Magic in the Dark Lord (moderate spoilers)

Charles Butler hannibal at
Tue Aug 26 04:52:27 EDT 2003

I just finished Dark Lord for the first time. I don't think I'd call it a
favourite, but there are quite a few laugh-out-loud scenes in it - Derk
trying to get himself pushed into a bottomless pit of balefire had me
embarrassing my family by guffawing on public transport..

Nevertheless I have a problem with this book. I don't mean the ethics of the
breeding programme, which I know have been discussed here in the past
(though that's definitely dodgy, especially perhaps the way Derk consider
himself the 'owner' of rational beings such as Beauty and Pretty). I have a
magical consistency problem too.

At many different points in the book, it's made clear that a lot of the
Pilgrims' experience is manipulated by the judicious use of illusion. People
who appear to be killed or emaciated are not in reality; villages are made
to appear ruined, and Dark Lord's citadel is built using glamour. Even the
pilgrims' memories can be changed: they leave Mara's lair believing they
have been seduced although in reality they haven't. And frequently when
things go wrong (the leathery aliens won't animate, gods fail to manifest,
etc) the magical characters manage quite adequately using illusory

Okay. But then why can't the whole thing be done that way? Why do the tours
need to lay waste real countryside and destroy real cities? Why do armies of
real people need to be mustered so that they can be really killed? It's made
quite clear that all this is ruining the DL world, so why don't the magic
users who live there take the obvious alternative measures?

One explanation might be that Mr Chesney insists on having the 'real
thing' - but actually he doesn't. On the one occasion he is consulted about
it (when Derk proposes to 'ruin' his home village by illusion) it's clear
he's not bothered: 'Settle it how you want' is his response.

The other obvious explanation is that there are limitations on what the
magic users of this world can achieve using illusion - but if so, they
aren't really explained, I think. Every time something goes wrong with the
tours, it seems all to easy to have someone come and bodge it. It's true
that individual magical talents are distributed unequally (Derk is good with
plants and animals but not with buildings, Blade is good at translocating
but not much else, etc), but I see no reason why they shouldn't organize and
pool their resources - it might save everyone in their world a lot of

Did anyone else find this a problem?


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