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Author Topic: What was your favorite (and least favorite) use of magic in fantasy?  (Read 21232 times)

Offline DrNefario

Re: What was your favorite (and least favorite) use of magic in fantasy?
« Reply #45 on: February 04, 2015, 02:06:06 PM »
Is it just me, or are the elemental magic systems getting a bit old? I feel like the power to summon water, fire, air, and all that other wonderful natural stuff is overused.
The problem with elemental magic is that all the elements are rubbish except fire. :)

Offline JMack

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Re: What was your favorite (and least favorite) use of magic in fantasy?
« Reply #46 on: February 04, 2015, 02:39:06 PM »
Is it just me, or are the elemental magic systems getting a bit old? I feel like the power to summon water, fire, air, and all that other wonderful natural stuff is overused.
The problem with elemental magic is that all the elements are rubbish except fire. :)
Oh I don't know.  :)  Try Rachel Aaron's Eli Monpress series: the idea of the spirits of things, which is very elemental, leads to wonderful extrapolations like the spirit of a mountain concentrated in a sword.  Very heavy, very stubborn.
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Offline Yora

Re: What was your favorite (and least favorite) use of magic in fantasy?
« Reply #47 on: February 04, 2015, 04:19:04 PM »
I always thought fire is the most rubbish. All it can do is burn stuff.
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Offline Rukaio_Alter

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Re: What was your favorite (and least favorite) use of magic in fantasy?
« Reply #48 on: February 04, 2015, 10:04:52 PM »
I always thought fire is the most rubbish. All it can do is burn stuff.
Indeed. Outside of the implied immunity to certain levels of heat and smoke inhalation that naturally come with that magic (unless you have the bad luck of being in a deconstructionist fantasy), fire's always struck me as being pretty one note. I mean, compare some of the potential uses of the other elements...

Water: The sheer force of a tidal wave, the ability to purify dirty water (potential life-saving in a medieval world), the ability to suck moisture out of... pretty much anything (plant-life, ground, people, the atmosphere) and, if the rules are loose enough, the ability to control things like blood, ice or clouds. Also, you can create bubbles. Everyone loves bubbles.

Air: Obviously the ability to create tornado-esque winds but, if you pay attention to your environment, you can mix it with other elements to make fun combinations. In a desert? Sandstorm. In the ocean? Hurricane-level waves. Heck, you pay attention to your types of clouds, you can manipulate the weather and create thunderstorms, snowstorms, rain, etc. Or, alternately, nothing. Create a vacuum. Suffocate your opponent. Fire needs oxygen to survive so you can smother a fire mage's flames before they can get going. Heck, understand how to use your air to fan the flames correctly and you can have a similar level of control to fire-mages.

Earth: My personal favourite and one I consider underused in fantasy. Open up a pit beneath your opponent's feet. Close the pit. You win. Create spikes from the ground if you want something messier. Heck, earth is the only elemental magic (except possibly ice) with a solid form. You can construct nearly anything. (In hindsight, probably the main reason it's not used very often). Your only major weakness is that it's difficult to hit airborn foes. But they have to come down eventually. Or you could just lob a boulder at them, I suppose. And if you have loose rules about what constitutes earth, you've got the potential to control things like metal, sand, mud, concrete or even dust or magma (although the latter is probably more fire's domain). It even has smaller practical uses. Use it to treat farming soil. Create sculptures or buildings. You could build an entire city in less than a week. So yeah, earth magic rocks (pun entirely intended).

Okay, I may have gotten a bit carried away there, but you get the idea. Honestly, there's a lot of fun stuff you can do with elemental magic which most fantasies I've seen don't tend to bother trying. I guess that's probably why people get fatigued with them. That and the constant focus on fire, which I consider the least interesting and complex of the four.
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Offline Elfy

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Re: What was your favorite (and least favorite) use of magic in fantasy?
« Reply #49 on: February 04, 2015, 10:31:47 PM »
I think one of my least favorite tropes in Fantasy is the magic savant.  We've all seen them, even in some very very good books.  Our hero (hmmm, call him Harry) has incredible magical powers, even at an early age.  He amazes his teachers.  When faced with danger, his powers unaccountably manifest themselves to save the day.

Many writers address this in terms of showing progress and training (hmmm, call our heroine, Vin), but the concept is still there that this one has more innate power than any other (the Force is strong in this one).

