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Literature / The Wizards of Once

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Wizards of Once is a children's fantasy series by Cressida Cowell, the author of How to Train Your Dragon.

In the Dark Ages, wizards once lived in the forest. That is, until the Warrior Queen Sychorax invades with iron weapons. She builds an iron fortress and vows to wipe out all the magic in the forest. One day, her daughter Wish rides out into the forest the same day a wizard boy named Xar travels through the trees to catch a witch and its magic.

Tropes for this series includes:

  • Abusive Parents: Sychorax is emotionally abusive to Wish, to the point of hiding her in a punishment cupboard when the emperor sends "guests". While she does later defend Wish and lies for her to protect her from the Witchsmeller's claims, it still doesn't undo the harm to Wish's self-esteem.
  • Be Careful What You Wish For:
    • Xar hoped that taking a witch's blood would mean that he would get the magic that his blood denied him. It works too well; part of him belongs to the Kingwitch for the moment, and in addition his actions lead to the witches reentering the forest. Xar is truly regretful of this and in book two vows to undo the chaos he unleashed on the world.
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    • Sychorax in her youth was not heir to the throne because her cousins were to inherit, and she was the spare. She wanted to be queen, but wasn't sure how it would happen. By some luck, her cousins died, but she couldn't say if it were good luck or bad because it meant she could not marry her wizard love. Her subsequent desire for a spell to undo her love led to a giant getting slaughtered for helping her, and for the war between wizards and warriors to continue. It's also revealed that her love for Encanzo led to Wish developing magical powers, because a wizard's magic can get passed down if true love happens.
  • Body Snatcher: Xar’s witchstain.
  • Break the Haughty: Subverted; despite the hope that Xar's experiences humble him in book one, he still believes he is a boy of destiny. Caliburn only hopes that time will temper Xar's ego.
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  • Calling the Old Man Out: Both Xar and Wish do this, with varying results.
  • The Chains of Commanding: Sychorax claims that she didn't marry Encanzo because as heir and later queen she had responsibilities. Encanzo tells her that's nonsense; she had a choice to leave with him and find a world where their enemy status didn't matter.
  • Cold Iron: Iron is the only thing magic doesn't work on, which is why people are concerned that Wish can perform magic on iron when they find out. The Kingwitch wants to swallow Wish so that he can absorb this power.
  • Driving Question: A few:
    • Will Xar be able to control his ego and the potential for evil that his newly acquired witch's blood has?
    • Why is Sychorax trying to wipe out magic and trying to study it at the same time?
    • What will the Kingwitch do now that he's free?
    • What caused the magic to disappear in the woods?
    • Who is the narrator for the books?
  • Enemy Mine: The Warriors and Wizards fight side-by-side for one night when the Kingwitch attacks everyone. Although Wish and Xar beg for their parents to end the respective wars, Sychorax and Encanzo are too stubborn, so at best they call for a one-night ceasefire with music and dancing.
    • Book three features Sychorax and Encanzo first teaming up to go after their respective children who are attempting to get scales from the Nuckalavee, and then agreeing to a temporary but long-term truce until the situation has been handled better. Encanzo also gives Sychorax his cloak.
  • Fairytale Motifs: There are a few references to Shakespeare’s The Tempest.
  • Fighting from the Inside: When Squeezjoos is corrupted by the Kingwitch and compelled to go to him, he alternatively screams for Xar and Wish to save him and says that he will wait.
  • Fire-Forged Friends: Despite starting on opposite sides of the war, Xar and Wish become close from their experience. Xar even offers that Wish could come to join the wizards since she has powers. Caliburn hopes (and Bodkin dreads), that the friendship may even lead to love.
  • For Your Own Good: Both Sychorax and Encanzo want their children locked up for pragmatic reasons; Sychorax on learning that Wish has magic wants to keep her safe in the Iron Fort, where no Witches can follow. Encanzo in the meantime wants to keep Xar in wizard's prison until the Droods can remove his witchstain. The kids obviously refuse when they get the ingredients to stop the Kingwitch.
  • "Freaky Friday" Flip: Xar and Bodkin in book 3.
  • Freudian Excuse Is No Excuse:
    • Xar quickly realizes that his desire to gain magic due to being an outcast among wizards, and with Looter for a Big Brother Bully, is not an excuse for accidentally releasing all the witches in his quest to gain some magic.
    • Encanzo bluntly tells Sychorax this in book two: maybe she's hurt by how their doomed love led to their broken hearts, and her need to become a ruthless queen, but she can't just engage in kidnapping and claim that removing magic from magical creatures is more humane than wiping them out.
  • Girls Have Cooties: Downplayed with Xar. He has female wizard followers and Wish is his friend. The idea of romance, however, disgusts him.
  • God Save Us from the Queen!: Everyone fears queen Sychorax. Bodkin calls her a terrifying tyrant, and even wizards are too afraid to disagree with her. She also removes heads.
