Conservation of mass by shapeshifters

Rowland, Jennifer A B jennifer.rowland at
Thu Aug 31 06:09:08 EDT 2000

Hello again, I've had a lovely holiday getting sunburnt, insectbitten,
scraped, bruised, and a terrible cold (and it wasn't even an adventure
holiday) but I'm safely back in my nice office again.

>From: Melissa Proffitt [mailto:Melissa at]

>>On Wed, 30 Aug 2000 11:39:53 -0400 (EDT), Mary Ann Dimand wrote:

>>I think Melissa *could* have been thinking of Power of Three, in which I
>>think there's a suggestion of mass-energy conservation.

>Wait, sorry, I was not clear here.  The person was talking about
>conservation of mass *not* being an issue for shapeshifters and I'd read
>something like that recently--it was actually something someone said, about
>how humans had these ideas about shapeshifting not being possible because
>the mass issue, and they just didn't get it. 

As I read this I was reminded of a couple of examples where shapeshifting
can happen regardless of mass, and which also have "rules of magic" in a


A couple of people turn into dragons in Hexwood- and although this is within
"Bannus space" and could be hallucinations, I think the implication in the
book is that the Bannus can genuinely change the physical world (Magic is
certainly real in this book- although the Bannus is scientifically made, the
Wood isn't).


>>I also liked it in Sheri Tepper's Game novels when it was mentioned that
>>using one's gamesmanly powers took energy, which could be swiped from
>>civilians. (And of course sorcerers were sort of power batteries.) It
>>appealed to much, though, and I'm not sure that use was consistent.

>I personally think it's interesting when authors come up with "scientific"
>explanations for fantastic/magical things, or explore the ramifications of
>their magic (like with the Dorig morphing and making the area colder).  I
>also like it when it's purely "magical" and things like normal physical law
>don't apply.

Andre Norton and Mercedes Lackey wrote a couple of books called Elvensbane
and Elvenblood, about ?the future of our world where elves have invaded from
another world (through a Gate, of course- is there an entry on Gates in the
Tough Guide?) and taken over. Dragons have also arrived from a different
world but have remained hidden. They can spy on the elves because they can
change shape/size. They "shift mass into the Out", and the heroine (magical,
raised by dragons) discovers that she can "see" the extra mass as a sort of
aura around them and thus tell which gazelle is a dragon. (This is
presumably like witchsight in LoCC and CL, you have to be talented and know
the right way to look at them). 
Diane Duane's Doors series has two kinds of magician, sorcerers who use
spells and pay for them in tiredness and, if they use too much effort, in
"backlash" which can even kill, and people who can use Fire, their
life-substance, who can do more but pay in time from their lives. At one
point a sorcerer turns himself as a dog- this can be done for short periods,
apparently, but the size change is more difficult and would lead to bad
backlash, killing quickly. A woman with Fire turns herself into a dragon,
and this causes no problems- I think the Fire changes the shape and
maintains it without effort from her, whereas sorcery needs constant work to
maintain the spell. (The dragons on this world flew in from another planet
whose sun died.)

>This makes me realize why certain kinds of fantasy don't exist on a planet:
>that's an extended model that implies the existence of a universe and
>physical laws.  If you have, to stick with the above example, a story about
>shapeshifters who don't conserve mass, you can either simply take it for
>granted or you can evolve a new set of fantasy rules.  If the former, then
>the story is taking place in a world--a polder, maybe--because you have no
>framework in place to create the larger universe beyond the confines of

Sorry- the examples got longer than I meant them to. All I meant to say was
I find stories more interesting when rules of magic, such as limits to
power, do apply, and when the setting is "real" in its own right rather than
just being a-place-for-the-magic (usually- of course there are exceptions)-
it seems more satisfying. And it doesn't matter what the rules are- if you
can only shift with your own mass, or not- as long as *the author* knows why
this happens. I think dwj has made the point, certainly several authors
have, that if the author has a good idea of the reality of the world they
don't need to do long passages of description, beacuse the solidity will
come across to the reader- Duane is far less explicit than Norton and Lackey
about what happens during shapeshifing, but it reads as just as possible.

Anyway- back to work. I've read a bit of the archive and thought of a few
things I wanted to say ("I'm sure typewriters were invented in the 1890s")
but none of them terribly important. (Except that I hope Becca's enjoying
being 14).
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