In the BBC TV series Merlin, the dragon terms Merlin a Warlock. The evidence is that this is generally considered a negative or evil term, so why is he called it? Surely it would be better to call him a wizard?

My only thoughts are that his specific powers, or possibly his position as dragon-lord make a difference, but this does not seem to be the case according to everything I can find on warlocks.

He is at least trying to be a good wizard, and the dragon in particular does not have a problem with him - I could have understood Uther using the term, or even Arthur ( although everyone else just says they "have magic" ).

6 Answers 6


Wizards are people who have studied magic, without the inborn ability. Gaius is a wizard. Merlin will eventually earn this name as well, since he's now studying magic.

Warlocks are gifted with magic through an external source. It can arrive at birth, or be gained through a deal with some powerful entity. Merlin was able to instinctively use magic at birth, and seems to be the result of some prophecy - implying that the external source is magic itself. So he's a warlock.

This is how I usually find these two terms defined in fantasy outside of roleplaying. However, there is one inconsistency with the BBC Merlin series - the druids appear as though they'd also fall into the Warlock category, but I don't remember them ever being called as such.

  • I have no idea if you are right, but you sound so confident that I am going to accept that answer. It sounds pretty good to me. Jan 18, 2012 at 14:31
  • @SchroedingersCat Feel free to switch if someone else answers with references - it has only been an hour or so =P
    – Izkata
    Jan 18, 2012 at 14:51
  • 3
    See this answer - to a similar question. Izkata has provided a perfectly accurate explanation, per a common set of definitions, but don't rely on them; Any given author/writer may choose their own terms and definitions. (If you track the etymology of the words back, it gets even worse, as meanings and definitions change as peoples understanding of things change.) It SHOULD be consistent in the same series and with the same writer... but isn't always. One way to think of it -- In universe it means what the writer says it means, and only that.
    – K-H-W
    Apr 6, 2012 at 0:21
  • I think this answer is the closest to the right of it, particularly as it applies to this show [except perhaps that a Wizard is anyone who's studied magic regardless of natural talent]. The elaboration by @KeithHWeston points out a valuable point that I think also implies. Merlin, particularly in early seasons, inconsistently applied labels complicating continuity.
    – Josh
    Apr 6, 2012 at 0:40
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    @Josh I'd have to re-watch the series to pin it down, but if it was Uther, Arthur, or pretty much anyone who doesn't know much about the Old Religion, then in-series I'd attribute it to them just not knowing the "correct" terms like Gaius does ;)
    – Izkata
    Apr 6, 2012 at 1:23

Etymologically speaking, the word warlock has negative connotations, particularly among neo-pagans. It appears to originate as a middle English term for "oath breaker". While the innate vs learned divide others have mentioned may also apply in the TV series (I suspect it may have its origins in Dungeons and Dragons, but that doesn't mean that wasn't the meaning intended by the script writers), I can offer an alternative, spoilery, explanation:

Merlin promises to free the dragon Kilgharrah from his prison beneath the castle. it is some time before he makes good on this promise. During this period of time, it is entirely possible that the dragon is using the term "warlock" in its original sense and as a play on words to remind him of the obligation he is failing to fulfill.

If Kilgharrah uses this term before the oath or after being freed, then it must be remembered that Kilgharrah is prescient and may therefore be inclined to see time a bit differently. It may simply that Kilgharrah considers Merlin's defining characteristic to be that of an oathbreaker, even though he did, eventually, make good on his promise.


I'd suggest that pen and paper roleplaying games, mainly Dungeons and Dragons, stereotyped the idea of a spellcaster as a "wizard" as opposed to any other term in fantasy settings. As far as the series "Merlin" is concerned, there is no difference between Warlock, Sorcerer, Mage or Wizard. (as is the case outside of roleplaying games).

  • But at the time it is set, Warlock would have had a negative implication surely? Jan 18, 2012 at 13:27
  • @SchroedingersCat, yes, oathbreaker could be considered a fairly negative term. I personally don't think they'd call Merlin a Warlock, back in historical times. Then again, the OP said a dragon called him that - maybe he did break a promise to the dragon, which would justify the word?
    – John C
    Jan 18, 2012 at 13:32
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    I don't think the producers of Merlin care too much about details like that to be honest, which would be why they just picked a name from the pile to call him.
    – OddCore
    Jan 18, 2012 at 13:53
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    "Merlin" is not renowned for its historical accuracy, even after you discount all the supernatural stuff.
    – Christi
    Apr 6, 2012 at 0:44

I basically agree with Izkata. I don't really know in general but concerning BBC's Merlin I do know the answer to this question. For the show at least, a witch or wizard is someone who learns magic, which is practically every magic-user, making Merlin's case so different. A warlock is someone who is born with magic and has it naturally, like Merlin or a High Priest/Priestess (Nimueh). Only creatures of magic or someone of the Old Religion are born with magic which is one of the reasons why Merlin is so special and powerful.


(Apart from Izkata which is the most correct broadly).

In the series (actually episode 1!) witchcraft is outlawed and a warlock is taken to mean a male witch. I doubt the villagers or the king make the distinction between a warlock/wizard.


http://merlin.wikia.com/wiki/Sorcerers i think this will help clear up most of your questions as far as the tv show is concerned

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