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Worldbuilding 8 – Magic August 17, 2009

Posted by Yarnspnr in Worldbuilding.
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Every fantasy reader and writer has their own thoughts about magic.  Make it realistic.  Require a cost to use it.  Develop a system with reasonable laws that make it work.  All good suggestions, I suppose, but for me magic in any world should just be.  That’s all that’s required.  It certainly doesn’t need a long drawn out discussion of how it works or where it came from or whose behind it.  This is my view.  Anyone with a different view is just as justified in what they do as I am.  No fights, no arguments.  If it works for you, that’s all that’s important.

So what kind of magic exists in Erde?  The people of Erde view magic much as the people on Earth do.  The more educated they are, the less they believe in physical magic like disappearing at will and reappearing somewhere else.  They also have trouble with spiritual magic like chanting until a shaman can see through the eyes of a bird as it flies over their enemies.  Others will be mystified by the idea even if they have no proof that it works.  Some will think the whole idea of magic in a world driven by physical law is ridiculous.  Illiterate natives will live in fear of it.  In other words in any world there will be many opinions about magic.

Magic could range from the ultra fantastic, like two magicians throwing fireballs at each other, to the natural magical experience of two people falling in love or the birth of a child.  That’s not magic you say?  Ask the two young parents who’ve just witnessed their first child being born.  What we call magic is individual to each of us.  It’s what the combination of your beliefs and physical senses make it to be.  The people of Erde are much the same in their views of magic.  We all know nature exists but we don’t know everything it can accomplish.  When something happens in nature that goes beyond our understanding, we call it magic.

So does magic exist on Erde?  Of course it does.  For instance there is a hallucinogenic drug called nicroot, which seems to propel people who know how to use it on fantastic mind journeys to different parts of the universe, both physical and spiritual.  Is nicroot real?  Yes, it’s the root of a common flowering plant that grows in the central forests of Erde.  Is it truly able to transport ones spirit all over the universe?  That depends on whom you speak to in Erde.  What are the effects of chewing peyote buds in Arizona?  I’m sure you’ll get an answer from a local Native American that will differ from a professor at Arizona State University.

Then you have medical magic as produced by the physicians of the Empire and the shaman of the native tribes.  Fixing a broken arm or healing an infectious disease may not seem like magic to you, but to uneducated farmers it carries the sense of magic.  Do the spells of the native shaman work?  Well, there again, it’s a matter of how you define ‘work.’  Did the young child survive because of the spells of the shaman or did her own body heal itself?

We’ve already discussed the survival abilities of the Vigroth such as camouflage and Deep Chat.  Without doubt to the Riggrathi the Vigroth make magic that must be confronted with magic of their own.  But the Vigroth know these skills are learned.  They camouflage using plant leaves, moss, furs, skins, dyes, and makeup.  They use animal urine and feces to change their smell.  They practice running until they can do over twenty miles without making a sound.  They can control their breathing and their bodily urges to appear dead.  Magic?  No, all learned skills, just like the Deep Chat.

There are powders that make fires smokeless, berries that make it nearly impossible for a woman to conceive, and a heavy metal that can be honed to a point that will penetrate almost anything yet because of its weight it can’t be used for weapons larger than a small hunting knife.  Magic?  That’s for you, the reader, to say as you experience them.

Erde is a magnificent place full of wonder and awe with many surprises for folk visiting from Earth.  I hope you enjoy its magic.



1. sputnitsa - August 18, 2009

I loved the way the Tolkien’s Elves didn’t call any of what they did “magic.” They didn’t even understand the concept; they smiled when the Hobbits talked of it. It was for them simply a greater understanding of nature, a deeper connection to the way things are. Your post reminds me of that.

I have some magic in my WIP and contemplating what it is, exactly, has been … sort of marvelous, and at the same time frightening. 🙂 I’m still figuring my own world out… 🙂

2. Yarnspnr - August 19, 2009

Ahh yes, sounds like a very subtle form of magic. One that brings awe and also fear. I can see how it’s a WIP in itself. As for figuring your own world out, that’s a process that continues even after the novel’s completed! Thanks for your thoughts!

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