Ron isn't going to have a very good year.
Beastmaster: I summon... ah... ah... [sneezes]!!! A'Chuu: GRAAAAAAAAAAAAAGHHHHH!!!!!
The Inept Mage is not a charlatan or fraud; he actually does have the ability to do Real Magic
. However, he lacks finesse and actual skill. His spells frequently backfire, producing an effect other than he intended
. This can be a source of comedy.
This differs from How Do I Shot Web?
in that the Inept Mage understands the theory, but can't make it work in practice. Also, How Do I Shot Web?
is usually temporary while the Inept Mage usually remains inept. Quite often, though, an Inept Mage will have moments of Crouching Moron, Hidden Badass
when things he tries finally
go off without a hitch, in spectacular fashion, in a critical moment, reminding characters and audience both why they're there.
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Anime & Manga
- Rune Soldier Louie's eponymous character is too lazy to study, because he'd rather use his fists. So Louie only knows how to use simple magic and can even get those spells wrong since he often gets the incantations mixed up, or simply forgets how the spells themselves work. Which is where Ila usually comes in.
- Early in Mahou Sensei Negima!, Negi Springfield himself appears to be one of these, until it is revealed that the target of his spells has an anti-magical aura that cancels out or messes up any spell used on her.
- Negi's father is an interesting case in that he is considered one of the most powerful mages of all times, but he just needed to bring spark notes into battle to remember how to do his spells.
- Ojamajo Doremi. "Ojamajo" is a portmanteau of the words for "clumsy" and "witch". Doremi, the titular character, fits this to a T.
- Louise from The Familiar of Zero is a partial example. She can't cast any spells (they instead manifest as comically powerful explosions), but later in the series it's revealed that this is because she's the legendary void mage, capable of casting (only) void magic. Naturally this is about the point in the series where she takes a level in badass.
- Sae Sawanoguchi from Magic User's Club. Her magic is by far the most powerful, if she can control it, and if it comes out in the first place.
- Nina Sakura in Ultra Maniac is one of these. Eventually it is revealed in the manga that this is because her magic potenital is so high that any magic she casts is over powered and thus messes up, she just needs specialist training.
- Koyomi of Yoku Wakaru Gendai Mahou knows one spell. She can turn a spell into a falling washpan. Any spell, belonging to anybody. A cantrip, a fireball, a nuke, a MacGuffin.... Yeah, once the implications are realized, the other mages see her usefulness, although she doesn't quite realize what a Game Breaker she has.
- In Slayers, the abundantly competent white-magic user Shilfiel tries her hand at black magic to balance out her repetoire and be more useful in combat. She's so woefully incompetent at this (her spell creates a magic carrot) that Zelgadis later asks her to cast the spell for him, relying on her inability to make it harmful, since he wants to use it to snap a teammate out of their trance.
- Subverted in the second season, when she uses the Dragon Slave against Phibrizzo, and later says she learned it to be more like Lina so she could travel with Gourry proving that she has no inherent weakness in offensive magic, is just unpracticed at it.
- Urd from Ah! My Goddess is explicitly stated as being more powerfull than Belldandy, yet ranked lower because she has little control over it. This is contrasted against the youngest sister, Skuld, who can barely muster any magic. Skuld's best spell is to basically print words across people's faces, something that can be achieved with a common sharpie. Otherwise Skuld is pretty hopeless with magic, displaying neither of her sisters' raw power.
- Renji has poor magical skills. He attempts to use magic to create a ball of light to guide his group's way through dark tunnels, but only manages to produce a tiny marble-sized ball that gives off barely any light. Rukia chastises him for trying to cast magic non-verbally since only talented shinigami magic users can get away with that and Renji isn't good enough to do it. Later on, he uses this habit of spells backfiring on him in battle against Szayel Aporro, deliberately casting the same spell (this time properly chanted) so that it explodes on both himself and Szayel at point-blank range. They both survive, but Szayel has to call a temporary time-out from fighting to pull himself back together.
- Omaeda is also noted for having poor magical skill. When he attempts to cast a spell during his fight with Barragan, it doesn't work at all well and he bemoans the fact he lacks the magical ability that certain other lieutenants are famous for.
- Iba chastises Ikkaku for his lack of magical skill. Ikkaku states he's not cut out for it, but Iba implies that he could be if only he wanted to be.