  • Grey-and-Gray Morality: The wizards and warriors.
  • Hope Spot: Sychorax reveals to Encanzo that she saved a few drops of the love-killing potion that destroyed their relationship, because she didn't want to get rid of all of that feeling. It seems their is hope for them to rekindle their relationship. They agree to an Enemy Mine to find their children and lock them away for their safety. Encanzo and Sychorax then split the last bit of the potion, to ensure that they never fall in love again or abandon their duties.
  • Human Head on the Wall: Wish and Bodkin find an entire room full of decapitated heads.
  • I Just Want to Be Special: Xar wants to gain magic so that he can please his father and his ego. Unfortunately, he gets exactly what he wants.
  • Living MacGuffin: The Kingwitch wants to use Wish's power to escape Sychorax's stone. He succeeds in escaping, and then wants to swallow Wish up to gain all of her power.
  • Love Triangle:
    • Humorously, a living door key falls in love with Wish's spoon, and Xar's fork also takes a shine to the spoon.
    • Less humorously, Bodkin is worried that he is falling for Wish while Wish and Xar seem to have eyes for each other. But they are only children.
  • Magic Staff: Most wizards need a long magic staff to use magic.
  • The Masochism Tango: Encanzo and Sychorax are not in a relationship, but the few scenes where they are together, both sparks and insults fly.
  • My God, What Have I Done?: Sychorax looks regretful when she and Encanzo camp for the night, and there are no trees to shelter them because the Warriors all burned them down on her orders.
  • Noble Male, Roguish Male: Bodkin got promoted to Assistant Bodyguard at only 13 because he is studious and follows the Rules. Xar is the wildest and most disobedient boy in the wizard kingdom in about four generations. At 13, he is sent to the most secure jail in the Wildwoods.
  • Out of Continues: Great Enchanters have more than one life, but no one knows how many, so if they happen to run out, well...
  • Parental Neglect: Wheras Sychorax is emotionally abusive, Encanzo borders on this trope. He basically leaves the parenting to Caliburn.
  • Parental Sexuality Squick: Xar finds the idea that his father was once in love repulsive. This may have something to do with the fact that she is the enemy queen who keeps decapitated heads.
    • Wish, on the other hand, loves the idea of her mother having a softer side.
  • Parents as People: Both Encanzo and Sychorax.
  • Pelts of the Barbarian: Played with. Wizards wear long fur coats and are seen as barbarians by the warriors.
    Queen Sychorax: The ignorance of these poor Wizards. We are civilization. We are progress. Look at us. Look at our weapons, our clothes, our tapestries, our furniture. You Wizards, in comparison, are barely better than animals…
  • Red Oni, Blue Oni: Xar is red and Wish is blue.
  • Regretful Traitor: Even if it was out of good intentions, Bodkin is horrified by the consequences of being a Mole to Sychorax, to the point where he begs Xar and Wish to leave him to starve. More so that, despite Xar and Wish being angry at first, they go Easily Forgiven because Bodkin meant well and is their friend.
  • Resurrective Immortality: Great Enchanters, like Wish and the Kingwitch, can return to life when killed this way, but they have no idea how many lives they have left, so each death could be their last.
  • Sacred Hospitality: Encanzo offers Sychorax a magical barrier from the rain when they have to camp out. She refuses, and spends the night shivering.
  • Screwthe Rules Im Doing Whats Right: Wish and Xar
  • Shout-Out: Multiple, to Cressida Cowell’s previous series How to Train Your Dragon.
    • The names Sychorax, Ariel and Caliburn seem to be shoutouts to The Tempest.
    • The name Perdita and her transformation into a a bear is a shoutout to The Winter's Tale.
  • Spell Book: The spelling book
  • Starcrossed Lovers: After a chance encounter, Encanzo and Sychorax courted each other a long time ago, before Encanzo had taken up a wizard name. She broke up with him and sought out a spell to break her love when she became the Warrior Queen. The wizard who granted her the spell got killed by the Droods because he stole their tears, and a chance to end the war was lost.
  • Suicide by Cop: A variant; Encanzo went to the Nucklavee to do a shadow quest, and lost on purpose. When the Nucklavee prepared to take his heart, Encanzo turned his heart into a stone and tossed it into the Nucklavee's throat. Then he stole four scales.
  • True Companions: Xar, Wish, Bodkin and all their companions. Even when Bodkin betrays them to Sychorax, Xar and Wish insist on saving him from the Nucklavee.
  • What the Hell, Hero?:
    • Nearly everyone calls out Xar for his egotism and ambition, including Caliburn, Encanzo, Looter, and Wish. Xar only starts to listen in Book Two when he realizes that his actions led to all the witches returning.
    • Subverted when Bodkin calls out Wish for disobeying her mother and leading them into danger to save her Enchanted Spoon. He realizes that the Warrior culture is not all that it seems.
    • Sychorax visibly wilts when Encanzo bluntly tells her that her so-called "humane" methods of removing magic are as bad as killing off all the magical creatures. Even though she has him surrounded and manacled, he still comes out on top at that point.
  • Youngest Child Wins: Both Wish and Xar are the youngest child.


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