September 20, 2019, 11:51:01 PM

Author Topic: What was your favorite (and least favorite) use of magic in fantasy?  (Read 21883 times)

Offline Adamus

I've only recently realized that how magic is depicted in fantasy can set the tone for an entire book. This occurred to me when I read Raymond E. Feist's "Magician: Apprentice". The story revolves around how the main character, Pug, struggles with magic as an apprentice, but it's not until he is thrust into another world where his kind of magic is allowed to blossom. Once I considered that, it reminded me how the use of magic was depicted in "A Wizard of Earthsea" that annoyed me so much I could barely finish the book and certainly did not pick up another in the series. But the ambiguous origin and use of magic in the "Lord of the Rings" was perfectly fine with me. Has anybody else experienced this? How do you prefer magic to be presented in fantasy? Do you like strict guidelines for its use? Do you like it be fuzzy and mysterious? Does it matter? Does it matter if it come from aliens, "earth energy", God, or what have you?

I'd love to hear what you think and with examples.

Offline AllegedlyWriting

Re: What was your favorite (and least favorite) use of magic in fantasy?
« Reply #1 on: March 25, 2012, 05:44:45 PM »
Anything that Sanderson thinks up is awesome in my book. Loved the color magic in Warbreaker and I had never seen anything like the Allumancy he used in his Mistborn trilogy.
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Offline Gothos

Re: What was your favorite (and least favorite) use of magic in fantasy?
« Reply #2 on: March 25, 2012, 07:53:09 PM »
I would second that on Sanderson. He is probably the world’s best author at coming up with unique and inventive magic systems. But I’d also say that that is only because his magic fits the book. I don't think it matters if the magic is taken from a mysterious well guarded by an angry little gnome or if it’s as understandable as the mechanics of a car. Whatever it is it needs to fit the story.
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Offline Jeni

Re: What was your favorite (and least favorite) use of magic in fantasy?
« Reply #3 on: March 25, 2012, 10:21:16 PM »
I pretty much like all types of magic....my favourite at the moment would be the magic system Elspeth Cooper uses in Songs of the Earth. Its elegantly beautiful and dangerously powerful and seems more natural to me than any other type of magic system I can think of at the moment....my least favourite would probably be any magic system that requires the use of excessive chanting and over-complicated spells that take pages to describe - cant think of any off hand but I find them tedious.

Offline Oli

Re: What was your favorite (and least favorite) use of magic in fantasy?
« Reply #4 on: March 25, 2012, 11:41:38 PM »
Interesting that you cite Earthsea, since when I read the topic title that was what sprang to mind as the most convincing magic I'd come across in a fantasy book. I think the most important thing in fantasy fiction, as in all fiction, is truth; if there's a ring of truth to the magic (speaking as an atheist with no belief in the supernatural), then it will work for the reader, but different things will ring true for every reader…
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Offline Elfy

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Re: What was your favorite (and least favorite) use of magic in fantasy?
« Reply #5 on: March 25, 2012, 11:51:05 PM »
I think my least favourite was probably the way they performed it in The Belgariad, it just sort of seemed to happen and it was only available when they couldn't think of any other way out of a situation, then at other times when it wasn't needed it was freely accessible. Favourite was what Dave Duncan wrote in A Man of his Word, needed words of power, that was clever. I'm also quite partial to Eli Monpress' and his 'spirit' magic in that series.
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Offline teebs

Re: What was your favorite (and least favorite) use of magic in fantasy?
« Reply #6 on: March 26, 2012, 12:47:45 AM »
I don't like it when the rules for magic in a world are laid out in bare bones, explained away almost scientifically. To me, the almost pagan magic of a song of ice and fire, in a similar vein to LOTR, is the perfect balance. The worst offender of bland, over explained and naff magic would have to be the Black Prism by Brent Weeks. The gods / ascendants / destriants / warrens and all that goodness in Malazan book of the Fallen probably a personal favourite, something about the fantastical juiciness captures your intrigue, it's never explained in full, retaining that sense of majesty and mystery.

