What with there being only two weeks until Halloween, I’m not sure this is a good time to fire your official wizard.
But that’s exactly what the New Zealand city of Christchurch did the other day when it dumped its official wizard from the payroll after 23 years of loyal service.
Ha ha ha! OK, I’m not kidding. Christchurch’s city council has ended its contract with the world’s only state-appointed wizard — "I’m going to have to ask you to turn in your wand!" — because it has decided to go in a more modern and diverse direction.
Anyone who has ever read a Harry Potter novel or seen one of the films is probably thinking: "Laying off your wizard just before All Hallow’s Eve can only end in tears, right?" Or as famed American columnist Dave Barry chirped in his blog: "Tomorrow’s headline: City council turned into frogs!"
According to more online news reports than you can shake a wand at, the Wizard, whose real name is Ian Brackenbury Channell, 88, had been contracted to Christchurch city council for the past two decades to promote the city through "acts of wizardry and other wizard-like services," at a cost of $16,000 a year. He had been paid a total of $368,000 when he was told to vanish, so to speak.
According to the BBC, Channell — who holds a New Zealand driver’s licence under the name the Wizard — moved to Christchurch in the early 1970s and became a regular fixture in the city square, where he would speak while standing high on a ladder dressed in his long cloak and pointed hat. The police tried to arrest him, but this enraged the public, and instead the square was converted into a designated public speaking area.
With his long grey hair and straggly beard, he was regarded as a tourist attraction for Christchurch, performed rain-dances in New Zealand and Australia during droughts, and was on the Queen’s Birthday Honours list in 2009. My wife was greatly amused by his magical hijinks when she visited Christchurch in the early 1980s.
His reputation was cemented in 1990 when the prime minister at the time, Mike Moore, asked that he consider becoming the Wizard of New Zealand. "I am concerned that your wizardry is not at the disposal of the entire nation," Moore wrote on his official letterhead.
"I suggest therefore that you should urgently consider my suggestion that you become the Wizard of New Zealand, Antarctica and relevant offshore areas … no doubt there will be implications in the area of spells, blessings, curses, and other supernatural matters that are beyond the competence of mere prime ministers."
But times change and apparently an official wizard didn’t fit with the city council’s new tourism and promotional direction that will reflect its diverse communities and "showcase a vibrant, diverse, modern city that is attractive to residents, domestic and international visitors, new businesses and skilled migrant workers."
The ex-wizard told local media that he no longer fitted "the vibes" of the city because he was a provocateur. "They are a bunch of bureaucrats who have no imagination," he groused to the New Zealand news website Stuff. "I will still keep going. They will have to kill me to stop me."
I do not want to overstate the threat posed by an extremely cranky old guy who is no longer being paid to dress up like Gandalf and wander around spouting spells he learned from Harry Potter movies, but it doesn’t make sense to me that local politicians would want to get on his bad side so close to the scariest and most magical day of the year, if you catch my subtle supernatural drift.
I can’t speak for the rest of you Muggles, but I personally believe in magic because, when my son was just an impressionable kid, I started spending ridiculous amounts of spare cash on silly tricks and illusions at a local toy store.
With the aid of what is called an Invisible Thread Reel (ITR), which is essentially fishing line that is so thin it is virtually impossible to see with the naked eye, I would amaze my son and his pint-sized buddies by suspending a $5 bill in mid-air.
The only problem is, when you perform this magic trick for a group of children pumped up on sugary candy and multi-coloured breakfast cereals, at least one of them will stretch out their sticky little hand, and snatch the "floating" $5 bill, which they will then refuse to give back.
My interest in being a wizard was intensified when the whole Harry Potter phenomenon blew up. When the kids were younger and ignoring my fatherly commands, I would pretend to be the evil wizard Voldemort and chase them around while shrieking: "Expelliarmus!" Or: "Avada Kedavra!"
The only magical result was that my wife would eventually become annoyed and cast her own spell of silence: "Shut up!"
The point I am trying to make is that I feel a great deal of sympathy for New Zealand’s deposed official wizard. I personally would never have let him go, because I’m just a little jealous and I firmly believe we do not have enough magic in the world these days.
The only reason I went to journalism school instead of Hogwarts was because (cough) I wasn’t all that good at spelling.
Doug has held almost every job at the newspaper — reporter, city editor, night editor, tour guide, hand model — and his colleagues are confident he’ll eventually find something he is good at.