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Author Topic: Magic Words in Fantasy?  (Read 1466 times)

Offline misterwolf

Magic Words in Fantasy?
« on: December 23, 2017, 02:21:37 PM »
Random question for y'all. I'm looking for fantasy books that employ MAGIC WORDS -- and I'm drawing some blanks.

By "magic word" I mean single words or phrases (not spells, incantations, cantrips, or otherwise) that have magical effects. I'm also excluding nonsense words and names of power (like "Elbereth" in LOTR). Also, I'm excluding words in invented languages if the words are themselves not magical.

So far, the only canonical example I can come up with "pyrzqxgl" in L. Frank Baum's The Magic of Oz.

In adult fantasy, I've come up with the Will and the Word from David Eddings's The Belgariad, although the "word" in those cases are merely normal words. I can also think of Dave Duncan's A Man of His Word series, although I don't think he actually states what any of the relevant magic words are.

Any help? Thanks!

Offline The Gem Cutter

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Re: Magic Words in Fantasy?
« Reply #1 on: December 23, 2017, 04:21:18 PM »
By "magic word" I mean single words or phrases (not spells, incantations, cantrips, or otherwise) that have magical effects.

I am struggling to see the difference here, no snark intended.
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Offline misterwolf

Re: Magic Words in Fantasy?
« Reply #2 on: December 23, 2017, 04:54:53 PM »
The idea was something that was only 1 or 2 words long (i.e., "Open, sesame," "abracadabra"), not anything in complete sentences, rhyming poetry, and/or phrases that contain prepositions, articles, conjunctions, and other words that only do grammatical work in the sentence.

Offline The Gem Cutter

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Re: Magic Words in Fantasy?
« Reply #3 on: December 23, 2017, 08:47:00 PM »
Wouldn't most of the spells in Harry Potter qualify? They seem to be 1 or 2 words most of the time, are always the same, and the waving of wands seems ... superficially imposed.
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"Each time, there is the same problem: do I dare? And then if you do dare, the dangers are there, and the help also, and the fulfillment or the fiasco. There's always the possibility of a fiasco. But there's also the possibility of bliss." - Joseph Campbell

Offline Peat

Re: Magic Words in Fantasy?
« Reply #4 on: December 23, 2017, 09:00:27 PM »
Does A Wizard of Earthsea fit what you're looking for, or would you consider that spells?

Also, what about Mellon being used to open a door in LotR?
This is the blog of Peat - http://peatlong.blogspot.co.uk/

Offline cupiscent

Re: Magic Words in Fantasy?
« Reply #5 on: December 23, 2017, 09:31:08 PM »
Hmm. Blake Charlton's Spellwright involved magic crafted through words, but given the significance of the main character's dyslexia, I suspect it was about more than just a single word.

Harry Potter might count, though non-vocal magic is possible in-world, while wandless magic seems much less common. But on the theme of Harry Potter, Ben Aaronovitch's Peter Grant novels use a similar derived-from-Latin school of magic.

Offline The Gem Cutter

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Re: Magic Words in Fantasy?
« Reply #6 on: December 24, 2017, 02:16:11 AM »
Although technically mythology, there was an ancient Greek belief that everything had a true name in a primal language, and if one knew the true, secret name for a thing, one might control it. You might find some sources worth using for brainstorming there, if that is your purpose.
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"Each time, there is the same problem: do I dare? And then if you do dare, the dangers are there, and the help also, and the fulfillment or the fiasco. There's always the possibility of a fiasco. But there's also the possibility of bliss." - Joseph Campbell

Offline misterwolf

Re: Magic Words in Fantasy?
« Reply #7 on: December 24, 2017, 01:54:05 PM »
Thanks for the great suggestions, guys. Can't believe I overlooked HP. And good call on the mellon in LOTR.

Offline Peat

Re: Magic Words in Fantasy?
« Reply #8 on: December 24, 2017, 02:12:29 PM »
Although technically mythology, there was an ancient Greek belief that everything had a true name in a primal language, and if one knew the true, secret name for a thing, one might control it. You might find some sources worth using for brainstorming there, if that is your purpose.

Huh. I did not know that. There's a lot of fantasies that use the idea of a secret language of power - Cogman's The Library Invisible for one.
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Offline The Gem Cutter

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Re: Magic Words in Fantasy?
« Reply #9 on: December 24, 2017, 04:50:32 PM »
While musing the responses here, an observation came to me that in many of the single-word/phrase situations we list, it is often not the word itself that has power, but something else. In Disney's Aladdin, the LOTR, and your run-of-the-mill magician's hat, the terms "Open Sesame" (I forget if that's right and too lazy to look it up), Mellon, and Abracadabra are not so much powerful as they are recognized by something that is: a magic hat, a secret hideout's guardian, or a magical dwarven door.

Perhaps this is off topic, but in many cases of magical stuff, there is a coincidence factor. The best example I can think of is in the Hobbit, where one must have the key when the thrush knocks just as the last light of the setting sun shines upon the keyhole. That's a lot of parameters - especially when you can only read these instructions by reading the map under starlight.
The Gem Cutter
"Each time, there is the same problem: do I dare? And then if you do dare, the dangers are there, and the help also, and the fulfillment or the fiasco. There's always the possibility of a fiasco. But there's also the possibility of bliss." - Joseph Campbell