Offline AnneLyle

Re: What was your favorite (and least favorite) use of magic in fantasy?
« Reply #7 on: March 26, 2012, 07:18:44 AM »
I love the magic in Daniel Abraham's Long Price Quartet - it fits the setting perfectly, and its limitations are at once crystal clear and yet abstract enough that you aren't sure what to expect.
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Offline Funky Scarecrow

Re: What was your favorite (and least favorite) use of magic in fantasy?
« Reply #8 on: March 26, 2012, 08:24:21 AM »
I'm a bit of a fusspot about magic. I'm happy with either extreme, fuzzy and ill-defined or rigorous and intricately detailed, but hate when a story faffs about, spending ages telling me about it. 'Create the system, then leave most of it out' is my motto. I say again: 'Fusspot'; I make no apologies for this.

My favourite uses of magic in a story are probably in James Barclay's The Raven novels and Robert Holdstock's Ryhope Wood novels. The Raven feels right to me in the nuts and bolts sense, being very clearly thought out but the majority of the theory left off the page, and the Ryhope Wood novels in capturing the primal awe and terror of wild magic. Mark Chadbourn's Age of Misrule and The Dark Age trilogies also deserve a mention in the awe and terror stakes; not many come close to matching Holdstock for primal appeal and fear of magic, but Mark Chadbourn is closest of all in my mind.

My least favourites, are probably in Brandon Sanderson's Mistborn and David Gemmell's Drenai novels. In Mistborn, it isn't the idea of allomancy that bothers me, I actually love the idea, but for the fact that too many pages are spent going into the nuts and bolts. With Gemmell's Drenai series, the magic too often felt like an afterthought, a sticking plaster for plot holes or corners he wrote himself into; the magical solution tended to crop up exactly when it became apparent a problem couldn't be punched or hit with an axe. A mention should be given to the Kingkiller series by Patrick Rothfuss, on this score; again, too much time spent lecturing the reader on the theory.

One final note; my favourite non-use of magic: Rincewind's half-brick-in-a-sock moment, during Terry Pratchett's Sourcery.
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Offline Francis Knight

Re: What was your favorite (and least favorite) use of magic in fantasy?
« Reply #9 on: March 26, 2012, 10:41:16 AM »


One final note; my favourite non-use of magic: Rincewind's half-brick-in-a-sock moment, during Terry Pratchett's Sourcery.

Hehe, oh yeah

I'm another 'it has to fit the world' kinda person. Some writers explain the doodads out of their magic, and it works. Some writers don't and that works too. Ofc, some writers do either and it doesn't work...So as long as it fits the world (and like the scarecrow, the author doesn't spend pages going on and on about it), I'm a happy camper.

I can't remember the name of the book (long time ago!) but I did see a system where drawing patterns invoked magic - the more complex the pattern the stronger the magic iirc. And the pattern had to be right in some way. Colours also had meaning...I think. The MC didn't realise what she was doing at first (portal story), she just loved drawing patterns, then in this new world, she had a rare power. It was quite well done as I recall.
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Offline Bahl

Re: What was your favorite (and least favorite) use of magic in fantasy?
« Reply #10 on: March 26, 2012, 10:44:19 AM »
If the magic takes over as the story, I hate it. I love that it gets used, but it shouldn't be as a crutch. It should compliment the story.

If all the magic was taken out of the story, it should still be an interesting story. If the only interesting thing is the magic system, it does not do it for me.

I like books about characters, not pure worldbuilding.
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Offline Dashgar

Re: What was your favorite (and least favorite) use of magic in fantasy?
« Reply #11 on: March 26, 2012, 12:44:01 PM »
I think a few things need to be taken into account with magic. Firstly if your main character is not a wizard you are open to leaving it ambiguous eg. LOTR, but if you have a wizard as your main character this is far less of an option. Books like Belgariad, Magician, Wheel of Time, Earthsea etc. where the main character is a wizard need to describe a lot more of the magic so you know what your main character is doing.

