Pick up any fantasy novel that involves magic and that particular book’s magic system will be different from any other book’s. For instance, Andre Norton’s WITCH WORLD series posits if her witches lose their virginity, they lose their powers. In Evangeline Walton’s THE MABINOGION, belief in ancient gods and goddesses, nature worship and blood sacrifice are the keys to evoking magic.
Many magicians, witches, warlocks, etc. focus their powers through some kind of talisman – an amulet or a ring. In the television series, LEGEND OF THE SEEKER, based on Terry Goodkind’s THE STONE OF TEARS books, the wizard’s magic is only effective if he uses his hands in gestures and flourishes. If his hands are bound, he’s powerless. In the Harry Potter novels, a spell must be intoned aloud to accomplish the magic. Pins in voodoo dolls. And so on.
Even in myth and legend, these rules apply. Take witches, for example. According to WIZARDS AND WITCHES, a volume in the Time-Life series, THE ENCHANGED WORLD, witches’ power of flight often didn’t just result because of the brooms, staffs or farm implements they rode into the night sky. They would rub a magical ointment over theirs bodies made of a potent mixture of herbs such as monkshood, henbane, deadly nightshade, mandrake and hemlock to aid in their power of flight. In general, charms of all sorts were used diligently to heighten the magic-wielder’s powers.
Basically, there is a list of “must haves” for any magic system. These are:
- A logic as to why a particular character possess magical powers.
- Every magic-wielder must have limitations as to how and to what extent those abilities are and can be used.
- There must be a balance with any opposing powers or enemies.
- A magic system must have an internal logic.
- Any working of magic must have a cost to the user.
Of course, all of the above points are open to interpretation and tweaking with fantasy authors playing around with these all the time. It’s great to think that, like Samantha in BEWITCHED, a twitching of your nose could accomplish anything. But, after a while, as a reader and a viewer, it gets boring and predictable. What if she got a cold and was congested? Then what?
In my novel, BLOOD OF THE DAXAS and its prequel, REUNION AT OLAN, my Priest and Pristess-Mages cannot bring to life their inherent magical powers until after they’ve consumed a small portion of dragon blood and keep the vessel the blood is contained in, The Well of Incessance, filled. Not all of the mage “candidates” can drink the blood with some of them dying in the process. Those who survive are inducted into the Congregate of Mages. The Perliox Animists derive their powers from the forces of nature. If those forces become weakened, then so do the Animist’s abilities weaken in turn. My dragon Wyverna possesses a very special magical power but using it exacts a powerful price.
In the end, it’s always more interesting to have a magic-wielder who is not all-powerful. Even Superman was given a weakness to Kryptonite early on and then also to, you guessed it, magic!
So, who would win in a super-powered face-off? Superman or Mandrake the Magician?