September 20, 2019, 02:38:58 AM

Poll

Where do you hope to find magic?

In the blood.
6 (42.9%)
In the books.
8 (57.1%)

Total Members Voted: 14

Author Topic: Magic: In the blood or in the books?  (Read 11395 times)

Offline EricaDakin

Re: Magic: In the blood or in the books?
« Reply #15 on: May 04, 2013, 08:31:33 AM »
The weird thing in HP is that magic seems to be a *dominant* trait -- children of two wizards are almost always wizards, children of mixed pairs are often wizards.  But two non-wizards can have wizard children, so it doesn't quite match up.  (My question was always, why aren't there more wizards than Muggles?  The wizards mostly breed true, and live longer to boot.)


I guess it's because wizard society is so... what's the word... isolationist? Reclusive? They live among muggles, but they don't live with muggles. Most of them seem to view muggles as some weird, fascinating breed that's great to watch from a distance but impossible to interact with, so there are no wizard/muggle marriages.
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Offline Francis Knight

Re: Magic: In the blood or in the books?
« Reply #16 on: May 04, 2013, 02:33:15 PM »
The weird thing in HP is that magic seems to be a *dominant* trait -- children of two wizards are almost always wizards, children of mixed pairs are often wizards.  But two non-wizards can have wizard children, so it doesn't quite match up.  (My question was always, why aren't there more wizards than Muggles?  The wizards mostly breed true, and live longer to boot.)

That is an internal inconsistency that would bug me (if I'd read the books...), but I don't thinks that it's a fault of the initial 'What If' (which all magic systems are, really, a great big What If), more a lack of thinking things through -- or not thinking it through in a way that sems logical to me, which is another matter entirely! But that internal inconsistency would bother me much more than people inheriting magic or not.

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In real life, most non-trivial traits are governed by many different genes, so there's all kinds of subtlety you could put into a "blood" system -- people could inherit some parts of magic, but not others, or be good at some things but not others.

Oh indeed. In FtB people inherit an ability for magic, but how that actually manifests is individual to them, depending on all sorts of things.

And really, taking that one little thing, how things are inherited, you could play endlessly with it.
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The other thing is that if magic is pretty useless, than even if it was "books" exclusively, people wouldn't bother to learn it, especially in a primitive or medieval culture.  Like most people didn't learn to read, say, not because they were intrinsically stupid but because it wasn't a skill that would have a big impact on their lives, and it was a pain to acquire.  (Of course they also may have lacked the opportunity.)

True. But there's not many books where magic is useless (why have it in your book if it's so useless no one ever bothers to learn it?). Another reason for people not learning to read (in Europe at least) was the Church, who actively discouraged it in some areas/times (and also one reason that many things were in latin -- making them inaccessible to the common man, except via their Official Holy Dude). This could, of course, be a reason why a learned and useful magic is not widespread (My own magic is illegal, because the Ministry thinks it's unholy), so the common pleb doesn't get hold of it. Or it could be a shortage of paper, the printing press hasn't been invented yet so books are incredibly rare and expensive or....


With either books or blood, the extra thought has to go in there, and it's the failure of that thought that bugs me, not the initial premise. Because as magic is our Big Lie, I can accept it, hell, anything, IF it and its consequences are made believable.
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Offline tcsimpson

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Re: Magic: In the blood or in the books?
« Reply #17 on: May 06, 2013, 07:58:23 AM »
Whatever the story requires is where the magic should be. I don't get picky as long as the author stays true to his world's rules. I don't see or understand why magic in the blood or gifted through family genetics has to be seen as elitist. Aren't some people more physically gifted than others. Sometimes doesn't that trend run in the family? The same thing for a spark of genius or a person of higher than average intelligence. Of course, then they are some who might have that trait open up even if it didn't exist in their family line previously. Nothing elitist about being born with talent.