A comparison to elite athletes might be useful.  If magic is a physical trait, then some will have better genes than others.  But there is still a massive amount of training required.  Tiger Woods was a prodigy, but also an obsessive with an obsessed teacher and at least ten years of work before he could compete with elite adults.  Vin trains for two years in Mistborn, and achieves feats that a lifetime of training never produced in others.  (Yes, I know, maybe she was chosen by Preservation, but  that's part of the trope, too, right?  And I do love me some Vin.)

Disclaimer: I loved all the stories I'm using here as examples, which is evidence that this trope can work pretty darn well.  But it always bothers me, and any author who uses it has, for me, set a real hill to climb.  Maybe a perfect treatment?  Wizard of Earthsea.
Dave Duncan did something like this in A Man of His Word. Certain words give people magic, if you already have a talent at something, whether it be sports or learning or carpentry, or whatever, then having a word of power amplifies that natural talent. Two words of power makes you an adept and so on.
I know you're a fan of Rachel Aaron's Eli Monpress books and I liked the idea she advanced in that regarding elemental magic that everything has a spirit and using that particular element is really a matter of contacting that spirit and using it, therefore doors can talk and unlock themselves or cart wheels can take it upon themselves to go off on their own adventure independent of the cart, rivers can alter their courses and swords can have the power of a mountain.
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Offline koffern

Re: What was your favorite (and least favorite) use of magic in fantasy?
« Reply #50 on: February 04, 2015, 11:21:01 PM »
the biggest common denominator in most fantasy books is the fact that magic is often used as a foundation of power.
and a foundation of power is built on heritage and bloodlines aka breeding powerful blood to get the most bang for your buck, but i guess this is human nature based on how we have royal bloodlines etc in real life too.
a kid growing up under a politician father might be the next president or some sport star's kid has a bright future ahead of them in some sport.
power breeding power is indoctrinated in our lives as soon as you get out of the womb wether it is fantasy or reality.
the foundation determines where you grow up, which school you go to, social circles and so on and it all adds up to who you will become.
fantasy takes this to the next level by making the character son of the strongest mage ever or the previous king who was lost after assasination of said character or something along those lines.

thats one of the biggest selling points of "Iron druid chronicles" im my opinion.
there is nothing unique about Atticus except for the fact that he is the last living druid.
He is not particularily powerful and has not gotten anything for free from somtehing like being the son of the greatest druid to ever walk the earth.
He earned everything through sheer effort.
He is just a dude who enjoys good beer and good fish'n chips, not a genius level magician with once in a million years of occuring talent.

Offline ultamentkiller

Re: What was your favorite (and least favorite) use of magic in fantasy?
« Reply #51 on: February 11, 2015, 04:22:55 AM »
I always thought fire is the most rubbish. All it can do is burn stuff.
Indeed. Outside of the implied immunity to certain levels of heat and smoke inhalation that naturally come with that magic (unless you have the bad luck of being in a deconstructionist fantasy), fire's always struck me as being pretty one note. I mean, compare some of the potential uses of the other elements...

Water: The sheer force of a tidal wave, the ability to purify dirty water (potential life-saving in a medieval world), the ability to suck moisture out of... pretty much anything (plant-life, ground, people, the atmosphere) and, if the rules are loose enough, the ability to control things like blood, ice or clouds. Also, you can create bubbles. Everyone loves bubbles.

Air: Obviously the ability to create tornado-esque winds but, if you pay attention to your environment, you can mix it with other elements to make fun combinations. In a desert? Sandstorm. In the ocean? Hurricane-level waves. Heck, you pay attention to your types of clouds, you can manipulate the weather and create thunderstorms, snowstorms, rain, etc. Or, alternately, nothing. Create a vacuum. Suffocate your opponent. Fire needs oxygen to survive so you can smother a fire mage's flames before they can get going. Heck, understand how to use your air to fan the flames correctly and you can have a similar level of control to fire-mages.

Earth: My personal favourite and one I consider underused in fantasy. Open up a pit beneath your opponent's feet. Close the pit. You win. Create spikes from the ground if you want something messier. Heck, earth is the only elemental magic (except possibly ice) with a solid form. You can construct nearly anything. (In hindsight, probably the main reason it's not used very often). Your only major weakness is that it's difficult to hit airborn foes. But they have to come down eventually. Or you could just lob a boulder at them, I suppose. And if you have loose rules about what constitutes earth, you've got the potential to control things like metal, sand, mud, concrete or even dust or magma (although the latter is probably more fire's domain). It even has smaller practical uses. Use it to treat farming soil. Create sculptures or buildings. You could build an entire city in less than a week. So yeah, earth magic rocks (pun entirely intended).