I like a magic system that isn't all powerful. I think that a seriously powerful warrior should be able to easily overcome an apprentice mage. Many books give wizards so much power that an army of trained soldiers is almost impotent without them (Wheel of Time). Or worse they describe the mages as all powerful only for them to seem useless on the battlefield. I like to think wizards should need to be as strong in their mind as a warrior is in their body or they will not defeat them. But where a body can only get so strong a mind as nearly unlimited potential.

Finally I think the writer does need to know most of what is possible with magic. I feel with Lord of the Rings that a lot of his magic is just thrown together. You never really know what they are or aren't capable of. Even the ring has highly undefined power. When Boromir talks of using the enemy's weapon against them, how are they going to use it? Make one warrior invisible? Or can it hurl fireballs or some other power. How did Sauron even use it. I know it's hard to fault Tolkien cos his story was so incredible and ground breaking but his use of magic is one of my few dislikes.

In the end I think my favourite use of magic is probably from Warhammer and the winds of magic. It's simple enough to understand, very powerful but not omnipotent. There is enough mystery over it's full potential but it's 'everyday' use is well defined.

Offline RobJHayes

Re: What was your favorite (and least favorite) use of magic in fantasy?
« Reply #12 on: March 26, 2012, 03:07:15 PM »
All too often with wizard/mage MC's the author just uses it in the finale to 'nuke the site from orbit'. I've seen something like this far too many times:

Dave, unable to fight the array of enemies and situational betrayals that had been thrown against him, clicked his fingers and all the bad men went away.

A gross over-simplification it may be but the point holds true. This I feel is the issue, magic systems can take any form the writer wants (that's what is so great about the fantasy genre) but for the book to boil down to 'magic makes everything better' just strikes me as lazy. This is why (I say as I prepare to hide from a brick-filled sock) perhaps the most disappointing use of magic I've read has to be Magician by Feist.

As for my favourite use... I'm a big fan of understating magic in fantasy so I love GRRM's use in A Song of Ice and Fire. Half the time you're left wondering if there actually is magic in the world or if it's just smoke and mirrors.
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Offline AnneLyle

Re: What was your favorite (and least favorite) use of magic in fantasy?
« Reply #13 on: March 26, 2012, 03:37:53 PM »
Even the ring has highly undefined power. When Boromir talks of using the enemy's weapon against them, how are they going to use it? Make one warrior invisible? Or can it hurl fireballs or some other power. How did Sauron even use it.

I think the movies made it more explicit - the ring contains part of Sauron's being (in HP terms, it's a horcrux), and anyone with magical powers, such as Gandalf or Galadriel, could draw on that to make themselves far more powerful - it would magnify whatever power they already have, rather than giving specific "spells".

By contrast, mere mortals like Frodo or Isildur are made invisible (for no good reason except that this is a traditional power of magic rings in Northern European myth) but they have no control over it.
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Offline Nyki Blatchley

Re: What was your favorite (and least favorite) use of magic in fantasy?
« Reply #14 on: March 26, 2012, 06:03:36 PM »
Like Funky Scarecrow, I tend to like one extreme or the other, but I don't mind a lot of "faffing about" if there's a reason for it and it's well done.  I love the magic of Earthsea, and how we learn it as Ged does.  Another favourite is the magic in Mary Gentle's Rats & Gargoyles, which is specifically based on "real" (theoretically) Renaissance magic.

I also agree, as someone said (sorry, too lazy to go looking) that magic should have limitations.  A concept Jack Vance uses in The Dying Earth, which I've nicked once or twice, is that the human mind can only hold a limited number of spells at one time.  The magician has to choose the spells they're likely to need before setting out on any venture, and they're basically buggered if they meet something they're not prepared for.

By contrast, mere mortals like Frodo or Isildur are made invisible (for no good reason except that this is a traditional power of magic rings in Northern European myth) but they have no control over it.

My interpretation of that would be that it takes the wearer partly into the spirit world (as it did to Frodo on Weathertop) so they can't be seen from the material world.  Since Glorfindel shows up as "real" in the spirit world, it's possible he'd be able to see Frodo, but that's never tested.