September 20, 2019, 12:36:10 AM

Author Topic: Let’s talk about low magic  (Read 512 times)

Offline Eclipse

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Let’s talk about low magic
« on: August 20, 2019, 10:46:39 PM »
I think I prefer stories where’s there magic but it’s not very common or it’s very rare or hidden. Saying that through I do enjoy a good high level of magic and Gods stories too.

Reading a bit on F-F Facebook i get the general feeling there that in general  reader’s prefer to have lots of high magic being thrown at them with details of magic systems and dragons and must be fast paced with no time to breath and smell the coffee.

and  less likely to enjoy low magic stories like GGK/ Parker. interesting through most of them do seem to like lies of Locke Lamora and the Kingkiller chronicles.

I’m guessing the fantasy readers who like the low magic tales are fans of historical fiction? Or maybe I’m just talking rubbish.

I’m just rambling.

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Offline Bender

Re: Let’s talk about low magic
« Reply #1 on: August 21, 2019, 12:33:37 AM »
Depends on the book. David Gemmell and even LotR can be classified as Low Fantasy? Perhaps Black Company even.
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Offline Peat

Re: Let’s talk about low magic
« Reply #2 on: August 21, 2019, 02:05:25 AM »
Depends on the book. David Gemmell and even LotR can be classified as Low Fantasy? Perhaps Black Company even.

Low Fantasy and Low Magic originally had rather different definitions and I think that should be kept, particularly when LotR is the foundation stone of how some people define High Fantasy; I think its easier to communicate if people aren't running around with a definition that can't fit with that.

For me, I believe in High Fantasy as "the world of heroes and gods and titans..., a world of powers and passions and moments of ecstasy far greater than anything we meet outside the imagination." As something that seeks to dream of a greater scale and dimension to man than exists in the ordinary world - with Low Fantasy being the opposite, often revelling in just how petty man is.

In any case, even using the Low Magic = Low Fantasy definition, I think that there's a lot of magic in both - just maybe not that flashy or in the hands of the main protagonist - and that they probably shouldn't be in the Low Magic category. I mean, look at LotR. Leaving aside that it's Angel vs Fallen Angel war, most of the cast are walking around with enchanted weapons, there's several prophetic dreams, the Palantiri, a giant spider, flying beasts, Ringwraiths, Aragorn's healing hands, etc.etc.

And Legend features psychic wars to the death, possession, prophecy, someone coming back from the dead... I know the bar has been pushed, but even so, that shouldn't be Low Magic.

In any case - I think Eclipse is right about the general biases out there. I don't think it helps that Kay's writing style tends a lot more to literary than genre. Are most people who like low magic into historical fiction? You'd figure so as they're pretty similar but people can get put off by the smallest aesthetic differences.

That said - I think its the high octane feeling people are after more than high magic. They go hand in hand a lot, but as you point out, high octane low magic books are still popular. Where as old slow high magic books aren't. Which is down a lot to high octane being in. And to a certain extent, high octane being in is the work of advertising and marketing and hype.

But in
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Offline cupiscent

Re: Let’s talk about low magic
« Reply #3 on: August 21, 2019, 02:16:51 AM »
I think there's a two-axis plane of magic in fantasy fiction. There's frequency of manifestation, which is perhaps what you're talking about Eclipse? but there's also "hard vs soft" or perhaps a better way of describing is "systematic vs numinous". Magic that is understood and studied and regular and replicable--rather scientific--in contrast to magic that is more haphazard or one-off or less easily encapsulated. It's the difference between a D&D-style "cast fireball" and the sort of stuff that Gandalf does.

So yeah, I would consider LotR to have both sorts of magic (Gandalf is numinous, but the Ring is systematic) but a fairly low frequency of both. (Though, in perhaps a third axis, it is also very non-real-world in a lot of its non-magical details. There are elves and dwarves and ents and wild things. It is eldritch rather than realistic.) Lies of Locke Lamora is systematic magic, with a pretty low frequency. Brandon Sanderson is usually systematic (to the point of literal roll-dice systems) and high-frequency. But I'd say NK Jemisin's work usually has high-frequency numinous magic (Fifth Season et al were slightly more systematic).

All of fantasy is doing a delicate balancing act between satisfying urges of the audience, the slightly-conflicting "I am here for something magical and full of wonder" and "this needs to feel real for some subjective value thereof".

Obviously, I love GGKay. And I tend to get a bit eye-rolly about highly systematic magic. But I also usually hate historical fiction, so... :D

(Pace is a whole other thing. I like the story to always be moving, but I get so bored with things constantly happening without room for what they mean.)

Offline isos81

Re: Let’s talk about low magic
« Reply #4 on: August 21, 2019, 08:03:46 AM »
I'm really happy to be in this forum. I've learnt very much since although I've been reading fantasy for a long time :)

I agree with Bender that it depends on the book. It's the book and plot that matters, not the amount of magic involved. Even though I'm a big fan of magic, I sometimes disliked books with heavy magic and loved books with low magic.

I think the more important point is the affinity to magic. I don't know why some people can use magic and others can't. Maybe this might be another topic :)
Kallor shrugged. 'I've walked this land when the T'lan Imass were but children. I've commanded armies a hundred thousand strong. I've spread the fire of my wrath across entire continents, and sat alone upon tall thrones. Do you grasp the meaning of this?'

