Planning Ahead

After the little question a short while back, I’ve been thinking.  So, to keep myself on track, and get some outlining, here are some of the “Genre Thoughts” I’ve thought up to work on in the coming year:

1) Protagonists (Number of)

2) Magic Items (probably 4 post series)

3) Lifespans (non-human and extending)

4) Fantasy/UF Species Revisited (detailed; probably 10 post series covering “classic” and less common species)

5) Myths & Legends (F, UF, SF)

Magic Series—Tools of the Trade, or Not

Look around at “how to write fantasy” blogs, sites, books, and articles and you’ll likely find a lot of people who say that magic requires limits. I suspect this is true, to a great extent, in most writers’ hands. Occasionally a great writer comes along who can portray unlimited, anything goes magic without sacrificing plot—all too often such magic becomes a deus ex machina to get the writer out of the proverbial corner (s)he’s painted into. Some have argued that Tolkien, for instance, had no limits on magic—a claim I will definitely contest for a variety of reasons—but virtually every fantasy world has some restriction on magic.

 One of the easiest and more common limitations is to require the use of props or tools.

 This is also a common historical approach to magic, as noted by Richard Kieckhefer and, to a lesser though more systematic extent, Isaac Bonewits.

 What do we mean by props and tools?

 For my purposes, I think not only in terms of material tools, but also actions and practices. Common props in both fictional and historical conceptions of magic include (obviously not a complete list):

 Animals—common historically among the Romans and Celts as sacrifices for divination

Cauldron (or laboratory)—for alchemy and other elixir/potion making, or scrying

Chants—use of magic words, whether chanted or spoken, to produce spells

Circle—the classic magic circle to contain summoned beings or magic

Crystals—both New Agey and historical for channeling magic energy

Dancing—common historically for magic and religious channeling, ex. Sufis

Dolls—old historical focus for magic, ex. Voodoo and kachina dolls

Drums (or other musical instruments)—music has always been potent in magic for focus or emotion control

Familiars—common in historical views of witchcraft, also present in Steven Brust’s Dragaera for witches

Herbs—historically part of both alchemy and traditional medicine and protective magics

Holy Symbols—obviously part of Christian exorcism, integral component of D&D/Pathfinder

Incense—historically part of several magic traditions, either to sharpen focus or produce a mood

Knife (or Athame for the Wiccans)—symbolic severing or use in sacrifices, special materials used for other purposes

Martial Arts—important in some Eastern magics, like Taoist, for focus and control of body and mind before magic; in fiction, see wuxia stories

Meditation—common historical means of achieving focus necessary for some magic traditions

Purification—historically part of both exorcisms and religious magical traditions, ex. Shinto

Relics—throughout history religious relics have been said to possess magical powers

Rituals—whether hand/wand waving gestures (Harry Potter) or full on 20+ minute rites

Seal of Solomon—said to be able to contain and command djinn, demons, and other spirits

Staff (or wand)—often a focus device historically or in fiction, sometimes channels or contains magical energy for the spellcaster

Star Charts—obvious usage in astrology and some of the more hermetic/Kabbalistic magics

Talisman—usually a focus device, possibly a protective device in some cases whether an amulet, ring or other item

Magic Series—Types & Varieties

One thing I’ve been considering with worldbuilding, specifically regarding magic, is the various broad types or varieties of magic. I’ve been primarily thinking in a historical perspective, but to some degree purely fictitious as well. The following is off the top of my head, so is clearly not a comprehensive collection by any means. It is simply my attempt to categorize or classify different types of magic sources in fairly broad terms.

 I will try to avoid certain words commonly associated with magic—ex. sorcery, witchcraft, wizardry—because they are very imprecise and are often used both interchangeably and for a variety of different magics.

 Ad Hoc

My general terminology for magics that use rituals made up on the spot. In these cases, often the rituals are never the same twice as they are based on what the mage feels is right at the time. Terry Pratchett’s witches are a good fiction example, particularly the witches as depicted in the Aching books.

 Alchemy

Historically, alchemy is a mix of mysticism, natural philosophy, and early scientific testing. For these purposes, I include any magic that gets its power from mixing ingredients to produce elixirs—whether potions, pills, or unguents—or chemistry, metallurgy, or related magical products. This can take the form of the laboratory (whether “traditional” magic lab or modern), the herbalist working in a hut or open fire, or the brewer/vintner mixing special ingredients into beers and wines to make magic drinks.

 Astrology

Historically, the study of the stars and planets to determine the future and predict the fates of individuals. Usually found the same way in fiction. One of the most famous astrologers in history was Dr. John Dee of England; and the practice was banned in England during Elizabeth I’s reign due to the succession question, predicting the queen’s death was a capital offense.

