Also agree that Fake Wizardry sounds like a better title to avoid confusion with Magicians Are Wizards.
  • September 5, 2016
    Generality
    • In Hocus Pocus Max is able to scare the witches long enough to flee with his friends by convincing them the he has powerful magic, which he does by setting off the sprinkler system with a lighter, neither of which the witches have ever seen.
  • September 5, 2016
    DAN004
    Yeah, I totally mistook this with stage magicians who use real magic. I like Fake Wizardry.

    Compare Magic From Technology

    • Oz The Great And Powerful: in the climax of the movie, Oscar "Oz" Diggs devises a plan that centers on making a big stage trick that the Wicked Witches will confuse as real magic. During the "final battle", he creates a fake apparition of himself with smoke makers and a projector (helped by the friendly tinkers) while claiming that "Oscar Diggs died so the great Oz could be free". Its scare tactic works greatly as, when the witches shoot fireballs at it, he appears to vanish but then reappears himself (because the tinkers turn the projector on and off by his command).
  • September 5, 2016
    PaulA
    Can be related to This Is My Boomstick.
  • September 5, 2016
    Gamermaster
    • Played For Laughs in Kobayashi San Chi No Maid Dragon when Tooru and Kanna mistake a spoon bending illusion on the TV for actual magic and they spend the rest of the chapter trying to learn how to do it (with a stereotypical martial arts training montage). It's not that it's more powerful than their own magic (Tooru is practically a full blown Reality Warper) but their pride as dragons don't let them accept that humans can do something that they can't.
  • September 6, 2016
    Morgenthaler
    Updated to here.
  • September 6, 2016
    Arivne
    Corrected a lot of spelling and grammar errors, including several run-on sentences.
  • September 6, 2016
    DAN004
    " This is of course the opposite of Magicians are Wizards. For instance, in Harry Potter and the Methods of Rationality chapter 79, Quirrel "resists" being depolyjuiced by sneezing. Of course, since he wasn't actually polyjuiced in the first place, it's just misdirection. (He then follows it up with a Sarcastic Confession.)"

    This paragraph should be rewritten. This ain't exactly an opposite to Magicians Are Wizards, although they're related.
  • September 6, 2016
    Generality
    ^ Not to mention the example should be in the examples section, not the trope description.
  • September 7, 2016
    TheWanderer
    In Quest For Glory I, a large group of brigands are terrorizing the countryside, aided in part by a strange wizard. Hints are dropped throughout the game, however, that said wizard isn't really using magic, and in the end the "wizard" turns out to be the local baron's old jester, who has been using a mixture of intelligence, stage magic, blinding powders, and the rudimentary magic that even a non magic user can wield by knowing the right words or ingredients to mix together.
  • September 7, 2016
    Koveras
    I think there is an example in Scrapped Princess, but I can't really remember whether it is one or not... Basically, magic exists in this series (Raquel, one the protagonists, is a trained combat mage), but in one episode, the heroes come across a village of "heretics" who participate in weird rituals presided over by a dissident priest. While Raquel immediately realizes that this "ritual" is not magical (this is actually where my memory is the fuzziest), the priest has the entire village convinced that it is going to have a massive impact on the world.
  • September 7, 2016
    Antigone3
    Not stage magic proper, but at one point in The Malloreon a Grolim sorcerer uses a fake demon invocation plus an illusion spell as Step One in taking over a Karand kingdom. Belgarath counters with a fake invocation of his own and a far scarier illusion that sends the Karands fleeing for their lives.
  • September 9, 2016
    JD2K
    My Little Pony Friendship Is Magic : Played with in the episode "Magic Duel". Twilight Sparkle, a magical unicorn prodigy, defeats her rival, Trixie (who currently was using an Amplifier Artifact Of Doom to cast more powerful magic spells), by using a useless Magic Feather trinket and stage magic tricks to simulate even more powerful magic that Trixie was unable to do and fool her into taking off the Artifact to get the Magic Feather (and therefore removing her powerful magic amplifier).
  • September 9, 2016
    SolipSchism
    The Second Apocalypse: Faking sorcery would be very difficult and dangerous, since the practice of magic is clearly visible to actual sorcerers, but that doesn't stop Anasûrimbor Kellhus from faking non-sorcerous "miracles". He regularly uses his analytical super-intelligence to appear to read minds or to prophesize future events. One of his more spectacular "miracles" comes when, in the middle of a vast desert, he points to a spot in the sand and tells his followers to dig there. When they do, they find a wellspring that saves the entire Holy War from almost certain death by exposure. Presumably he was able to detect the presence of an underground spring by some subtle cue, but to his followers it's obvious proof that he's favored by the God. (Of course, he becomes less reliant on deceptive tricks when he learns how to use actual magic.)
  • September 16, 2016
    Morgenthaler
    Updated to here.

