A Brief Primer on Magical Theory

Fantasy is a popular genre today. One of the most common aspects of fantasy stories is magic, but many people complain about magic because it doesn’t seem realistic. I applaud these people. The whole point of magic is to be not realistic. It is to be, you know, fantastic.

So, for those who don’t quite get it, or who want to write fantasy and were looking for some basic guidelines, here are some things to keep in mind when you’re working with magic.

1. Doing magic does not follow the laws of physics.

This should really go without saying, but most people just can’t get over the fact that the stuff they are seeing or reading about doesn’t seem to add up. How can a two pound house cat lift a four thousand pound car over it’s head even though it doesn’t have opposable thumbs? It’s magic, people. Stop worrying and enjoy the show. This is such a large stumbling block that most of the following rules are actually specific examples of this phenomenon.

2. Undoing magic also does not follow the laws of physics.

This is a corollary of rule #1. Even if it makes no sense that an enchanted amulet can stop a building destroying energy beam, or that the energy necessary to destroy a single magic sword of slightly greater than normal sharpness lights up the horizon brighter than your average city, that’s just the way things are.

3. Magic causes confusion.

Regardless of what kind of magic it is, good or bad, people always experience a moment of disorientation when they are subjected to it. Wizards become addlebrained old men so frequently because they spend so much time messing with it. Really, this isn’t surprising since magic totally defies all the rules of day to day living. So whenever someone has a spell cast on them, expect a moment of disorientation as they adjust to the addition of magical influence to their lives.

4. Magic treats inanimate objects as if they were thinking beings.

In short, magic makes the Pathetic Fallacy a reality. This is why magic items so frequently develop a mind of their own. And since magic is such a confusing, I-do-what-I-want kind of a force, you can expect most intelligent magic items to be real jerks.

5. Magical movement does not create inertia.

Regardless of how big or small, if you use magic to move objects, they won’t have any inertia. For example, if you throw a bunch of knives at someone with a telekinetic spell or are holding a kite aloft with magically conjured wind, and then another wizard undoes your spell, your items will waver for a moment in confusion (a combination of rules #3 and #4) and then fall to the ground, instead of continuing on their merry way until gravity catches up to them. This applies to all magically created phenomenon, so charging golems will drop straight to the ground without sliding a step further on their course, avalanches will come to an immediate rest no matter how precarious their position and, in extreme cases, objects will actually teleport themselves back to where they came from in the first place.

6. Magic that involves blood automatically protects the user from communicable diseases.

Seriously. If you are a horrendous, blood-sucking fiend your magical powers will prevent you from ever getting the flu or malaria or any other such stuff from any of your victims. Why these creatures don’t just start a blood bank and take a little off the top from each transfusion is beyond me.

7. Magical elements are not located on the periodic table.

Wizards are allowed to think of the world however they want. Just because fire, ice, poison, metal, grim and fluffy aren’t on the periodic table doesn’t mean they aren’t perfectly good magical elements.

8. The phrase “schools of magic” doesn’t refer to institutions. Nor do they have classrooms, scholarships or “school spirit”.

Schools of magic are how people think about magic, not boring buildings where you listen to boring lectures all day. Expect lots of exciting, potentially lethal hands on experiences to go along with your painstaking book learning when you join one of these. It’s also likely that you’ll spend more time proving yourself the better fluffymancer when you encounter others from the fluffy school of magic than you will striving to prove the superiority of fluffymancy over venomancy.

9. The more complex a magic spell, the sturdier or harder to disrupt it becomes.

This is why your basic light spell is always flickering out at the least opportune moment, even though all it involves is tapping a little crystal until it lights up, but a summoning ritual that involves candles, synchronized chanting, intricate diagrams drawn in chalk and constantly updated listings from the New York Stock Exchange never fails.

10. The cooler the thing you use to cast your spells, the cooler your magic.

For example, if you’re a plain ol’ wizard with a plain ol’ staff, you can expect that your coolest magic to be something like a fireball or a disintegrate ray. On the other hand, if you store your magic in playing cards, expect the ability to summon five story dragons or transform a normal mountaintop into the world’s newest caldera.

Of course, magic is much deeper and more complex than that, in fact it is deservedly thought of as a force beyond human understanding. Consider this a basic primer and remember the most important rule of magic there is: If you don’t know, you can just fudge it!

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2 responses to “A Brief Primer on Magical Theory

    • I’ve not read much of Harry Potter, just the first book in the series, but magic in fiction has a lot of modern-day tropes you can play around with, which were the inspiration for this post and, I’m sure, much of Rowling’s work as well.

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