 Blood Magic

Quite possibly one of the earliest forms of magic in history, blood and magic have been associated for millennia. According to some, blood can provide energy to fuel spells; to others, it can be used to control the person it came from. To many cultures it was believed to be one of the most potent forms of magic.

 Chi (or Ki)

The power of chi is the foundation of all wuxia stories and movies. This internal energy is, in the stories, most often harnessed through martial practice. Control of the body coming from martial arts leads to control of the mind and the inner energy. This is most famously channeled to great physical feats—strength, leaps, even a form of flight—or healing.

 Divine

In some cases, the source of magic is the gods. Divine magic often relies on maintaining the deity’s or deities’ mandates and goodwill. Falling out of favor with the divine leads to removal of magical power. Some uses limit divine magic to healing, other uses restrict the mage to spells associated with the god’s areas of influence.

 Elemental

According to many traditions, there is magic inherent in the elements. Traditionally these are air, earth, fire, and water in the west and Hinduism; earth, fire, metal, water, wood in much of Asia. Often a sample of the element is necessary to invoke the magic, but not always.

 Gem Magic

Based on the idea that gemstones possess magical potential, this category of magic draws power and spells from the stones. Each stone is held to have different properties and associations that it can be used for, ex. amethysts as protection from poison. Often, I refer to this group as lithomancy. It appears regularly in history in many cultures as well as in fiction, MZB’s Darkover books have a variation, for instance.

 Hermetic

I use the term hermetic here both in reference to its use in history (the Hermetic Order of the Golden Dawn) and because of a background with White Wolf’s Mage: the Ascension. This type of magic emphasizes ritual, specifically exact, repeated ritual. In a way, I suppose it is akin to alchemy in that it is relatively scientific with the idea that performing the same ritual, speaking the same words, moving the same way will produce the same magical result every time. It’s the opposite of Ad Hoc magic in its exactitude. Often it involves the “Laws of Magic” idea, ex. Law of Contagion, Law of Similarity, etc.

 Kabbalistic

Magic for fans of spreadsheets and flow charts. The Kabbalistic view of magic involves potentially hundreds of variables including the position of stars, the sun, phase of the moon, locations of metaphysical planes, associations of magical materials with said planes or the subject or the caster, proper words, and proper ritual. There’s a very good systematization of this magic in the old third edition GURPS Cabal book, spreadsheets not included.

Ley Line

Magic that draws on ley lines, which I sometimes refer to as geomancy, for power. This is, obviously, a fairly common magic view in history and the modern world as it still has adherents. Power is drawn from the lines, and greater power from nodes (the places where lines cross; the more lines, the more power). Some believe ley lines are an element of dowsing, among a variety of other things. A variation is used by Robert Asprin in the M.Y.T.H. Inc. series.

 Psychic

Psychic magic draws on internal, mental energy to fuel magic. We commonly associate this with divination, fortune telling, clairvoyance, telekinesis, psychometry, precognition, scrying, and related abilities. As we can tell in many places, psychic magic appears often in history and the modern world, psychics and mentalists were a dime a dozen at one time and are still moderately popular for entertainment purposes.

 Sex Magic

Alongside blood magic, sex magic is perhaps one of the oldest in the world. Associations of sex and magic go back millennia and can be found in Tantric beliefs (famously) as well as Mesopotamian beliefs and branches of Taoism, Paganism, and Buddhism at the very least. Even some more esoteric branches of Christianity, particularly Gnostic Christianity, have embraced the concept. In modern fiction, it is often used to fuel other spells, initiate scrying and divination, or create magical bonds between individuals.

 Sigil (or Word) Magic

Another very old magic, the idea that words and symbols have magical powers is ancient. We have records of spells and curses from ancient Greece and Rome, for instance, that are still extant and symbols in Celtic sites that seem to have magical purpose along with Norse and Saxon rune magic. Perhaps the four most common uses are varieties of blessings, curses, protection, and reading the future. I also include tattoo magic, inscribing magical sigils/words on the body, in this broad category.

 Spirit (or Ghost) Magic

Magic that involves natural spirits or spirits of the dead would fall into this category. I include both necromancy—attempts to contact, acquire information from, and protection from the dead—and shamanism—attempts to call upon natural spirits to bless, curse, or heal—in this group. Modern conceptions of necromancy—raising the dead, creating undead hordes—would also be included. Jonathan Stroud’s Bartimaeus trilogy is a great fictional example of this magic, as is Book 11 of the Odyssey in which Odysseus calls upon the spirits of the dead for information.

 Tree Magic

In the Western world, tree magic is most closely associated with the Celts. They held the view that various kinds of trees, and other plants (ex. ivy), held magical properties. Use of the specific plant could bring about magical effects associated with the plant(s) involved, much like gem magic using plants instead. The Celts also used symbols that represented the trees in some cases. I have seen some things that associate tree magic with the Romany as well, but I haven’t been able to confirm this as yet.