- Zaraki is the only captain with absolutely no magical ability whatsoever. Although he's not the only captain who doesn't use it, others (such as Komamura) do have some small level of ability, even if the ability is only poor. Zaraki, however, has zero ability for it.
- Naruto almost failed his ninja academy exam in the first episode. He was having trouble producing Shadow Clones that were...viable. However, this may have been test anxiety; he performs the technique (actually, a more advanced form of the technique he was learning!) perfectly later on, outside of class.
- Rock Lee cannot use jutsu. At all. Which doesn't stop him from being a formidable ninja anyway, thanks in no small part to an instructor who specializes in taijutsu (which Lee can perform) and more importantly, believed in him.
- The hero of Kurt Busiek's The Wizard's Tale is fearfully inept, partly because he knows he is supposed to be evil and can't pull it off.
- Mongo Iron-Hand from The Warlord. Mongo is an eccentric who has considerable skill at performing small-scale magical feats, but has difficulty in performing large-scale ones. He somehow has knowledge of the Earth of our present day, which enables him to conjure up cigars and martinis for himself.
- In Superman Mr. Mxyzptlk briefly became one during the Day of Vengeance event when the Spectre declared war on all magic and completely messed up the mechanics behind it. The powerful 5th dimensional imp was reduced to a pitiful broken figure trying desperately to remember how to get back to his home dimension — he was so messed up he couldn't even remember that all he had to do was say his name backwards.
- Donald Duck in the early issues of Wizards Of Mickey, which gets him in trouble with someone he owed money too and tried to get out of the deal by turning spoons into gold. But it turns out his magic does work, but is slow acting.
Films — Animation
- Mickey Mouse in the "Sorcerer's Apprentice" segment of Fantasia. As noted in the introduction to the segment, Mickey knew enough about magic to bring the broom to life and have it fetch water for him, but not enough to make it stop.
- Schmendrick The Magician in The Last Unicorn bumbles around ineptly for most of the film. Even when his magic does the thing he wants it to, he wasn't controlling it directly, instead instructing the magic to "do as it will".
- The Little Mermaid II: Return to the Sea: None of Morgana's magic works by itself; Morgana depends on items such as Ursula's leftover magic and Triton's trident to actually pose a threat.
Films — Live Action
- From the film Krull: Ergo the Magnificent, whose transformation spells always affect himself regardless of who he aims them at. Good thing he has a spell to turn someone into a tiger...
- Mr. Magorium's magic went all wonky near the end of his life in the film version of Mr. Magorium's Wonder Emporium
- Linmer, the Great González's apprentice, in Bellacrín y la Sombra. He can't even stand up straight in his master's clothes. Zigzagged with the Great González himself, since he doesn't really do magic... but has a lot of cool gadgets... that also fail to work spectacularly.
- Schmendrick, from The Last Unicorn, who is so inept that his teacher Nikos decided it meant that he had some kind of incredible potential, and made him immortal so that he could live long enough to sort it out. Turns out Nikos was absolutely right.
- Both wizards in Loyal Enemies. Rest is still an apprentice (and The Klutz at that), who actually forgets how to use his magic in situations when it might come in handy. Veres is skilled and usually an excellent wizard, but during the book he's spending nearly all of his magic on healing himself from the beating he takes at the start of the novel, making him faint after performing even the most basic spells. Once he heals completely, though...
- Questor Thews, from the Magic Kingdom of Landover novels.
- Neville Longbottom from the Harry Potter novels. Until the fifth book. It doesn't help that he's been using his father's wand for most of the series instead of a wand better suited to him.
- Ronald Weasley is rendered fairly inept for much of Harry Potter and the Chamber of Secrets, when his wand is broken. See the page image. Amusingly, it ends up saving him and Harry when Lockhart gets his hands on it and tries to wipe their memories. It backfires.
- A similar thing happens to Harry in The Deathly Hallows.
- Gilderoy Lockhart may count: The only thing he seems to be good at is memory charms, though it's never revealed whether he's naturally inept at everything else or if he just decided at some point that he could get by on that and his natural charisma alone. (And he very nearly did.)
- Pottermore confirms that it is the latter, explaining that he was initially a very promising (but self-entitled) student who was sorted into Ravenclaw due to his brilliance, but years of neglect rendered his skills at magic beyond memory charms faulty beyond repair.
