A Treatise on Magick – Thyre Part 1
So, I wrote a fantasy novel.
I feel one of the hallmarks of fantasy writing is the magic. People love stories of wizards, witches, sorcerers and what have you. King Arthur had his Merlin and Morgana. Shakespeare had his Weird Sisters. In a sense, magic is the easiest way to express the core of the genre. It gives a sense of wonder, excitement and intrigue that lets the imagination free from the expectations and rules of the mundane. It inherently is mysterious. The reader never truly understands how magic works. Partly because the characters themselves don’t know. It’s magical.
However, being who I am, this wouldn’t do when creating my fantasy world. First, I was setting my fiction in a much later time period that general fantasy. My societies have had their Enlightenments. They’ve already gone through their age of superstition where the unknown was an omnipresent entity and their lives were guided by elements and forces beyond their keen. They have studied. They have learned. They have begun to categorize the life around them and tease apart the elements of their world. Of course, they’re mostly on the breaking point of this revolution of thought but to give that sense of no longer leaving the explanations for daily life in the hands of mysterious otherworldly beings there needed to be some theories for why magic existed.
So I had to create a system.
But where do you begin?
I knew that my story was going to have a greater emphasis on steampunk. I also wanted the world to be somewhat familiar to our own. Furthermore, I have a personal bias against high fantasy and all three of these elements naturally led me to a low magic impact. There weren’t going to be giant stomping suits of magitek kicking around. Steam and electricity were the wonders of the age, not doddering old men waving their hands. I felt I wanted magic to be less this awe-inspiring, grandiose affair and something that had become almost forgotten. Sure, you would have some elements worked into everyday life but for the most part the average citizen didn’t feel the weight of spells. I didn’t want my narrative being hijacked by some mad sorcerer with the aims to ruin the world and the ability to reign hellfire from the skies.
But I didn’t want magic to feel isolated either. Merlini is almost cut off from the rest of Avalon and the knights with his studies and his abilities. The world isn’t shaped by those great wizards of legend. They were there as just mystics who dispensed helpful advice or a timely incantation despite the apparent ability to turn into anything they wanted or to shake the foundations of reality itself (depending on who’s telling the story of course). I did like the idea of a faded glory, however. That there were sorcerers who looked back on those legends fondly believing them to accurate tellings of the day. For them myth and legend were the stored records of an age long past where magic controlled the fates of nations and people looked upon those wielders with respect and awe.
Instead of seeing them as conning charlatans just looking to weasel a little more money from you.
I’ll confess, in our age of skepticism, this is hardly a unique point of view. But I felt it would add that element tension towards change that I wanted to capture with my story. The institute of magic was something that was old tradition. They were used to prominence but in the wave of technological advancement they were being slowly brushed aside. Here were men who had once felt they had all of creation in their palm and now few would give them the time of day.
And to insure this, I had to have limits on magic. I had to come up with the reasons for the fall of mysticism. Arthur C. Clarke famously stated that “An reasonably advanced technology is indistinguishable from magic. ” I took that idea and ran with it. Not only could technology produce what magic could, but it could do it better. A gun can kill a person with the pull of a trigger. A spell could kill a person but it would require you to sit and mumble and wave your hands and possibly sacrifice a goat while you’re at it. Given the two options, any reasonable person would take the gun over magic.
So my magic had to be unwieldy. It had to be inconvenient. It demanded sacrifice and it produced often results that in this day and age were unsatisfactory. Before the explosion of inventions from the industrial revolution, magic would have been really swell when there were no alternatives to produce the results. But once everyone could light their houses by just installing some gas piping, people are going to wonder if keeping a sorcerer on staff and constantly paying for his supplies is really worth it.
But even with this fall of magic, I still liked its existence. The rules and limitations of the practice would be seemingly well understand by my societies. But just like physics felt like there was nothing else to learn after Newton’s Laws, I wanted to leave room for the current understanding to be wrong and there to be something more. Magic is, after all, a systematic way of explaining the workings of our universe. And even in our day and age with quantum theories we still struggle to come up with an all encompassing scientific theory that explains all phenomena. In the end I didn’t need a system that would accurately explain how magic worked. I needed a system that adequately explained the magic that could work at that time.
I had my feel for my system but none of the particulars. I hadn’t quite yet worked out the particulars or how it all fit in the big picture. That would take extra work and tweaking. And to find out what I made, you’ll have to wait for a later post.