Monthly Archives: January 2014


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?

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Magic, Illusion or Something Else?

Three of my favorite magic-inspired tales of the last few years are:

THE PRESTIGE – both the 2005 novel by Christopher Priest and (based on the novel) the 2006 Christopher Nolan-directed film.

THE ILLUSIONIST – The 2006 Neil Burger-directed film based on the short story, “Eisenheim the Illusionist,” by Steven Millhauser.

LAST CALL – the 1992 novel by Tim Powers.

All three of these tales make use of magic and/or illusion, all different from the other and all used to obtain different goals.

Using the definitions of magic I stated in my previous post, THE PRESTIGE is defined by: The exercise of sleight of hand or conjuring for entertainment.

In the movie, the two protagonists are rival stage magicians in Victorian London, determined to outdo each other on stage with increasingly complicated, mysterious and dangerous acts. Fame, glory, envy and pride are their motivations. Yet, in the end, something entirely different from magic and illusion comes into play with devastating and frightening results, giving credence to Arthur C. Clarke’s famous quote – “Any sufficiently advanced technology is indistinguishable from magic.” Dark and thrilling with the book’s entirely different ending even scarier.

THE ILLUSIONIST is also defined as: The exercise of sleight of hand or conjuring for entertainment.

Here, the magician protagonist uses his powers of illusion in early Twentieth-Century Vienna to win the love of a woman of royal standing (who happens to be an old childhood friend). As a result, an elaborate “magical” con game is set up which keeps the film’s characters and the audience guessing until the very end. Sort of like a turn-of-the-century “Mission Impossible.” Much lighter in tone than the dark PRESTIGE but still evoking a sense of danger and wonder.

LAST CALL is the most mystical of the three and is defined by: The practice of using charms, spells, or rituals to attempt to produce supernatural effects or to control events in nature, or the charms, spells, and rituals so used.

In the book, magic really exists, it’s not an illusion. Taking place in 1960’s America, it posits the idea (central to most of Power’s work) that what really happened in historical events is never in the books we read in school. In this case, the founding of Las Vegas by Bugsy Siegel was really accomplished by the mythical Fisher King and the once-every-twenty year poker game (played with tarot cards) the King holds decides who will continue to hold the power of this magical world (unseen by most of us) or who will overthrow that power. Really, really strange and compelling.

In my forthcoming novel, BLOOD OF THE DAXAS, magic abounds. But is it really magic, illusion or something else?

What are some of the magic-inspired tales you’ve found in your life?

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The word magic evokes many things to different people. In fact, there are several varied definitions of magic. THE AMERICAN HERITAGE DICTIONARY defines magic as:

  • The art that purports to control or forecast natural events, effects, or forces by invoking the supernatural.
  • The practice of using charms, spells, or rituals to attempt to produce supernatural effects or to control events in nature, or the charms, spells, and rituals so used.
  • The exercise of sleight of hand or conjuring for entertainment.
  • A mysterious quality of enchantment: the magic of the distant past.

THE ILLUSTRATED HISTORY OF MAGIC by Milbourne and Maurine Christopher states the first recorded description of a “royal command performance” magic act took place in ancient Egypt. The show was put on for the Pharaoh Cheops (who built the Great Pyramid) around 5000 years ago. A wall painting, accompanied by hieroglyphics, in a tomb in Beni Hasan, Egypt about 2500 B.C. depicts a “cup-and-ball” trick, still performed today. According to Egyptian mythology, the god Thoth was the inventor of magic.

Of course, every culture and country had their own forms of magic, magical lore and famous magicians. The Chinese had Ching  Ling Foo, “the Court Conjurer to the Empress of China.” The British had P.T. Selbit. America had Houdini. The list goes on.

As a child, I put on magic shows for my friends and family and wasn’t too bad at it. As an adult, I’ve seen the performances of both the late Doug Henning and David Copperfield and, though I knew what they were doing onstage were illusions, they were incredibly believable as real legerdemain!

To me, in reference to my writing and to my day-to-day life, magic encompasses all of the above definitions be it subtle or grandiose. I imagine dragons, super-powered beings and eldritch creatures every day, which are truly magical to me. I see the magic in living such as celebrating the holidays with friends and family or playing with my cats. The power of love is a real magical force.

In my upcoming fantasy novel, BLOOD OF THE DAXAS, being published by Assent Publishing in 2014, there are several factions of magic-wielders, each one unique and able to conjure in different ways. The Priest and Priestess-Mages of the Imperium have no magical abilities unless certain sensitive ones of their order drink dragon blood. The Perliox Animists possess a magic fueled by the natural world around them. When that world is under siege, they too weaken.  Farsensers possess a magic of the mind, able to read the thoughts of others and broadcast their own. Beast Witches can commune with animals.

But the magic of Wyverna, the Queen of the Daxas, the last adult dragon in the world of men, is the greatest of all. And the most surprising.

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