Wizards are typically portrayed as mysterious and secretive beings, but readers now have a chance to enter their enchanted world. With Tom Cross' The Way of Wizards, the curious can embark on a magical journey led by the author's alter ego, an apprentice mage named Penelo.

Lavishly illustrated, The Way of Wizards is a full-color, large-format book that uses more than 200 illustrations to depict the fantastical world of wizards. Penelo, as narrator, describes everything from a wizard's garb to elemental sources of power to the enchanted places that are a wizard's realm. At times, the book resembles a tome from a wizard's library. Wizards is a project Cross began nearly 20 years ago, at a time when books on otherworldly creatures like gnomes and fairies were wildly popular. "We had pursued the idea of doing a wizards book, and then as things go, they said the market went soft,' he explains. Cross, a noted ecologist and artist whose work has been exhibited in galleries from Florida to Japan, continued to produce magically themed art until wizardry caught the public's imagination again, in part due to the phenomenal popularity of J. K. Rowling's Harry Potter series. Cross believes that other factors also led to the resurgence of interest in magic.

"Fantasy seems to be an outlet during good times and a safe harbor during poor times,"  he says, noting that Lord of the Rings author J.R.R. Tolkien wrote much of his Middle Earth saga during the 1930s and '40s times of worldwide turbulence. As he researched wizards and mages for his book, Cross noted a recurring theme of harmony with nature that resonated with his background as a coastal ecologist. "A lot of what's in this book is researched folklore,"  he explains, "and every culture has its take on nature's phenomenon that couldn't be explained, and they almost always point their finger at a gnome or a fairy or a shaman or a witch doctor or a medicine man. If you think about it, every culture has wizards, whatever they call them. It's usually been the guy or the woman who was most in tune with nature."

In striving to synthesize magical legends from many cultures, Cross accessed material through the Internet, which jibed with his vision of the magical tome. "I had a very wild hair about the book basically being the material version of the real thing, a two-dimensional version of what's real,"  he said. What would a real wizard's book consist of? "It'd be hypertext, interactive, click here, click there, every word takes you somewhere, every image takes you somewhere. The Web is probably the best manifestation we have of what wizardly communication really would be."

Just as a wizard combines elements for a spell or potion, Cross blended ancient technique and modern technology to produce the images in his book. "The book is a very interesting evolution of technique, he explains. "The early stuff and particularly the things that are on the old book pages are handwritten or pencil and watercolor, and the major art pieces are all digitally done. So I pretty much have evolved as technology has allowed me to. Cross wrote some of the text in a page layout program that let him combine words with images and manipulate their appearance.

"It was neat. The page, the spread, became my palette, he said. "It was a bit of wizardry in that sense.

Gregory Harris is a writer and computer consultant in Indianapolis.

 

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