Toothless Letter M

A little magic can take you a long way.

~ Roald Dahl

 What do I love about fantasy the most? That it is only limited by my imagination, and my imagination really, really likes magic. There’s just something about, something about magic. It can be whatever you want, do whatever you want, shape it however you want to shape it, break the laws of the universe, feck around with physics, tap into unknown parts of the mind, whatever you want it to do, as long as you can think of a way of doing it, can be done.

Pretty much every book that I write has magic, and all of them have different systems. Because why limit myself? Different worlds, different series, will have different methods.

gandalf the wizardLook at Harry Potter. That’s one of the more classical version of magic, with robes, wands, latin-esque spells, and a whole school, ministry and secret society of wizards. You have to be chosen, and then you study how magic works, and gradually build up your knowledge of magic, until your graduate from the school.

Over to Discworld and you again have the school and the learning of magic at the Unseen University, but the wizards here are more haphazard. Oh they have wizards sticks (always with a knob on the end) and robes, but they don’t really understand how magic works, they just make it happen by telling reality what they want it to do, but don’t tell anyone it’s actually that easy.

Think about more systems where you have to study it. In Eragon magic was entirely linked to the ancient language of power. You needed to know the word in order to use magic of that variety, so learning more about the language, and practising was how he grew in magic.

Quite often the ones where you can to learn how to use magic involved a new languages, words, or phrases that you have to learn in order to master magic. Spells from spellbooks are common, Harry Potter uses words and wand movements. Anything with a concept of a true name is using words that are intrinsically linked to the soul of a person to cast magic over them.

Then you have the opposite to learning – people who are born with magic as an innate talents. They don’t need to study, but they often need to practise and learn about their power, often without the help of a teacher, because in these systems there isn’t a structure like a school where they can go. Think of telepaths, mediums, pyrokinetics, and a good portion of the X Men, who were born as ‘mutants’ fall into this category.

A fun one that I am playing around with at the moment is Magic which comes to the character by bestowment. Make a deal with the devil for power? You get it, but it comes from the devil. Or spirits, of whatever you made the pact with. flipping this around, it also applies to summoners and controller, people who can tame spirits, demons or other creatures to their will, but then use their powers to accomplish their goals. An example that comes to mind is Lucy, from the anime Fairy Tale. She uses keys to summon spirits from the celestial realm, and they then act on her behalf.

Excalibur, Seven League Boots, The One Ring. Got an idea for the next category? That’s right, magical items. Since the power is held in the item, anyone can pick it up and use it’s magic, and people often fight over the more powerful objects, but at some point these items were made, and whether by gods or enchanted they have the power that continues to the day of the story. Quite often these will be central plot points. Personally I like the ones that are sentient, and talk back to their ‘owners’.

td37_maelstromNexusRelated to items are places. Nexus, leylines, ritual sites, like items they are areas of the land which hold innate magical power, which can either be harnessed to enhance magic that already exists, or used to cast magic where no other exists.

Going away from how you come to possess the magic, think about types of magic. I’m fond of elemental magic, controlled fire, earth, wind, water, lighting, and all the rest of it. I’ve got one book with a daughter of chaos, whose magic isn’t really understood by the rest of the magic community, because that’s not how they do things, which makes it interesting.

But of course there are more than that. Think back to the school of magic. Harry Potter has classes in charms, transfiguration, and defence against the dark arts. Archmage, my novel, has evocation, transmutation, divination, illusion, and other schools of magic that the mages use.

The classical fights between white magic and dark magic often have two completely different sets of spells, even though the system of magic doesn’t change.

Black Dawn, a book I am finally revisiting after three years had Angels and Demons that have bred with humans, creating Nephilim and Cambions. Magic associated with races is fun, since you get to play around with archetypes and decide which bits to keep, which bits to throw away, and which to change to suit my whims as an author.

Mechanica Awakening works with spirits and lots of innate abilities, and the system for all of them is the same, even if the powers vary by a mile.

In Eidetic magic has died out from the world, and all that is left are the things that the old race left behind, namely labyrinths (technically mazes because they are dead ends and turns and stuff, but everyone calls them labyrinths in the books because they are a little uneducated) filled with traps, magical creatures, and lots of magical items, which people of course try to plunder the labyrinths for, but usually end up dead or gravely injured. It’s a new one for me, and it does mean I have to come up with huge list of items and what they do, but fitting them into the plot and things they can do is fun.

Other novels I have planned include shapeshifters (innate), casting magic (with wands and magic circles) and elemental controls.

The only rules about magic are the ones you make up about it. And there generally are rules about them, because magic without constraint wins everything and then there’s no conflict, and that’s a bit boring. But those rules are up to the user. Do they need words? Wands? Gestures? Do they need none of that but only have a daily supply? Are there just some things that magic can’t do? For example in archmage, magic can do a lot, but it cannot affect living things. There’s a plot reason for that, which I shan’t spoil, but there’s no healing magic, no manipulating people’s minds, no shapeshifting, because magic doesn’t work on the living.

What magic systems do you have in your novels? I really would love to hear about them.