- Rincewind is a borderline case. By all rights he is a proper wizard: he can see octarine, see Death (he does not seem to have the proper wizard (and witch) ability to know their death when it nears, but that probably has more to do with all the stuff he's been involved in messing up his timeline so much that even Death does not know when Rincewind will die), detect magic, and act as a magical lightning rod just like all other wizards. Thing is, he can't actually cast any spells, because during his short time at Unseen University he read one of the eight spells that created the universe, which made itself at home in his head and ruined his chances of ever learning any other spells. He actually does say it (along with the other seven) at the end of the second book, but apparently his ineptitude for magic was permanent. To be fair, it is implied he was never really any good at magic even before reading The Spell.
- Magrat Garlick's magical skill can impress even Granny Weatherwax (as in the incident where she turned a centuries-old oaken castle door back into a tree), but she tends to have problems getting the magic to do what she wants, because she's caught up in the romantic ideas of mystical runes and what not. She has absolutely no luck with a fairy godmother's wand, in spite of wishing for results just as hard as she can.
- In Mort, Cutwell is a wizard who can do magic, knows the theory, but can't even manage a basic fire spell (he burns his fingers when he tries).
- Fizban the Fabulous in the Dragonlance books, although he's more than he appears.
- Geraden, from the Mordant's Need duology.
- Wodehed from the Welkin Weasels series never has his spells work out the way he wants them to. In one memorable instance, he gave a boar holding the group captive some magical wine that would turn whoever drank it into a frog. Because the wineskin the wine was in was made from leather, the wineskin turned into a frog instead. It is, however, subverted in a Crowning Moment of Awesome in the third book, where HE SUMMONS A KRAKEN.
- A short story, set during King Arthur's childhood, has a character who appeared to be a severely inept mage; during his final exam to earn a mentor wizard, he attempted to make a rock turn into a pig — it floated in the air, turned invisible, and then when he tried to undo the spells, it became a (visible) dragon. Subverted when he turned out to be a chaos magician — that dragon was vital to taking out a Saxon invasion a moment later. His magic never does what he wants, but it always does what needs to be done.
- Jon-Tom Meriweather of Alan Dean Foster's Spellsinger series. He can produce magical effects via music, but the lyrics have to be ridiculously specific, and are likely to produce unwanted effects; when he conjures up a ship with the song "Sloop John B." and names himself first mate, he spends the entire voyage feeling badly drunk.
- Clothahump is mostly competent, but he also has his moments. In his first attempt at using magic that the readers see, he attempts to conjure up gold coins, but produces chocolate coins instead.
- In James Thurber's The 13 Clocks, the Golux explains that both his parent fell under this trope.
- In The Magicians, the Physical magician Josh is unable to get his magic to work consistently, but when it does work, it's very powerful: for example, when casting a spell to dispell a magical light, he ends up going over the top and producing a black hole.
- In King's Quest: The Floating Castle, the spells of Alexander's apprentice wizard sidekick Cyril actually do in fact do what they're intended to. His ineptness instead comes from the fact that he's an inherently powerful wizard who hasn't yet developed control, so his spells all do what they're intended to so overwhelmingly that they go horribly right.
- When Harry Dresden gets an apprentice, she alternates between terrifying and being an adorable example of this trope. Once, she literally glowed with praise. Her potion-making adventures have involved her getting her clothes covered in acid and the potion then exploding, which Harry then had to remove and give her CPR right as his girlfriend lets herself in. (She gets better after finishing her training.)
- The White Council tries to accomodate this trope by teaching young wizards fire magic as far away from civilization as possible.
- Harry sometimes notes that he lacks the finesse and knowledge of most members of the White Council, only making up for it through brute force, stubbornness, and cheating.
- Harry tried to fly once. In some combination of this and not knowing how to fly to begin with, it didn't go so well.
- It probably doesn't help that Harry's apprenticeship under his first Evil Mentor Justin was mostly a ploy to gain his trust while setting him up for brainwashing. And the members of the White Council are some of the oldest and most powerful magic users alive. Most wizards would be considered inept compared to them.
- The poem Der Zauberlehrling (The Sorcerer's Apprentice) by Johann Wolfgang von Goethe.
