Wednesday, 24 November 2010

How to do Magic

How does one cast a spell?

When I was young I really believed it was mind over matter, and that we were all capable of performing magic if we only tried hard enough. Consequently I spent some time trying it out, and was disappointed. But I always believed that if I had enough time to really get down to it one of the methods I came across in novels would eventually work. And I really really wanted to be able to do magic. It's the coolest of abilities, isn't it? To talk to snakes, or fly, or make fire without having to rub little sticks together (because imaginary worlds in which magic is possible never seem to have got around to inventing matches).

But all of these constructs agree that magic is only a matter of application (as long as you have the germ of ability to begin with):

In David Edding's Belgariad series we have The Will and the Word. Will it to happen, and then speak the word to release the magic. Just remember that the laws of physics still apply, and don't ever will something out of existence, or you'll vanish yourself. Tricky.

Harry Potter needs a wand and a lot of knowledge to unleash his dormant power. Get the stress on the wrong syllable or wave the wand the wrong way, and anything could happen. Years are spent at school perfecting techniques, but in the end it all comes down to chance, too. Who knows why some wizards end up so powerful while others struggle to deal with a blast-ended skrewt? Is it genetics? Hm.

Middle Earth has very few wizards, and they are pretty much rock-hard from the word go. They were never men at all, so there was never a hint of having to learn anything; however, Gandalf does get a free upgrade after his battle with Balrog, which is nice. Here's a lovely Wikipedia page in which someone else with more time and energy than me explains exactly what wizards are.

Ged has to go to wizard school too, in A Wizard of Earthsea by Ursula Le Guin, but it's a bit different to Hogwarts. Ged has natural ability and soon masters magic, but unfortunately in the process he summons a pretty unspeakable nasty that stalks him through the world. Doh. Who knew that magic had a dark side? Um.

I'm sure you can think of many more examples of how a magician is made. I'm going to secretly continue to practice on the Will and the Word, as that makes the most sense to me... *wills chocolate hobnobs into existence*

7 comments:

Abi said...

'The Dark is Rising' sequence by Susan Cooper has some good magical moments in it. It's been a while since I read it, but I remember it being very convincing when I was younger.

And some of it is set in Cornwall and involves trickery with sunsets and standing stones...

Neil George Ayres said...

The aforementioned Perdido Street Station gives good magic. Also fairly convincing are Steven Erikson's Malazan bods. (Tim, surely you've read those books, right? If not, add them to your reading list. I imagine they'd be right up your street.)

Tim Stretton said...

You will enjoy the magic in Jack Vance's Cugel book. His spell names are works of art in themselves ("Lugwiler's Dismal Itch") and the misplaced pervulsions are sure to amuse...

Neil, Malazan is on my "to read" list, including a Kindle sample chapter.

C. N. Nevets said...

In an unpublished and unfinished fantasy short story of mine, it happens by the magician learning how to connect with the object being cast and then using that connection to manipulate it. My apprentice magician, hoping to get into the guild, has only learned how to extend himself and bond with moss, so his main spell is making moss fall off a tree by connecting to the moss and then flicking his hands to literally cause the moss the be flicked by remote.

The guild remains unimpressed.

In the fantasy novel I wrote when I was a teenager, there were (as I recall) three kinds of magic. (And yes this is way before Harry Potter hit the US.) There was potion magic which was learned. Religious magic which came by compelling deities to perform magic on your behalf, and verbal magic which was more like the wizardry of LOTR than anything else.

David Isaak said...

In my novel "Earthly Vessels" there are two kinds of "magic". One is basically influencing someone else's mind, and is somewhat akin to a rather fancy form of hypnotism.

The other, and more difficult, form, is based on adjusting probabilities and requires a knowledge of the true spatial organization of the universe. Everything which is metaphorically or symbolically similar is actually touching all similar objects, no matter where they seem to be in three dimensions. Therefore, if you have bees at hand, it is easy to find rattlesnakes (both are venemous and both buzz); it is easier to launch a rainstorm if someone is crying. One of the challenges for the magician is having a mind skilled enough in metaphor and analogy to connect what is manifested locally with what is wanted.

Wow, that was clear as mud, wasn't it?

Alis said...

Aliya - Your comment about Harry Potter made me realise that doing magic all about language and how hard you're prepared to work at acquiring the necessary linguistic skills. Sounds of pennies dropping...

David - your magic sounds way cool!!

Aliya Whiteley said...

I didn't realise you were all so magical! Well, I knew you were magical, but not that you're all into magic, if you see what I mean.