Magic in the Dark Lord (moderate spoilers)

Belben, Philip (Dist) Philip.Belben at
Wed Aug 27 08:55:09 EDT 2003

Thanks to Charlie for starting an interesting discussion on Dark Lord.

Here he was quoting Jenne.

>> In addition, many or most of the wizards are elsewhere much of the
>> as it is obvious that Mr. Chesney wants the groups to travel a lot,
>> each group has to have one wizard. Distance wizardry is clearly not a
>> strong point in this magical setup.
> At the risk of sounding like Bishop Berkeley, what matters is not
> the tourists actually do travel, but whether they think they have, and
> kind of false memory is clearly within the power of an enchantress
> Mara. Need distance be a big issue?

I don't think the illusions are that strong.  I think illusions could
work for small things - making a city plus a few bonfires look like a
conflagration - but not for large things - creating the illusory city
out of nothing.

(Yes, I know I added the bonfires myself.  But the text doesn't preclude

Likewise, the glamorous enchantress only enchants up to a point.  Mara
could enchant the tourists, and make them think they'd passed the time
in some sort of ideal palace of pleasure, but her spells had to be
supported by musicians, cooks, laundry workers...  (Mara can conjure
feasts.  But, I imagine, not that many feasts in that short a time.)

>>> One explanation might be that Mr Chesney insists on having the 'real
>>> thing' - but actually he doesn't. On the one occasion he is
>>> about it (when Derk proposes to 'ruin' his home village by illusion)
>>> clear he's not bothered: 'Settle it how you want' is his response.
>> However, that may be his attitude toward petty details but not major
> Perhaps, but the pragmatic Mr Chesney doesn't really give any hint of

I'm with Charlie on this point.  Remember Anscher's remark that the
people of that world "found it easier" to do what Chesney wanted.  I can
imagine Chesney's tours starting quite small - one or two parties the
first year: "We'll pay you to give them a tour, make it look convincing
or else."  Each year after that, Chesney demanded more and paid less,
and nobody actually stopped and looked for a better way of providing the
service (or for a way of refusing without invoking the demon's "or

Chesney is a control freak.  This sort of commercial behaviour is quite
common, and was sending the world exactly where Chesney wanted it to -
the whole world being economically dependent on Pilgrim parties, and
Chesney making a mint out of it.  Hence Chesney's moves to secure
control of Dwarves (by demanding tribute) and Dragons (by depriving them
of gold).

The earth mines may have been a simple, evil attempt to ruin the world;
or they may have been simple greed on Chesney's part; but I think
Chesney's long term plan was to starve the world of magic so that they'd
never be able to break away from his control.  Eventually, Chesney's
strategy would have destroyed the world, but I don't think he was
worried about that - he'd rather destroy it than fail to control it.

(Incidentally I think it is symptomatic of Chesney's control mania that
he insisted on standing unmoving through the Derkholm farmyard stampede,
ignored offers of food, and all the rest - he couldn't bear to give in
to such things.)

>> One of the purposes accomplished by the whole thing is the disposal
>> prisoners from Mr. Chesney's world and of 'expendables'. With no real
>> danger, that can't happen.
> Still pragmatic - all that is required for the prisoners and
expendables is
> to run them through with a sword the moment they step through the
> into the DL world.

Again this depends on there being no practical limit on the power of
illusion.  I don't think this is so.

>>> The other obvious explanation is that there are limitations on what
>>> magic users of this world can achieve using illusion - but if so,
>>> aren't really explained, I think. Every time something goes wrong
>>> the tours, it seems all to easy to have someone come and bodge it.
> That's my understanding too: all I meant was that this is the context
> which such solutions are applied in DL -Derk & Co tend to bring in
> users to produce an illusion only when something fails to work in
> But if they set about it more systematically, they might come up with
> something better than a jury-rig.

They might indeed, and I think their failure to do so is one of the
things Anscher was complaining about.

But I don't agree that illusion appears as something easy to draw on
when things go wrong.  The illusion on the kites to make them behave
like leathery-winged avians still needed the kites (or the geese!).  The
illusion of a shadowy figure riding on Kit's back still required Kit's
presence.  The illusion of the burning city still needed the city.  The
illusion of the Dark Lord's citadel still needed Derkholm.  And so on.
The only illusion I can think of that was totally from scratch was the
smiling child in the village to play the part of the god.  And even that
needed the wizard guide nearby to sustain it.

Yes, it is true that Derk's family looked for illusions that they could
use when they couldn't meet the spec.  But I see no implication that
they found any of that easy.  (Look at Derk and Umru's severed heads.
The stress of having to provide that illusion was one of the last few
straws that finally sent Derk off to pray to Anscher.)

> All this is in spirit of devil's advocate, of course - but when the
> book is in part a parody of badly-imagined fantasy worlds, the world
of DL
> needs to be able stand up even to pernickety questioning!

Well, I think it does.  I don't agree that they drew on illusion to
cover up whenever anything went wrong.  They tried to, but it was not
very effective - I think a wholly illusory tour would have been spotted
very quickly.  (Think how quickly Chesney saw through the illusions at

I have more problems with things like the power of the thieves' guild to
regulate robbery (to the extent that Reville claims the right to shut
down the earth mines).  This seems to be a major organised crime problem
that no-one is even starting to worry about!  (And in YotG we discover
that the Emirates have a similarly criminal organisation with their


PS on the subject of whether Derk's family are exceptionally strong
magicians, the inference I drew was that this was a consequence of their
being singled out by Anscher, and wouldn't have been applicable in Dark

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