Magic in fiction
Such magic often serves as a plot device, being the source of magical artifacts and their quests. Magic has long been a component of fantasy fiction, where it has been a mainstay from the days of Homer and Apuleius, down through the tales of the Holy Grail, Edmund Spenser's The Faerie Queene, and to more contemporary authors from J. R. R. Tolkien and C. S. Lewis to Ursula K. Le Guin, Robert Jordan, Terry Brooks, J.K. Rowling or Mercedes Lackey.
- 1 Plot function
- 2 Historical beliefs
- 3 Fictional magic
- 4 See also
- 5 References
- 6 External links
Within a work of fantasy, magic can function to move the plot forward, providing both power for the hero of the story and power for those who oppose him/her. The use of magic is often transformative of the character, if not the world.
Historically, many writers who have written about fictional magicians, and many readers of such works, have believed that such magic is possible – in William Shakespeare's time, witches like the Weird Sisters in Macbeth and wizards like Prospero in The Tempest (or Doctor Faustus in Christopher Marlowe's play) were widely considered to be real – but modern writers and readers usually deal with magic as imaginary.
Fictional magic may be inspired by non-fictional beliefs and practices, but may also be an invention of the writer. Furthermore, even when the writer uses non-fictional beliefs and practices, the effect, strength, and rules of the magic will normally be what the writer requires for the plot. Fictional magic may or may not include a detailed system, but when the author does not bother to systematize the magic or create rules, it is more likely that magic will be used simply at the author's convenience, rather than as a believable plot element.
Types of magic
Magic as an innate talent
In most fantasy works, writers tend to depict magic as an innate talent, equivalent to perfect pitch, and there is wide variation on how spontaneously a person (or other being) with such a talent can use it. Talents that occur spontaneously need training to work more than sporadically, or at major effects, or in a controlled manner – and sometimes all three. Those who use such spontaneously generated powers are usually not called magicians or similar terms, those being reserved usually for those who have to learn to wield magic.
Magic acquired through studying
Some fantasy works feature magic that is acquired through studying books and tomes. Works which feature magic that is acquired through studying usually include a school where magic is taught as a main setting.
Magic bestowed by another
Besides innate talent and study, a third source of magic is having it bestowed upon one by another. Magic powers may also be gained through a pact with a devil or other spirits, as is common in folklore. In some cases, the demon only provides the means for the would-be wizard to learn magic; conversely, the pact may be for the devil to do the magic on the wizard's behalf, but the wizard must have first studied magic in order to summon it, and in some versions, to compel it to act. Sword and sorcery heroes may not only face sorcerers, but crazed cults where gods or demons give power to their followers.
Magic via enchanted objects
In some works, such as fairy tales, magic items either endow the main characters with magical powers or have magical powers themselves, and are often used as plot devices or MacGuffins to drive the plot of a story. Such items may be created by magicians or powerful beings, often in the distant past, but aren't possible to create at the present time of the story. Other fictional magical objects may have no explained past, but the more clearly they are described by the author, the more believable they will be to the reader.
Wands and staves often feature in fantasy works, often in the hands of wizards. Italian fairy tales put wands into the hands of the powerful fairies by the late Middle Ages and the concept was transmitted to modern fantasy.
Magic divided into separate areas
In some works, types of magic are divided either by color and/or element. As in folkloric and occult tradition, the white and black magic dichotomy may also exist in these works.
Magic via words, names, or language
Some fantasy works feature magic that is tied to a certain area, such as an enchanted forest or an ancient battlefield. Such places are usually the homes of powerful magical beings. In these works, magic can only be accessed and performed in the area in question.
Limits to magic
In any given fantasy magical system, a person must have limits to their magical abilities, or the story has no conflict as the magic can overwhelm the other side. Various techniques are used by fantasy writers to limit the amount of magic in a story, such as: limiting the amount of knowledge and spells a character has; restricting the amount of magic a character can use due to the consequences of using it; and restricting a character's magic through the use of an object, such as a wand or staff.
- Magician (fantasy)
- Magic (Discworld), magic in Terry Pratchett's Discworld series.
- Magic (Earthsea), magic in the Earthsea series.
- Magic (Harry Potter), magic in the Harry Potter series.
- Magic in the works of J. R. R. Tolkien.
- Final Fantasy magic, having to do with the Final Fantasy series of video games.
- Kidō, magic in the Bleach anime and manga series.
- Magic in the Bartimaeus trilogy (Jonathan Stroud's series).
- Magic of Dungeons & Dragons.
- List of genres
- Philip Martin, The Writer's Guide to Fantasy Literature: From Dragon's Lair to Hero's Quest, p 143, ISBN 0-87116-195-8
- Brian Attebery, The Fantasy Tradition in American Literature, p 143, ISBN 0-253-35665-2
- John Grant and John Clute, The Encyclopedia of Fantasy, "Wizards", p. 1027 ISBN 0-312-19869-8
- John Grant and John Clute, The Encyclopedia of Fantasy, "Magic", p 616 ISBN 0-312-19869-8
- Katharine Briggs, An Encyclopedia of Fairies, Hobgoblins, Brownies, Boogies, and Other Supernatural Creatures, "Magicians", p279. ISBN 0-394-73467-X
- Stith Thompson, The Folktale, University of California Press, Berkeley Los Angeles London, 1977
- Northrop Frye, Anatomy of Criticism, p 152, ISBN 0-691-01298-9
- "Italian Fairies by Raffaella Benvenuto: Journal of Mythic Arts, Summer/Autumn, 2006, Endicott Studio". Endicott-studio.com. Retrieved 2013-10-16.
- Brian Attebery, The Fantasy Tradition in American Literature, p 167-8, ISBN 0-253-35665-2
- Philip Martin, The Writer's Guide to Fantasy Literature: From Dragon's Lair to Hero's Quest, p 134, ISBN 0-87116-195-8
- "The Limits of Magic". Victorianweb.org. Retrieved 2013-10-16.
- "2001: Accio Quote!, the largest archive of J.K. Rowling interviews on the web". Accio-quote.org. Retrieved 2013-10-16.
- John Grant and John Clute, The Encyclopedia of Fantasy
- Philip Martin, ed., The Writer's Guide to Fantasy Literature: From Dragon's Lair to Hero's Quest, ISBN 0-87116-195-8
- Lawrence Watt-Evans, "Watt-Evans' Laws of Fantasy", Starlog
- Patricia C. Wrede, "Magic and Magicians", Fantasy Worldbuilding Questions
- Anders, C.J. (2011) "The Rules of Magic, According to the Greatest Fantasy Sagas of All Time" io9.com (includes 7x51 chart)