Fifty Years of Terry Pratchett

Wizard Hierarchies

Rhianna Pratchett

Rhianna Pratchett

Rhianna Pratchett is an award-winning cross-media writer, story designer and narrative paramedic and the daughter of Sir Terry Pratchett.

‘The Faculty’ by Discworld artist Paul Kidby

While girls are generally chosen as apprentices in the witching profession based on an aptitude for magic and a reasonably practical attitude, if a boy is born the eighth son of an eighth son, he is automatically a wizard. Wizards, like witches, have foreknowledge of the time of their impending death and some use this opportunity to pass on their staffs to newborn wizards.

Although wizards are born rather than made, in order to develop their skills and obtain wizardly respect and privileges, they must become students of magic at Ankh-Morpork’s Unseen University. Competition is stiff for places at Unseen University, which was founded in the year 1282 AM by the wizard Alberto Malich, now living beyond time itself in Death’s Domain as the reaper’s servant and cook. Those who fail to earn a place will spend their lives as lowly magicians without pointy hats with optional astrological symbols, impressive robes or staffs of authority. Below magicians are conjurers, and right at the bottom of the pile are thaumaturgists, who have not undergone any magical tuition. They tend to be given the nastiest of all jobs, such as obtaining the most dangerous and unpleasant items for spells, for example ‘mould from a corpse dead of crushing’ (Equal Rites).

Within the university, magic ability is graded in eight levels of wizardry. There are numerous level one wizards, the number steadily decreasing at each higher level, with only around eight level eight wizards at the top. Non-magical folk are classed as level zero. It has been noted that, in forty years at the university, the wizard Rincewind managed to not only remain at level zero but has also been suspected of having a level of ability in the minus figures. This could raise questions as to how he gained a place at the university in the first place.

While the main job of most Unseen University faculty members seems to be killing time between banquet-style dinners, there are a number of high-level roles below Archchancellor, though no one is completely sure what these roles actually entail: the Lecturer in Recent Runes, the Dean of Pentacles, the Senior Wrangler, the Chair of Indefinite Studies and the Head of Inadvisably Applied Magic. These wizards could be classed as the Archchancellor’s inner circle and are the first wizards he gathers in times of crisis, although this does not necessarily mean that they excel at handling crisis situations. With the exception of Ponder Stibbons, the Head of Inadvisably Applied Magic, most know each other only by their title of office rather than by their actual names.

The Archchancellor of Unseen University is recognized as the official leader of all wizards on the Disc. An Archchancellor is not always the most powerful wizard in the university, merely an ambitious level eight wizard who has managed to avoid the knives, poisons and potions of other, equally ambitious wizards. The average term of office for Archchancellors in recent decades was only around eleven months, until the appointment of the indomitable Mustrum Ridcully. Any attempts to bump off Ridcully on the path to promotion have ended very badly for would-be assassins. Under Ridcully, Unseen University currently enjoys a relatively stable hierarchy, which allows high-ranking wizards to spend less time watching their backs, and more time on important matters such as eating, sleeping and avoiding students.