Now, having said that, some amount of work is still required to hone such talents. Argument in point, Jerry Rice is the greatest NFL wide receiver ever. But he wasn't the most physically gifted or the most talented. That honor goes to Randy Moss. Moss, however did not work as hard or did not apply himself as much as Rice with playbooks, practice, and learning his opponents, and thus never surpassed him in terms of sheer output. Yet, both were and are born talents.

To me, I have no issue with magic working the same. It's the same way that the average Joe might not become a professional athlete no matter how many books he reads or how much he practices. Oh, he can still run and do athletic things, but he wouldn't be among the best. Once in a while, you might find a guy who may break that mold, but it is extremely rare. I tend to look at most magic in the same light.

Offline Mark Lawrence

Re: Magic: In the blood or in the books?
« Reply #18 on: May 06, 2013, 11:28:22 AM »
If magic is in the books then unless it's really really simple to learn aren't we just exchanging one form of elitism for another?

In the blood means that any Joe Ordinary can be magic if the dice roll his way in the DNA lottery.

In the books means that any Joe Ordinary can be magic if the dice roll his way in the DNA lottery.

In the books seems to mean magic is restricted to those with the genetically gifted intelligence and persistence to learn?

A degree in mathematics is in the books... but most folks can't have one, no matter how hard they try. The ability to decode those books is in the blood...


Offline xiagan

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AW: Re: Magic: In the blood or in the books?
« Reply #19 on: May 06, 2013, 12:03:23 PM »
If magic is in the books then unless it's really really simple to learn aren't we just exchanging one form of elitism for another?

In the blood means that any Joe Ordinary can be magic if the dice roll his way in the DNA lottery.

In the books means that any Joe Ordinary can be magic if the dice roll his way in the DNA lottery.

In the books seems to mean magic is restricted to those with the genetically gifted intelligence and persistence to learn?

A degree in mathematics is in the books... but most folks can't have one, no matter how hard they try. The ability to decode those books is in the blood...
The ability to decode those books is in your upbringing, education and status of your parents too - which of course doesn't undermine your point about it being equally elitist.
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Offline DjangoWexler

Re: Magic: In the blood or in the books?
« Reply #20 on: May 06, 2013, 05:25:09 PM »
While I agree with Mark that some elitism is inevitable (not EVERYONE can go to magic school) I think that there's a difference of degree, assuming magic is reasonably powerful.  Someone with magic in the blood is essentially super-human, in some cases almost god-like.  (In Erikson's Malazan books, LITERALLY god-like.)  While a person may have the born talent to be a wide receiver, chess prodigy, or physicist, not much in the human experience compares to, say, the ability to blow people up with a gesture.

Another thing is whether it makes sense dramatically.  In general, I think readers are going to be more favorably inclined towards a character who has to work hard for his/her power (whether anyone could do it, or they are training an ability they were born to) than someone who just lucks into it.  (Indeed, the person who happens to be born with awesome powers is common type of villain.)
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Offline Francis Knight

Re: Magic: In the blood or in the books?
« Reply #21 on: May 06, 2013, 09:22:35 PM »
I think that goes for most things in the book though, not just magic -- if the character gets something, they should have worked for it. Someone who gets everything handed them on a plate isn't interesting to read about (okay, unless what they are given makes their life worse :D )

And frankly, of someone discovers they can shoot fireballs (or whatever) I am going to be pretty sceptical if they do it perfectly first time. I'd expect at least a few singed eyebrows/cats/teachers. ETA: Also, if they can just do it, first time, no problems, where's the conflict? I mean it could be done (I have this WIP...) but conflict drives story. No conflict, no story.
« Last Edit: May 06, 2013, 09:27:39 PM by Francis Knight »
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Offline AEMarling

Re: Magic: In the blood or in the books?
« Reply #22 on: May 06, 2013, 10:41:55 PM »
DjangoWexler, thank you for pointing out that curious heritability of magic in Harry Potter. I do prefer the magical genetics mentioned by Francis Knight, where recombinant variability could lead to an unhealthy dose of magical DNA. Can’t have wizards feel too superior about their inbreeding.

