In Kathmandu, Nepal, the sorcerer Kaecilius and his zealots enter the secret compound Kamar-Taj and behead its librarian. They steal a few pages from an ancient, mystical text belonging to the Ancient One, a long-lived sorcerer who has taught every student at Kamar-Taj, including Kaecilius, in the mystic arts. The Ancient One pursues the traitors, but Kaecilius and his followers escape.
In New York City, Stephen Strange, a wealthy and acclaimed but arrogant neurosurgeon, severely injures his hands in a car accident, leaving him unable to operate. Fellow surgeon and former lover Christine Palmer tries to help him move on, but Strange vainly pursues experimental surgeries to heal his hands, costing him most of his fortune. Strange eventually learns of Jonathan Pangborn, a paraplegic who mysteriously regained use of his legs. Pangborn directs Strange to Kamar-Taj, where he is taken in by Mordo, a sorcerer under the Ancient One. The Ancient One demonstrates her power to Strange, revealing the astral plane and other dimensions such as the Mirror Dimension. She reluctantly agrees to train Strange, whose arrogance and ambition remind her of Kaecilius.
Strange studies under the Ancient One and Mordo, and from ancient books in the library that is now guarded by the master Wong. Strange learns that Earth is protected from threats from other dimensions by a shield generated from three buildings called Sanctums, in New York City, London, and Hong Kong, which are all connected and accessible from Kamar-Taj. The sorcerers’ task is to protect the Sanctums, though Pangborn instead chose to channel mystical energy only into walking again. Strange progresses quickly, and secretly reads the text from which Kaecilius stole pages, learning to bend time with the mystical Eye of Agamotto. Mordo and Wong warn Strange against breaking the laws of nature, drawing a comparison to Kaecilius’ desire for eternal life.