- Wyrdrune, from Simon Hawke's The Wizard Of _____ novels, is as powerful as a fully-credited wizard, but was never certified due to his tendency to rush through his spells. He frequently makes mistakes with his magic, especially when he teleports with his companion Kira: he appears wherever he intends to, but she appears on/in fire escapes, rooftops, closets or dumpsters nearby.
- The Magicians of Caprona sing their spells, and Angelica Petrocchi is tone-deaf. Her spells always do something, but they never work as intended. She may never live down the day she turned her father green.
- In Poul Anderson's Three Hearts and Three Lions, Hugi recounts how Mother Gerd had cursed a peasant's field — and only killed the thistles.
- The Wheel of Time series does a good job of deconstructing this, though Rand's ineptitude is really more a case of How Do I Shot Web?. Rand has no one to teach him to channel for four books, and he's the most powerful channeler ever. He learns bits and pieces by luck and maybe past-life memory, but when things go wrong he's apt to accidentally pull down half a mountain or set a forest aflame.
- Same for Wind And Sparks series. Shen and Posthumous Character Kavalar are magicians with a rare set of skills — so-called "Healers". Male Healers are stronger and more versatile than female healers, they are born once in several centuries, thus nobody can teach them. Their biggest problem? All the world's spellweavers use the power of either heaven or hell, but male Healers need both. Until the middle of the second novel the only weave Shen managed to use more than once was Healing Hands. Though readers get to see only one spectacular failure: Shen tried to light a campfire and instead blasted dozens of square yards of steppe; nobody got hurt.
- Martin starts as this in Off to Be the Wizard after discovering the file and fleeing to Medieval England. Figuring that he can pass himself off as a "genuine" wizard while simultaneously scaring away charlatans, he puts on his Draco Malfoy costume, teleports to the White Cliffs of Dover in the 12th century, and travels to the nearest town. Arriving there, he walks into the tavern and suggests free food and lodging in exchange for "real" magic. As proof of his powers, he produces a plastic bag, which the locals find fascinating. The tavern keeper has the local wizard Phillip summoned to meet Martin. Martin, naturally assuming Phillip to be a charlatan, produces more plastic (by teleporting to his parents' house in the present and taking two rolls of heavy-duty plastic wrap from their kitchen). Finally, he challenges Phillip to a Wizard Duel, using the Android app he wrote to levitate several feet off the ground (a very shaky and uncomfortable affair). In response, Phillip effortlessly flies off into the air, creates a cool light show, and then blasts the helplessly floating Martin into the nearby forest. It turns out Martin isn't the first to discover the file and end up in Medieval England. He gets better after becoming Phillip's apprentice.
- Udonna's apprentice, Clare, from Power Rangers Mystic Force starts out as Inept Mage and remains so for the duration of the series; but a major crisis turns her into a How Do I Shot Web? case, and she ends up competent when all is said and done.
- Aunt Clara and Esmerelda, both from Bewitched.
- Mildred Huble from The Worst Witch.
- In the first seasons of Buffy the Vampire Slayer, Willow always messed up her spells, with unfortunate results. She got better.
- She continued to have her inept moments in later seasons, such as when she accidentally gave the entire Scooby gang amnesia in season six. After that, she rarely screwed up spells.
- Eureka from Eureeka's Castle had her off-moments.
- Merlin in the French series Kaamelott. He once tried to cast a spell to make plants grow, and ended up giving Arthur and Léodagan brightly glowing eyes.
- He tries to explain it via Not That Kind of Mage, as he's a druid: supposedly all his nature-aligned powers take a sharp dive when there's a roof over his head, i.e. in his laboratory. However, his talent as a druid is dubious as well: he can't even read the language.
- Lisa from Weird Science, in that her own powers constantly play the Jerkass Genie to her. Usually she can make anything happen with a snap of her fingers, but if it's something important, it'll typically turn out sooner or later it's Gone Horribly Wrong.
- Mannitol from The Legend Of Dick And Dom: his incantations tend to backfire horribly, for example, turning a friend into a disembodied head; impressive, given that at one point non-mages successfully cast a spell.
- Marnie Stonebrook from True Blood doesn't have a clue on her spells. But, whenever she gets possessed by the ghost of the witch, Antonia Gavilán, she becomes one of the most powerful villains in the show.
