Posted by Christopher O'Regan on 8:29 11/30/01
In reply to: (none)
I know that magic is a difficult subject for us mortal terrestrials to understand, but I'm still curious as to what impact it has on Almean societies as a whole. So, no doubt due to Harry Potter, whose movie has just been released down here, i've had magic on the brain of late.
For example, is it very widespread? Verdurian wizards seem to owe a great deal to the ancient Cadhinorian practices (at least, so is my impression), so was Cadhinas notable as being magically "advanced"? Is magic limited to Dhekhnam and Verduria, or are there other states with greater/lesser magical knowledge? I imagine Cuzeians wouldn't have had a lot to do with it, but the ilii and ktuvoki obviously do. Are humans capable of "discovering" magic on their own, or were they taught by the non-human races? Is it really necessary to have an eerie tower filled with ancient tomes, dribbly candles, and stuffed alligators, or can magic be drummed up by your average tribal shaman on the fly, without the use of props? Different civilisations would no doubt have different taboos regarding magic, and diferrent understanding of it, or is there a "universal fraternity" of wizardly types?
Oh yes, and I imagine wizards are celibate?
I'm not totally satisfied with my take on magic; but here's what I have so far.
I start from a dislike of the way magic is handled in many an RPG-- as a form of quasi-science. It's treated as basically a form of high technology with Addams Family interiors. Even that would be acceptable if it were simply treated *as* technology-- as a different set of physical laws, handled by technicians. But normally it's not; the world is still stock-medieval, and that bugs me. Why wouldn't you simply use Light spells as street lighting, and Teleport for the cargo industry, and Audible Glamer for broadcasting game shows, and so on?
So, the magical systems that make sense to me must be unreliable, something difficult for a society to systematically exploit. Almean magic, then, is not a science, but an art, or a spiritual practice.
What could make magic unreliable? The answer I came up with is what makes economics or art unreliable: it's linked to actual beings, Powers with personalities and agendas of their own. (See the paganism page for more on this.) The Powers will be insulted if you ask them to light the city or broadcast sports events. If they like you, however, they may be willing to light your castle, discipline your enemies, or perform other useful feats.
If they like you. The idea explains also why magicians might be a lonely and suspicious profession. Not everyone has what it takes to please the Powers-- or to maintain their own will and personality while dealing with superhuman beings-- and pleasing them may require acts and a lifestyle profoundly difficult or repugnant to most people.
As to what the magicians can do, I stole an idea from Orlando Furioso, which explains magic as the work, literally, of demons. Imagine an army of invisible, very fast, strong, but not very bright slaves. They would be very good at (say) building a castle in an hour, or hunting an entire town to find a lost item; but they cannot read minds or transmute elements.
The Effect/Counter-effect story plays with a slightly different solution to the problem: magic is hard to exploit here because any magical effect also creates an anti-effect opposing it. If you cure someone, someone else will fall sick; if you build a castle, another will fall down. If you harm someone, a stranger will receive an unexpected benefit. You can't exploit this sort of magic on a large scale because its net effect is zero. (It's a bit like creating particles and antiparticles out of the vaccum!)
(Almean magic doesn't necessary work as in that story. It may well be Verdurian science fiction... why shouldn't a fictional world have fiction of its own?)
As for celibacy, a low-level magician like Tivuran doesn't bother with it. But I think a complete devotion to a Power might well be incompatible with a healthy relationship!
By the way, I like Harry Potter a lot, despite its very different conception of magic-- though I've only read one book. Being a pedant, I don't want to buy the adulterated American versions of the books!