Okay, I may have gotten a bit carried away there, but you get the idea. Honestly, there's a lot of fun stuff you can do with elemental magic which most fantasies I've seen don't tend to bother trying. I guess that's probably why people get fatigued with them. That and the constant focus on fire, which I consider the least interesting and complex of the four.
This is true enough. I haven't read a lot of books where they use magic so creatively. I think Myke Coal's Shadow Ops trilogy does, but that story didn't draw me in for some reason.

Offline Hedin

Re: What was your favorite (and least favorite) use of magic in fantasy?
« Reply #52 on: February 11, 2015, 06:07:18 PM »
I was thinking about this subject the other night and realize I have hardly ever read anything involving one of my favorite magic system.  Growing up I loved the Myst games and really enjoyed reading the Myst books.  The books weren't anything special writing style wise but I just absolutely loved the idea of writing a book and that book creating some new magic world.  I would often daydream what sort of place I would create if I had that sort of ability (too bad I don't have any drawing ability to recreate any of those places I thought up).  The Long Price Quartet gave me a little bit of this with te way they created/captured gods but I always felt a bit disappointed in the series as I was hoping for more stuff involving the concept (I do think it was a good series, just wanted more out of if). 

Offline DrNefario

Re: What was your favorite (and least favorite) use of magic in fantasy?
« Reply #53 on: February 12, 2015, 01:44:24 PM »
I always thought fire is the most rubbish. All it can do is burn stuff.
Indeed. Outside of the implied immunity to certain levels of heat and smoke inhalation that naturally come with that magic (unless you have the bad luck of being in a deconstructionist fantasy), fire's always struck me as being pretty one note. I mean, compare some of the potential uses of the other elements...

Water: The sheer force of a tidal wave, the ability to purify dirty water (potential life-saving in a medieval world), the ability to suck moisture out of... pretty much anything (plant-life, ground, people, the atmosphere) and, if the rules are loose enough, the ability to control things like blood, ice or clouds. Also, you can create bubbles. Everyone loves bubbles.

Air: Obviously the ability to create tornado-esque winds but, if you pay attention to your environment, you can mix it with other elements to make fun combinations. In a desert? Sandstorm. In the ocean? Hurricane-level waves. Heck, you pay attention to your types of clouds, you can manipulate the weather and create thunderstorms, snowstorms, rain, etc. Or, alternately, nothing. Create a vacuum. Suffocate your opponent. Fire needs oxygen to survive so you can smother a fire mage's flames before they can get going. Heck, understand how to use your air to fan the flames correctly and you can have a similar level of control to fire-mages.

Earth: My personal favourite and one I consider underused in fantasy. Open up a pit beneath your opponent's feet. Close the pit. You win. Create spikes from the ground if you want something messier. Heck, earth is the only elemental magic (except possibly ice) with a solid form. You can construct nearly anything. (In hindsight, probably the main reason it's not used very often). Your only major weakness is that it's difficult to hit airborn foes. But they have to come down eventually. Or you could just lob a boulder at them, I suppose. And if you have loose rules about what constitutes earth, you've got the potential to control things like metal, sand, mud, concrete or even dust or magma (although the latter is probably more fire's domain). It even has smaller practical uses. Use it to treat farming soil. Create sculptures or buildings. You could build an entire city in less than a week. So yeah, earth magic rocks (pun entirely intended).

Okay, I may have gotten a bit carried away there, but you get the idea. Honestly, there's a lot of fun stuff you can do with elemental magic which most fantasies I've seen don't tend to bother trying. I guess that's probably why people get fatigued with them. That and the constant focus on fire, which I consider the least interesting and complex of the four.
Yeah, you tell yourself that. I'll be over here juggling fireballs.  ;)

The big problem with elemental magic is that the elements are bogus. Some Greek guy thought the world was constructed from those four things and was wrong. Why should a mistaken theory of physics be in any way binding for a magic system?

How about a real elemental magic system, based on the periodic table? A nitrogenist. A zincomancer.