- Sabrina the Teenage Witch: the title character. Also Dreama, a minor character from season 4.
- The D&D 2nd edition Tome of Magic introduces the Wild Mage. Although able to master "wild magic" spells otherwise forbidden to other wizards, the level of power of their magic is variable, and they run the risk of causing a "wild surge" — a totally random effect — with every casting.
Wild Mages aren't actually inept (unless that's how you play one). Just crazy. Consider their signature spell: Nahal's Reckless Dweomer; a spell that the mage casts in order to attempt to shape it into any other spell he knows without having the spell memorized. Wild Surges can be extremely deadly if you're lucky; casting Magic Missile has an equal chance of making your opponent (and everything in ten feet of it) explode messily as it does the chance of summoning harmless squirrels.
- Wicked: Elphaba. Things get way out of hand.
- Elphaba's sister, Nessarose is a truly tragic example. She tries to use a spell from the Grimmerie to make Boq fall in love with her. She pronounces it incorrectly, accidentally destroying his heart instead. Elphaba saves him by turning him into the Tin Man and Nessarose accepts the title of "Wicked Witch of the East".
- Dio? Odie from Soul Nomad & the World Eaters, though it's only prevalent in Cutscenes, whereas in gameplay he's pretty strong.
- Viki from the Suikoden series fits roundly. She is quite competent, and can even be used in the player's parties in many games. It just so happens her area of expertise is teleportation magic, and when she's tired/been drinking/sneezes, she tends to wind up in strange places. Or times. She is one of the few characters to be featured in every game in the main series, despite the fact that it covers a period spanning centuries. She was even in one game twice.
- Oddly enough, she appears to be getting more and more powerful as the games go on. In the first games she had a random chance of accidentally harming her party with her spells, by the fifth she has a random chance to cast multiple spells in a row at no additional cost
- All spellcasting classes in the Wizardry series are like this at first, barring alchemy-based casters, until they build up their Oratory skill-a low Oratory gives spells a chance to backfire or fizzle. However, backfiring spells are no joke in this series-a backfiring spell can easily kill a party member, if not several, and force the player to quit and reload.
- Lilka from Wild AR Ms 2, though not as inept as most examples: she's still learning some things, but...
- Marie from Atelier Marie is an Inept Alchemist. While she has a lot of passion for the art, her absentmindedness often leads her to put in the wrong ingredient, screwing up the formula. Because of this, she has the lowest GPA out of anyone in her school.
- In her appearance in the Massive Multiplayer Crossover game Cross Edge, she tries to treat York with a bottle of Athena Water after he suffers injuries in battle, but winds up creating a Gargle Blaster that floors him instantly. When the party meets up with Ar Tonelico's Lyner later, she tries the same thing. Despite York's protests, Lyner guzzles the drink, saying that it's rude to refuse a gift. The result is... rather predictable.
- The Atelier series also gives us Jess from Mana Khemia. She's a competent alchemist most of the time, but she likes to experiment, and her experiments like to explode. Even with completely stable ingredients. This may be for the best since her idea of "medicine" terrifies the cast.
- The weakest Imps in the Dragon Quest series, and especially Dragon Quest Heroes Rocket Slime, are really terrible at magic. They continually attempt to use the Bang spell, only to blow themselves up. Standing still while an Imp tries to attack you will cause his magic to explode in his face. Running will cause him to chase you, trip, and explode, damaging everything in the area around it, meaning you, other enemies, and itself. This is all they can do.
- Jowan from Dragon Age: Origins. Between the generally inherent power of Mages and his dabbling in Blood Magic he should be very, very powerful. Alas, he's much weaker than almost every other Mage in the game, and only turned to Blood Magic out of desperation.
- Jormund from Arcanum: Of Steamworks & Magick Obscura plays with this trope. He's a Dwarven Mage, and he's not incompetent per se; He's fully skilled with the Force and Fire spell trees, and he knows the Disintegrate spell note , but he is also a dwarf, so his spells cost double the mana to cast. Not only that, his AI cannot cast spells in an intelligent way. His AI seems to have a pathological obsession with the Fire Elemental spell, the single most mana-heavy spell in the game. Also, Disintegrate in the hands of a properly specced player character is a Game Breaker, but it is horribly unwieldy for NPCs and can lead to accidental Unwinnable by Mistake moments. This means Jormund is a terrible choice for a spellcaster; more often than not, he simply gets into a fight, chucks a few Disintegrates or becomes an Elemental, and drops down unconscious after about 30 seconds.