    Modified the Magicians Are Wizards thing, but the description could still use a lot of expansion.
  • September 17, 2016
    Exxolon
    In the book Blood and Honor by Simon R. Green the protagonist is a down on his luck stage actor who uses stage fire magic to good effect against his opponents while posing as a mage prince with elemental fire powers.
  • September 18, 2016
    JoeG
    Thundarr The Barbarian: In the episode "Master of the Stolen Sunsword", Thundarr battles Yondo, a "wizard" whose powers turn out to all be fake and based on stage magic. Despite this, Yondo is a formidable opponent for Thundarr and company, giving them more trouble than many real wizards they battled.
  • September 19, 2016
    lakingsif
    So, you live in a world with magic. That's got to be pretty awesome, right? Wait, what?

    Sorry, did you just say that you fake the tricks you do?

    Yes, you might be the one guy who doesn't have magic powers in this setting and have to find some way to make up for the disadvantage, you might not have developed your wizarding powers yet but know some killer sleight of hand that will put you up with the best for whatever deceptive reason you choose, or you might be that bastard of a con-man who needs to use stage tricks for part of a certain plan to achieve something that magic just couldn't do. Presenting the trope: there's real magic here, but illusion is being used.

    Reasons for this can vary wildly, but usually it's done to either intimidate opponents into backing off or as part of some elaborate scam or con scheme.

    One particular scene which seems to be the favourite for Fake Wizardry employment is the climactic scene where the heroes scare off the big bad through elaborately-prepared stunts that make it look as if they have some insanely powerful form of magic (which they don't even though it exists).

    Other times, a certain feat of über-powerful magic may be some big rumour that it's possible for the most studious or powerful of wizards to achieve. Naturally, some guy is going to either fake this to show off or for the more practical purpose of scaring his enemies/friends either away or into treating him like royalty. That super magic might even be legendary or prophetic, and the wizard fakes having it so that he will become The Chosen One.

    If it's not done for benevolent means, expect it to be followed-up by the plot where everyone discovers that the wizard is a fake and the Aesop that they shouldn't fake advanced magic powers... except for those times when you should. (These times being when you're The Hero and... well, you're the hero, or if you're a slightly shady member of the good side who gets away with ends-justifying-means actions.)

    Contrast Magicians Are Wizards is where someone with actual magical powers presents them as stage trickery.

    Can be related to This Is My Boomstick. Compare Magic From Technology. See also Phony Psychic and God Guise.
  • September 19, 2016
    lakingsif
    Description for you, if you like it. Morgenthaler
  • September 19, 2016
    DAN004
    Now here's a question: if someone fakes a certain magic using an illusionary magic, would that count?
  • September 19, 2016
    lakingsif
    What do you mean, Dan? Like different kinds of real magic?
  • September 20, 2016
    DAN004
    ^ kinda, but I specify "illusions". Cuz they're real magic that creates unreal things.

    Like:
    • Genjutsu in Na Ruto amounts to making illusions, some of which are used to perform visually-overwhelming but unreal things, such as Itachi pulling Kakashi to another dimension and stabs him in the gut for 72 hours straight when in reality it's all happening in Kakashi's head for a few seconds.

    I believe Kingdom Hearts' Zexion does that too.
  • September 25, 2016
    MonaNaito
    Would someone using Magic From Technology in a world where non-technological magic exists, and telling everyone they were using "genuine" magic, count as an example?
  • September 25, 2016
    DAN004
    ^ perhaps?

    I think you want a second opinion tho.
  • September 26, 2016
    Bisected8
    That should probably be a case-by-case sort of thing.
  • September 26, 2016
    Omeganian
    The Gates Of Hell describe a devil named Byzine, who has several undercover identities, including a necromancer serving Orcus. Since he doesn't have a lot of necromantic magic at his disposal, he mostly relies in scrolls and such to create the impression.
  • September 26, 2016
    Morgenthaler
    Thumbs up for that description rewrite, lakingsif. Will switch it in.
  • September 26, 2016
    JoeG
    The new write-up is nice, except the character for the "U" with an umlaut over it in "Uber" is being displayed as capital "A" followd by "1/4".
  • September 26, 2016
    TBTabby
    Uncle Marvel of the Marvel Family doesn't have powers like the rest of them, so he fakes them using the stage tricks he learned from his days as a Vaudeville performer. The rest of the family knows this, but humor him.
  • September 27, 2016
    MonaNaito
    The Magic From Technology example I had mentioned earlier:

    • Young Justice: The first season episode "Denial" confirms the existence of real magic in the show's universe. The villain Abra Kadabra, however, uses advanced technology from the future to fake magical powers. Kadabra joins forces with Klarion, a genuine magic user, in hopes of getting bona fide supernatural abilities.
  • September 27, 2016
    Owlivia
    Compare Clarkes Third Law, which means that magic and sophisticated technology can't be distinguished.
  • September 28, 2016
    Morgenthaler
    Updated to here. Since this draft is already at 8 hats, I'll give this one a few more days for more examples to come in before launching this.

    Oh, and those weird spelling-code errors will be fixed as well btw.
  • September 28, 2016
    JoeG
    Abra Kadabra was originally a character in The Flash's Rouge's Gallery.
  • yesterday
    PaulA
    A more detailed description of one of the examples:

    • In Willow, the title character is seen early on doing conjuring tricks for his friends. During the climactic confrontation with the evil sorceress Bavmorda, Willow claims to have magic powers beyond her comprehension and makes the Mac Guffin disappear with one of his conjuring tricks.
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