Monday, October 10, 2011

Magic: Do You Believe?

I write fantasy so I have to incorporate some magic in there.  Many readers of fantasy want magic to be the center of the story and to some degree it has to play a role large enough to distinguish my created world from this one.  But how much magic?  How powerful should the magic be?

I first fell in love with the fantasy genre in junior high school when one of my teachers lent me her copy of Tolkien's Lord of the Rings.  I didn't think about it then, but now that I write my own books, create my own worlds and define the laws of magic, I wonder about that story.  How did the Rings of Power work? Why couldn't the elves and wizards combine their magical powers and take on the Dark Lord? How did the One Ring rule them all?

I can still enjoy the books without knowing these things but I do wonder.  I've read other fantasy novels where the magic of one side seems so powerful it seems they should be able to win with a wave of their hand.  But that would make for a short book.  There must be some limitations to the magic or at least to the person or persons using it.  The author gets to determine those limits. 

Is the magic limited by the strength of the wielder?  Or is the use of magic limited by the damage to the entire existence of life if it's overused?  Is the magic limited by some force on the opposing side? Is the magic limited by the knowledge of the magician?  What is the source of the magic? Can it be used up?  Can its use injure the user?  Are there moral reasons for limiting its use?

I would think writers of science fiction have to ask similar questions about technology in their novels.  There have to be limitations or it's no fun. 

Have you read a novel where the magic or technology was so overwhelming in its power it ruined the novel?  What limitations have you used or seen used in an effective way?


  1. The Rings of Power worked in different ways. The Rings that that Elves made are mostly for preservation. This is why Lothlorien seems like a place removed from time, because one of the Rings is being used there. They also heighten the user's natural abilities. Remember that Sauron taught the Elves how to make those Rings. So that when he made his own, the One Ring, he was able to pour all of his power into it and create it in such a way that it would have dominion over all the others that the Elves made from his knowledge. Since Sauron's power resides in the One Ring, he cannot be killed unless the Ring is destroyed. As long as it exists in the world no matter how many times his body is destroyed he will come back. So there is no other way to defeat him. I'm pretty sure most if not all of this is spelled out in the Council of Elrond.

    Yeah, I'm a Tolkien geek. ;)

    Most of the time what bothers me is when a storyteller creates some hugely powerful race or artifact or person and then gives really stupid reasons why that race/person/artifact can't be used to defeat the big bad.

  2. Some books balance it by the strength of the item and some by the strength of the wielder. And yes, even science fiction technology has to have its limits. I could've easily made the teleporters too strong or not put limits on Byron's capabilities.

  3. A solid magic system is the basis of a good fantasy novel for me, though my tastes have started to lean towards magic-lite novels. A good magic system has to have set limitations and consequences of its use, otherwise there's no tension.

  4. Great point. The magic/technology that one side possesses can't be too overwhelming or it just doesn't make sense for the other side to survive during a conflict.

    I know I've come across instances where it seemed too out of balance, but I can't think of anything specific right now . . .

  5. I keep my technology limited. The breakthroughs in my books are limited to a few people as the discoveries have not been made public yet. This way, they are a threat to put mankind back in the Stone Age, but a threat that hopefully the MC can overcome.

  6. As Tim Curry said in the movie Legend, "What is light without darkness?" It all has to balance in the world.

  7. I like a touch of paranormal in my stories but never too powerful. Even Superman had to deal with Kryptonite.