Systems of Magic

Katarina Hjärpe head_overheels at
Mon Aug 26 07:38:52 EDT 2002

>This is something I never used to think about. Some books were magical,
>others had magic in them, and that was that. Narnia was magic - but people,
>or most people - didn't go around casting spells. In fact, only bad people
>cast spells. Aslan's 'magic' was, of course, something altogether 
>And The Hobbit and LotR were similar - the 'magic' was in the book and the
>land and the characters - actual spells were few and  far between and
>involved deeper, higher and darker forces. (The 'magic' of myths and sagas
>and fairytales, I suppose). I've always had a few reservations about books
>in which magic is constantly being flung about by any- and everyone (not
>that this has stopped me reading). But events, books and discussions have
>made me thoughtful lately, and I was wondering: What are the most common 
>the wierdest) 'systems of magic' in fantasy?

If magic is used a lot, I really prefer it if there is some kind of system, 
because otherwise it too eaily slips into the "let's solve this by magic" 
deus ex machina sort of thing. "Buffy the Vampire Slayer", as much as I 
(used to) like that show, is highly annoying at times because of its 
tendency to use magic as a cop-out.

My favourite magical system is in Dave Duncan's "A Man of his Word". The 
magic there is tied to words of power. Having one word makes you a genius at 
one thing - if you're good at music you'll be the next Mozart, for example. 
Two words makes you a universal genius. Three words makes you capable of 
temporary magic, and four makes your magic permanent. (The difference is 
sometimes unimportant. If you make someone's head a temporary anvil, they'll 
still be permanently dead.) More than four words will harm you seriously and 
probably kill you. The words themselves are more powerful the less people 
know about them, which means that some people who have a word wll try and 
kill others who have the same one.

Now, since nobody quite knows why the words work, it still has mystery, 
while making sense in a fun way.

Duncan also has five people who only exist one at a time, and they're a 
lovely bunch, but that's another matter entirely.


Don't condemn. Don't give in. Reason.

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