Magic. The power of apparently influencing events using mysterious or supernatural forces. The hands-down single BEST thing about the fantasy fiction genre…and the subject of today’s FANTASY FRIDAYS post.
For the last several weeks, I have been developing the “magic” system for my WIP epic fantasy series Graceborn. It’s really got me thinking about the fascinating array of magic types and users in fantasy novels today, and I thought I’d share some of them with you. I could go on and on and on (and on and on and on) about all the systems I’ve encountered in all the novels I’ve read but, well, that would take forever. There are so many imaginative ideas out there!
But I’ve restrained myself. Barely. This discussion will be limited to magic in high fantasy—that is, fantasy set in an alternative, fictitious, “secondary” world—and magic-users that are human (or, at least, mostly human). The post itself will be released in two separate parts. Today, I will summarise the nature and types of magic / magic system in the selected fantasy series, and next week I will explore the magic-users themselves.
I hope you find the content as illuminating as I do, and please tell me all about your favourite magic system or the one in your WIP fantasy series!!
Okay, yes, I had to start with an example from my WIP fantasy series. In Graceborn, the magic / magic system is known as Grace. I’m still fine-tuning its exact nature and definition, but Grace is essentially energy, left over from the Moment of Making in which the world was created. Grace can be physically manipulated by certain people in a process known as weaving, and can bestow upon others a variety of psionic abilities including (but not limited to!) Telepathy, Healing and Telling (the future).
In Robert Jordan’s epic (epic epic epic epic) fantasy series The Wheel of Time, the main magical force is known as the One Power. The One Power emanates from the True Source, the driving force of creation which the Creator made to turn the Wheel of Time, and is made of two equal yet opposing parts: saidin, the male half (currently tainted by the Dark One), and saidar, the female half. It is essentially a source of energy capable of manipulating the universe. There is one other, equally important power in this series, but I’m not going to talk about that here because *spoilers*!
The “magic” system within Patrick Rothfuss’ The Kingkiller Chronicle is unique due to the way it masquerades as a variety of scientific (or pseudoscientific) disciplines. Sympathy is a type of energy manipulation that requires the mental ability to hold a belief firming enough it affects reality (known as Alar). Sygaldry is the application of runes that permanently mimic the effects of sympathy, called Artificing when combined with standard engineering principles. And, perhaps most significantly, Naming is the art of perceiving the true name of a person, place or thing and thus gaining absolute control over it.
There are three key magic systems in Brandon Sanderson’s Mistborn trilogy. The most prominent of these is Allomancy, the ability to burn or flare ingested metals in order to fuel a variety of physical and mental enhancements. The second is Feruchemy, the ability to store, and later expend, their own power or energy within metal holding units known as metalminds. The third magic system is Hemalurgy, which involves transferring power between individuals by driving a metal spike into one person’s heart, then removed and stabbed into the body of someone else.
It’s a little trickier to describe the magic system within Richard Morgan’s sword-and-planet-style dark fantasy trilogy A Land Fit For Heroes. Mainly because there isn’t a formal or official system of magic recognised by the novels’ society. What there is, is the ikinri’ska. The ikinri’ska is a set of otherworldly glyphs that, when traced upon the air or on an object, can have myriad effects. These include, but are not limited to, causing hallucinations, lighting fires, raising fog or calling down storms—the more complex the “spell”, the higher to toll it exacts on the user.
The main type of magic in The Licanius Trilogy by James Islington is known as Essence. Essence, at its heart, is pure energy, the life force of all things. It can be drawn upon be individuals who have the Gift in finite amounts and manipulated into all manner of uses. Essence can also be stored in special devices called Vessels and used for various and particular purposes. There is another equally important type of magic called kan, whose exact nature and origin is currently unclear (at least it is at the point where I currently am in the series!).
Alison Croggon’s Books of Pellinor also centre around a magical ability known as the Gift, which enables its user to command various aspects of nature to do their will. The Gift is usually wielded through the use of the Speech (or, occasionally, the Voice), a magical language that all life forms understand. Certain individuals may also have psychic-type specialities; for example, Truthtelling, an innate ability that can provoke revelations of truth from other people, regardless of their intent.
Grishaverse / Six of Crows by Leigh Bardugo
Leigh Bardugo’s Grishaverse novels feature a “magic” system called the Small Science, which, at its most basic, is the art of manipulating matter. Practitioners of the Small Science refer to it just so, rather than as “magic”, as it is seen as an extension of the natural world. On occasion, the limits of science may be pushed using merzost, the power of creation, or life over death, which requires the sacrifice of something essential by the person attempting it.
In the extensive Tortall books by Tamora Pierce (5+ series!), the most common form of magic is known as the Gift. The Gift has been described as “all-purpose”, since its users can apply it to a wide variety of spells and tasks. It manifests as a reserve of energy that is unique in both strength and colour in each person. The two less common forms of magic are the Sight, which enables certain individuals to “see” things invisible to the normal eye (e.g. lies, illness, magic and spells, poison in food), and wild magic, which connects its users to the natural world.
Finally, I draw your attention to Christopher Paolini’s Inheritance Cycle where magic, quite simply, is known as magic. Magic, or gramarye, is the manipulation of energy, and is generally controlled by speaking specific words or phrases in the Ancient Language. Using magic draws strength from the user, although it can also be drawn from their surroundings with the proper knowledge. Magic used with malevolent or ill intent is known as dark magic.
This is just a small taste of some of the more well-known magic systems used to enrich modern high fantasy novels. Next Friday, we’ll take a look at the magic-users that correspond to these types of magic, so stay tuned in for Magic & magic-users in high fantasy – Part 2…
What’s your favourite type of magic from a high fantasy novel? What are your thoughts on those described above? Tell me about the system you’ve developed for your own WIP!