Offline Raptori

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Re: What was your favorite (and least favorite) use of magic in fantasy?
« Reply #54 on: February 12, 2015, 02:31:58 PM »
How about a real elemental magic system, based on the periodic table? A nitrogenist. A zincomancer.
That's an awesome idea, so much potential. I might have to commandeer it if that's ok with you!  :P
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Offline Rukaio_Alter

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Re: What was your favorite (and least favorite) use of magic in fantasy?
« Reply #55 on: February 12, 2015, 02:40:41 PM »
Yeah, you tell yourself that. I'll be over here juggling fireballs.  ;)

The big problem with elemental magic is that the elements are bogus. Some Greek guy thought the world was constructed from those four things and was wrong. Why should a mistaken theory of physics be in any way binding for a magic system?

How about a real elemental magic system, based on the periodic table? A nitrogenist. A zincomancer.
I hope you burn your hands off.  ;D

Joking aside, are you really trying to tell me that the big problem with magic is that the traditional elements aren't scientifically accurate? Generally magic as a whole tends not to be very scientifically accurate. Nowadays, the traditional elements tend to be more symbolic than realistic, which fits in just fine with the mystical nature of most magic.

I'll admit I did at one point actually briefly consider doing a magic based on the periodic table. The key word there being briefly. The problem is that not only does it require a fuckton of research, but a lot of elements are incredibly similar others and/or don't really have many properties that could easily used for magic. In addition, you'd have to dump exposition near every time you used a new magic because most readers don't have a PhD in Chemistry.
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Offline Raptori

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Re: What was your favorite (and least favorite) use of magic in fantasy?
« Reply #56 on: February 12, 2015, 03:20:07 PM »
I'll admit I did at one point actually briefly consider doing a magic based on the periodic table. The key word there being briefly. The problem is that not only does it require a fuckton of research, but a lot of elements are incredibly similar others and/or don't really have many properties that could easily used for magic. In addition, you'd have to dump exposition near every time you used a new magic because most readers don't have a PhD in Chemistry.
That's the best part: the reason the periodic table was developed was that people could see patterns in the properties of elements. If you can come up with a versatile enough set of magical skills then you'll end up with sets of abilities that vary amongst themselves. I guess I'm imagining something closer to allomancy than elemental magic, but it's a kind of mix between the two.
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Re: What was your favorite (and least favorite) use of magic in fantasy?
« Reply #57 on: February 12, 2015, 03:39:54 PM »
How about a real elemental magic system, based on the periodic table? A nitrogenist. A zincomancer.

Well, you could say Sanderson's Allomancy kind of used this idea. It was only metals, though (including some made up metals). It wouldn't surprise me if that's where he got the idea, as he did study chemistry for a while.

Offline Rukaio_Alter

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Re: What was your favorite (and least favorite) use of magic in fantasy?
« Reply #58 on: February 12, 2015, 04:14:22 PM »
I'll admit I did at one point actually briefly consider doing a magic based on the periodic table. The key word there being briefly. The problem is that not only does it require a fuckton of research, but a lot of elements are incredibly similar others and/or don't really have many properties that could easily used for magic. In addition, you'd have to dump exposition near every time you used a new magic because most readers don't have a PhD in Chemistry.
That's the best part: the reason the periodic table was developed was that people could see patterns in the properties of elements. If you can come up with a versatile enough set of magical skills then you'll end up with sets of abilities that vary amongst themselves. I guess I'm imagining something closer to allomancy than elemental magic, but it's a kind of mix between the two.
Oh, if we're talking a system more like allomancy, where abilities are mostly just named after the elements (albeit with some links), then that could work. I was thinking more literal control over the elements, like with traditional elemental magic. It could be interesting to see how certain elements/abilities react with each other like chemicals do (although you'd still have to do a fuckton of research and, considering how many elements are out there, it would be incredibly complex).
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Offline Raptori

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Re: What was your favorite (and least favorite) use of magic in fantasy?
« Reply #59 on: February 12, 2015, 04:54:46 PM »
Oh, if we're talking a system more like allomancy, where abilities are mostly just named after the elements (albeit with some links), then that could work. I was thinking more literal control over the elements, like with traditional elemental magic. It could be interesting to see how certain elements/abilities react with each other like chemicals do (although you'd still have to do a fuckton of research and, considering how many elements are out there, it would be incredibly complex).
Yeah exactly, I think it could be really worth it though. It's rare for there to be a magic system with that much detail from what I can tell, and if you manage it well enough then there's a ridiculous amount that you could do with it :)
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