In Warbreaker by Brandon Sanderson, the principle magic has no genetic component. Instead, magic is transferred by Breath, similar to a soul or life essence, which are given by subjects to their leaders. I like this mechanic, and we see something similar in the Runelords by David Farland. People give up their strength, intelligence, etc to grant power to their lords. The high costs inherent in these magics resonate with me.

I would suggest, though, that magic more in the blood, that comes easier, might be more fun and whimsical for a younger audience. If Harry Potter had to cut off a finger every time he needed to cast a spell, there might not have been as many books. It’s easier to accept Harry Potter’s inborn magic because in other ways he’s so downtrodden.

As DjangoWexler and Francis Knight have mentioned, magic that requires more study and sacrifice will feel more deserved. The power of a magical flail felt all too real in Scourge of the Betrayer by Jeff Salyards. Killing someone with the flail caused their memories to infiltrate the wielder’s mind, poisoning him with another’s consciousness and driving him insane.

Another alternative to the books/blood false dichotomy is god-bestowed powers. These felt perilously earned in a little-known novel I enjoyed called Maledict, by Lane Robins. The protagonist commits herself to the goddess of vengeance, gaining strength at the cost of having her life warped to fit in a divine design.

How do you feel about magic from a divine source? (Or other sources than blood/books.) I'd love to hear of some instances where it was well done.
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Offline Sean Cunningham

Re: Magic: In the blood or in the books?
« Reply #23 on: May 06, 2013, 10:44:39 PM »
If the magic is in the books, those who own the books are going to go to a great many lengths to make sure no one else ever gets the books...
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Offline DjangoWexler

Re: Magic: In the blood or in the books?
« Reply #24 on: May 06, 2013, 11:03:05 PM »
Sean -- Jonathon Strange & Mr. Norrel starts with almost exactly that plot!
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Offline Francis Knight

Re: Magic: In the blood or in the books?
« Reply #25 on: May 06, 2013, 11:07:32 PM »
Another alternative to the books/blood false dichotomy is god-bestowed powers. These felt perilously earned in a little-known novel I enjoyed called Maledict, by Lane Robins. The protagonist commits herself to the goddess of vengeance, gaining strength at the cost of having her life warped to fit in a divine design.

How do you feel about magic from a divine source? (Or other sources than blood/books.) I'd love to hear of some instances where it was well done.

I kinda had that in my first book (under my own name) The guy wa a wizard, but got extra powers when he made a deal with a god. Due to the conditions placed on him as part of the deal, he regretted it quite a lot by the time the story started...

I think it works IF the powers also have a downside (and I reckon most gods would have conditions, or the mage could end up nearly as powerful as them, and well, gods probably wouldn't like that ;)). Again, if it's all wine and roses about what you get without effort, then where's the conflict for your story? *


*I suppose if your mages are peripheral characters this could work, as opposed to the mage being an MC.

Once again it comes down (to me) the application of what you're doing, not the initial premise.
« Last Edit: May 06, 2013, 11:09:30 PM by Francis Knight »
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Offline Stars Cascade

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Magic: In the blood or in the books?
« Reply #26 on: May 07, 2013, 09:36:03 AM »
I never really considered this, for me I don't mind so long as it works within the context of the story & isn't suddenly changed halfway. Ie: magic can only be born into. But suddenly *gasp* this randomite suddenly learns it from a book. - no no no. That's dumb, don't do it. Either its learnable, or its not, pick one and go with it.



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Offline Sean Cunningham

Re: Magic: In the blood or in the books?
« Reply #27 on: May 07, 2013, 09:35:27 PM »
Sean -- Jonathon Strange & Mr. Norrel starts with almost exactly that plot!

So it does. Although Mr Norrel is so nastily polite about it, in that wonderful British way.

That said, I don't think it quite falls entirely into the book category. All those gentlemen magicians had magic knowledge available to them, but they never did a jot of magic. Though I'm struggling to remember if that's just because they didn't take it seriously.
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