- Downplayed with Merasmus from Team Fortress 2. He's a competent wizard, but not a stellar one, and his design of the Wheel of Fate is dubious at best.
- Shirou Emiya starts out this way in the Fate/stay night. He only knows three spells in the beginning, and only two he can do well. What's more, until he's corrected by Rin, he's doing them wrong because he misinterpreted his only pre-game's teacher's instructions. (Granted, if you've read Fate/Zero, you'll get the feeling that said teacher probably wasn't in the best condition to teach magic.)
- Gwynn from Sluggy Freelance very rarely gets a spell completely right. She enchants some monkeys to attack someone who's annoying her, without considering that, when someone else annoys her, the monkeys will change targets. Or she tries getting a demon to leave Riff alone, but ends up making it possess her instead. Or she tries getting her and Zoe's hair to grow back, but, thanks to the spell relying on a Jerkass Genie, it makes them turn into fully-furred wookie-like creatures. Basically anything she tries other than moving things with her mind or making pretty lights isn't going to work as planned.
- It seems to be the rituals that give her trouble. If she has to blast something with lightning or force, she has no problems at all, and can be downright dangerous when she's pushed.
- Abraham of El Goonish Shive is an interesting example. Although he is a very powerful spell caster, and deadly in combat, his lack of common sense has earned him a bit of a reputation for incompetence.
- In Doodze, accidentally turning the sh'leep into ravening monsters.
- Trystan from The Forgotten Order has failed every magical entrance test. She also broke a window with an enchanted scrub brush.
- Two in Unsounded. One of the Red Berry Boys, Bette, casts spells by reading them directly out of a book with no understanding of the underlying principles, and Duane finds it trivial to seize control of his pymary. Duane's daughter Mikaila also makes a number of dangerous mistakes, although the fact that she's doing it at all at her age shows she has an aptitude for it.
- Kibbles' introduction in Uber Quest consisted of her trying to demonstrate a healing spell, and incinerating one guy and setting some others on fire.
- Vampire Cheerleaders: Charlotte comes from a family of Wiccans and her spells have remarkable power... when she can actually remember the proper incantations for them. Which accounts for only half the time, especially when she's nervous, or under pressure. So she often resorts to simply making one up and hoping for the best.
- In The Gamers Alliance, Leon Alcibiates is initially a very inept mage when he first tries to access his Andain powers. At first he can only turn into a kestrel because of a goddess's poison that affects him, and he sucks at most spells. It's only after he's gone through many years of training under various masters and coming to terms with who he is and how to distance himself from his Abusive Parents that he becomes a better mage who decides to safeguard the Land of the Living from the ambitions of both gods and mortals.
- Leaving chaos in their wake is something of a hallmark of the "three little witches" — Abracadabra, Palantir, and Clover — from the eponymous story set in the Whateley Universe. May well yet turn out to be a case of How Do I Shot Web?, though; they are only kids (younger than the regular students at Whateley, even) at this point, after all.
- Perf, of JourneyQuest, is an excellent example of this: he has precisely three spells he can cast without recourse to his spellbooks: Conjure Milknote , Mend note and Vaguenote . The one time we see him casting with a spellbook, he's trying to heal the party cleric, and fails so badly that said cleric dies. And becomes an entirely new form of undead. Just before that cleric showed up as said new form of undead, Perf tried to use the Gust of Wind spell from the book and blew his own clothes off, so he in fact used the book exactly twice.
- In Penny Arcade, Jim Darkmagic, at least in his comic appearance. In the actual podcasts where he made his debut, Jim tends to be about as competent as the rest of the party, somewhat surprising considering that his player, Mike Krahulik, has never played Dungeons & Dragons before in his life.
- Fumblemore in the Yogscast Minecraft Series, particularly Shadow of Israphel. His main speciality is blowing things up. And not always on purpose. He is surprisingly dangerous to the enemy, but apparently he blows things up so often that Lewis Brindley and Simon Lane are able to blame him for a series of creeper explosions.