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The Magic Goes Away

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"The Magic Goes Away"
Short story by Larry Niven
Cover for the illustrated edition, art by Boris Vallejo.
CountryUnited States
Publication date1976

The Magic Goes Away is a fantasy short story written by Larry Niven in 1976, and later expanded to a novella of the same name which was published in 1978. While these works were not the first in the "Magic Universe" or "Warlock" series, they marked a turning point after the 1973 oil crisis and Niven's subsequent transformation of the series into an allegory for a modern-day energy crisis. The setting was later used as a backdrop for the Golden Road series of novels The Burning City and Burning Tower, co-written with Jerry Pournelle, and the novel The Seascape Tattoo co-written with Steven Barnes.

List of works in the series[edit]

This is a list of publications based on the setting of The Magic Goes Away.[1]

Title Sub-series Published Original publication
"Not Long Before the End" Warlock 1969 Fantasy and Science Fiction, April 1969
"Unfinished Story" Warlock 1969 Fantasy and Science Fiction, December 1969
"What Good Is a Glass Dagger?" Warlock 1972 Fantasy and Science Fiction, September 1972
"The Magic Goes Away" (short story) Warlock 1976 Odyssey, summer 1976
The Magic Goes Away (novella) Warlock 1978 Trade paperback, Ace Books
The Magic May Return (compilation) 1981 Trade paperback, Ace Books
"Talisman" (none) 1981 Fantasy and Science Fiction, November 1981
"The Lion in His Attic" (none) 1982 Fantasy and Science Fiction, July 1982
More Magic (compilation) 1984 Trade paperback, Ace Books
"The Wishing Game" Warlock 1989 Aboriginal Science Fiction, May/June 1989
"The Portrait of Daryanree the King" (none) 1989 Aboriginal Science Fiction, September/October 1989
The Burning City Golden Road 2000 Hardcover, Pocket Books
"Chicxulub" (none) 2004 Asimov's Science Fiction, April/May 2004
Boomerang (none) 2004 Flights: Extreme Visions of Fantasy
Rhinemaidens (none) 2005 Asimov's Science Fiction, January 2005
Burning Tower Golden Road 2005 Hardcover, Pocket Books
Burning Mountain Golden Road in progress in progress
The Seascape Tattoo (none) 2016 Hardcover, Tor Books; 1st edition (June 28, 2016)

Plot summary[edit]

The Warlock, whose actual name is both unknown and unpronounceable,[2] is a very powerful sorcerer at least 200 years old.[3] He observes that when he stays in one place too long, his powers dwindle, and they return only when he leaves that place.[4] Experimentation leads him to create an apparatus, now known as the Warlock's Wheel, consisting of a metal disc enchanted to spin perpetually.[5] The enchantment eventually consumes all of the mana in the vicinity, which causes a localized failure in all magic.[6] The Warlock realizes that magic is fueled by a non-renewable resource, which would cause great concern among the magicians, as it was through their magic that nations enforced their wills both internally and abroad. The widespread diminishing of magical power in The Magic Goes Away triggered a quest on the part of the most powerful of the magicians of the time to harness a new source of magic, the Moon, which results in the events described in the book.

It was eventually discovered (in The Magic May Return) that mana was originally carried to Earth and the other bodies of the solar system on the solar wind, which replenishes mana slowly over time. However, at some point in the "recent" past (a few thousand years ago), a god created an invisible shield between Earth and Sun that intercepted the solar mana and caused the eventual decline of magic on Earth.

Traditional fantasy creatures inhabit Niven's Magic universe but devolve into normal animals when deprived of mana. For example, a unicorn becomes a simple horse.

Main characters[edit]

  • The Warlock: One of the world's foremost magicians.
  • Clubfoot: The Warlock's apprentice. A Native American named after a deformity of his foot that he could have cured long ago but at the cost of half of his power.
  • Wavyhill: The first necromancer. Exploiting the mana inherent in murder, he invented necromancy. His name comes from his practice of building his houses under magically-supported overhangs; when the local mana is depleted by a battle, the hillside collapses, trapping his foe and eliminating the evidence at the same time.

Minor characters[edit]

  • Orolandes: A Greek soldier, survivor of the sinking of Atlantis.
  • Mirandee: A powerful witch, formerly Warlock's lover.
  • The World Worm: Its spine composes all the world's mountain chains: the Andes, Himalayas, Rockies, etc. It consumes its own tail, along with anything that might be living on it.


Richard A. Lupoff reviewed the 1978 novella unfavorably, saying that although the story "bristles with amusing devices", the writing itself was unsatisfactory; he felt that there was not a spark of humanity in the book, and that the writer used "flat", "dull", "sterile" narrative prose.[7]


In her afterword to the novella, Sandra Miesel identified a number of influences on the setting: "The Wheels of If", The Incomplete Enchanter, The Blue Star, Operation Chaos, Too Many Magicians, The Dragon and the George, as well as Niven's earlier works, "All the Myriad Ways" and the Svetz series.[8]

There are also several references to the works of H. P. Lovecraft, such as the reference of a mad magician named Alhazred and an amorphous god called the Crawling Chaos.

Graphic novel adaptation[edit]

The Magic Goes Away was adapted as a graphic novel, the sixth in the DC Science Fiction Graphic Novel series, by Paul Kupperberg and Jan Duursema in 1986.

In popular culture[edit]

These card games use a card called "Nevinyrral" ("Larry Niven" spelled backwards), which reference elements from The Magic Goes Away:

  • The collectible card game Magic: The Gathering (by Richard Garfield) has a card called "Nevinyrral's Disk", which is a reference to the Warlock's Wheel. This card roughly has the effect of removing the effects of players' spells from play, while leaving their lands intact.
  • The collectible card game Netrunner (also by Richard Garfield) has a card called "Nevinyrral", which has the effect of giving the Corporate player an extra action each turn, but if this card goes away the Corporate player loses.


  1. ^ Known Space Bibliography
  2. ^ Niven, Larry (2005). The Magic Goes Away Collection. New York: Pocket Books. p. 98. ISBN 0-7434-1693-7. We will call him the Warlock, as his name is both forgotten and impossible to pronounce.
  3. ^ Niven, Larry (2005). The Magic Goes Away Collection. New York: Pocket Books. p. 102. ISBN 0-7434-1693-7. 'Everyone in the village knows your age', said Hap. 'You're two hundred years old, if not more'.
  4. ^ Niven, Larry (2005). The Magic Goes Away Collection. New York: Pocket Books. p. 98. ISBN 0-7434-1693-7. He found that when he had been ten to fifteen years in a place, using his magic as whim dictated, his powers would weaken. If he moved away, they returned.
  5. ^ Niven, Larry (2005). The Magic Goes Away Collection. New York: Pocket Books. p. 99. ISBN 0-7434-1693-7. His last experiment involved a simple kinetic sorcery set to spin a metal disc in midair.
  6. ^ Niven, Larry (2005). The Magic Goes Away Collection. New York: Pocket Books. p. 107. ISBN 0-7434-1693-7. 'The disc? I told you. A kinetic sorcery with no upper limit. The disc keeps accelerating until all the mana in the locality has been used up'.
  7. ^ "Lupoff's Book Week", Starship 35, 1979, p. 76.
  8. ^ Sandra Miesel, "The Mana Crisis", The Magic Goes Away, pp. 196–97, Ace Books, 1978.

External links[edit]