'Yes' said Caladan Brood. 'You never learn'

Offline Elfy

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Re: Let’s talk about low magic
« Reply #5 on: August 21, 2019, 08:05:44 AM »
Like @cupiscent said The Lies of Locke Lamora is fairly low magic, as is most of Abercrombie’s work. I remember an interview with GRRM not that long after A Game of Thrones came out and he was asked about his low magic approach. At the time he said it was a conscious decision as he felt other writers used it as a bit if a get out of jail free card (my words, not his). Like most things, though. It depends on how it’s used and the skill of the author.
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Offline Eclipse

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Re: Let’s talk about low magic
« Reply #6 on: August 21, 2019, 08:27:09 AM »
I just find it odd that the Facebook readers are now asking for magic systems in their fantasy books to read.

I mean people are asking should I read this fantasy book if it hasn’t got a magic system and if it has how does the magic system hold up compared to other fantasy books.
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Offline ScarletBea

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Re: Let’s talk about low magic
« Reply #7 on: August 21, 2019, 08:41:49 AM »
I just find it odd that the Facebook readers are now asking for magic systems in their fantasy books to read.

I mean people are asking should I read this fantasy book if it hasn’t got a magic system and if it has how does the magic system hold up compared to other fantasy books.
That is a bit strange, but in a way, no stranger than people being more specific when they ask for recommendations. Maybe the people asking just want magic, always, in their books?

As for me, looking at what I read, I like everything! I like the scientific approach of Sanderson or Weeks, I like soft magic of Johnston or Stephens, I like when magic is just hinted at, like Abercrombie or Lynch, and I like books without any magic at all.
I guess I'm just easy (if the story/writing is good!) ;D
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Offline S. K. Inkslinger

Re: Let’s talk about low magic
« Reply #8 on: August 21, 2019, 08:52:00 AM »
I'm exactly the kind of person Eclipse described. I like magic, hell lots of it. Especially if there are lots and lots of action scenes and bloody battles and explosions involved.  ;D

Offline Peat

Re: Let’s talk about low magic
« Reply #9 on: August 21, 2019, 09:50:23 AM »
I can't lie, I do find the "It's got to have a system" people odd and so sometimes think about recommending RPG corebooks to them... but I daresay they think I'm odd too. And I think with so much fantasy being based on RPGs, or people just playing RPGs, I guess it makes sense people want to see those things reflected in their books.

I think to an extent it's just people having seen it all as well and looking for new experiences. There's a ton of books where wizards can cast fireballs and fly because they access the universe's hidden arcane power. Not so many where ingesting the right metals makes you a superhero.
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Offline Skip

Re: Let’s talk about low magic
« Reply #10 on: August 21, 2019, 10:29:25 PM »
What with low magic and high magic, I immediately wonder what "medium magic" would be. That's only semi-serious.

Frequency of appearance is certainly one vector. Another would be its relationship to the plot. I can't really picture a low magic story in which that magic was the pivot on which the book turned.

Another vector is how grand the magic is. Low magic to me might be something like magically powered trains, but no wizards. The magic is more mundane, work-a-day, used by all, either directly or indirectly. High magic would be wizards in towers, but transportation is still by non-magical means.

Offline Peat

Re: Let’s talk about low magic
« Reply #11 on: August 22, 2019, 12:32:09 AM »
What with low magic and high magic, I immediately wonder what "medium magic" would be. That's only semi-serious.

Frequency of appearance is certainly one vector. Another would be its relationship to the plot. I can't really picture a low magic story in which that magic was the pivot on which the book turned.

Another vector is how grand the magic is. Low magic to me might be something like magically powered trains, but no wizards. The magic is more mundane, work-a-day, used by all, either directly or indirectly. High magic would be wizards in towers, but transportation is still by non-magical means.

What about stories where there's both some very grand magic, and also a lot of magic being used for everyday things because of just how much there is it?
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Offline Bender

Re: Let’s talk about low magic
« Reply #12 on: August 22, 2019, 01:13:37 AM »
I'm exactly the kind of person Eclipse described. I like magic, hell lots of it. Especially if there are lots and lots of action scenes and bloody battles and explosions involved.  ;D

Have you read Chronicles of the Raven?
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Offline cupiscent

Re: Let’s talk about low magic
« Reply #13 on: August 22, 2019, 04:43:37 AM »
See, I love workaday magic. The things that always bugs me about grandiose fantasy worlds with thousands of years of magic tradition is: where's my microwave? Where's my telephone? Where are all the conveniences that humanity wrings out of technology, because what is magic but another form of technology? Where are the uses for making life easier/cleaner/quicker/better? And if not, why not?

Offline S. K. Inkslinger

Re: Let’s talk about low magic
« Reply #14 on: August 22, 2019, 07:56:48 AM »
I'm exactly the kind of person Eclipse described. I like magic, hell lots of it. Especially if there are lots and lots of action scenes and bloody battles and explosions involved.  ;D

Have you read Chronicles of the Raven?

I read the reviews on the first book and it sounded just like the kind of story I'm actually writing, hahah.  :D Now that's explosion for ya.