Edit (8 July 2016)
Forgot Music Magic, but thinking it could be considered an effect or variation on Ad Hoc or Hermetic, depending on how it is used.

Magic Series—Mythic, Legendary, Historical, Folkloric

After thinking a bit, I’ve decided to do a five part (at this time) series of posts regarding different aspects and thoughts on magic. In part, this was inspired by recently reading Qiguang Zhao’s work on dragons and partially because I’ve been looking for a fairly comprehensive source on types or varieties of magic and haven’t been able to find what I’m looking for. So, I’ll create one.

 In Zhao’s A Study of Dragons, East and West, he divided Eastern dragons into four categories, including mythic, legendary, and folkloric. This got me thinking about a similar breakdown for magic.

 For this post, I’ll classify approaches to magic as: mythological (including theological), legendary, historical, folkloric, and fictive (e.g. modern fiction).

 Mythological

Most mythological and theological magic is about divinities. That is, the magic originates with divine beings. Given that myths themselves are focused on divine beings, this makes a certain sense. Zeus brings his siblings back from being eaten by slaying his father, hurls lightning bolts, and changes his form as desired—into a bull, sunshine, the appearance of a mortal. Odin gives up his eye to learn the runes and their related magic. Freyr oversees the seiðr, often healing magic. Monkey King changes size and form, cloudwalks, and a whole host of other powers. Christ changes water to wine, walks on water, and self-resurrects. Most of the Greek & Roman gods change the forms of mortals, ex. Ovid’s Metamorphoses.

 Included here are the magic devices, usually loaned to mortals. These almost always originate with the gods. Hephestus creates most of the magic items used by the other gods, demigods, and mortals of Greek myth. All the great magic devices in Celtic culture are owned by the gods.

 This can also include the monstrous magic, such as Medusa and the Chinese demons.

 Legendary

In the legends, magic is most often used as plot devices. I’m thinking of Merlin and the Arthurian legends in general here, mostly because of my own background of knowledge. Often, legendary magic is considered negative or evil when used as spells—ex. Morgaine or Spenser’s Archimago. However, it becomes positive when it appears as devices and other items that help the hero—ex. Excalibur, Yvain’s ring of invisibility (Chretien de Troyes). But, there are exceptions to both, such as Merlin and Sigurd, whose ring is cursed to bring about his downfall but who is also magically able to understand the speech of animals (after accidentally eating dragon blood).

 Historical

I think in many ways the historical perspective is more focused on practicality. This is a classification I use for how people in the past believed magic worked. Included here are alchemists, astrologers, werewolves, and witches. This is the creation of elixirs, including the elixir of life, rune magic, and shapeshifting. It is the magic of potions to cure afflictions, curses against one’s enemies, blessings upon one’s children or herds, protections from malign magics (ex. horseshoes), and human to animal shape-changing. It is the realm of Celtic ogham (tree associated) magic and entrail reading divination, Chinese I-Ching and Feng Shui and spirit magic, Roman written magics (ex. curses, of which many are extant), Greek divinations and oracles, and Aztec blood sacrifice and nahuatl shape-shifting.

 Folkloric

This is the magic of fairy tale and folklore. It often works in a fashion similar to historical and also often comes from witches or supernatural non-human creatures (ex. goblins, fae, brownies). This magic typically violates the laws of reality, relates to the acquisition of wealth (which may vanish in the sun), and deceive. This magic is most concerned with the physics and rules of the story, in fact it does follow a certain logic and conform to certain rules—Rumpelstiltskin’s binding magical deal, the Law of Threes, the trade of a good deed for a wish. This is the magic of Jack’s gold egg laying goose and magic harp. This is the magic of Rapunzel’s witch.

 Fictive/Modern

In modern fantasy, magic tends to be systematic. Orson Scott Card, for instance, even goes so far as to state that the most important part of fantasy worldbuilding is understanding the laws, the rules, the system of magic. Many magic systems used in modern fiction are based on myth, legend, history, or folklore, or all of them. Generally, though, they are translated through the lens of the scientific era that classifies, systematizes, and attempts to understand the underlying rules. J.K. Rowling—with her focus on wands, gestures, and magic words—is a good example in which certain forms are required and all spells are classified into certain categories, at least for educational purposes. Steven Brust does this, differently, as well in that Dragaera has sorcery (manipulation of chaos energy, amorphia, though the Orb), witchcraft (a form of psychic energy), and psychics. Jim Butcher pulls this form, applied to a variety of legendary (fae courts), mythic, and historic (wizards) forms of magic.

Post-Apocalyptic Urban Fantasy

Hmm, I’m thinking about this again, as I write a story for the Tower setting. Or maybe it’s for a post-apocalyptic urban fantasy setting. Or is it?

Heh.

 Anyway, I’ve been thinking about this style of setting recently, specifically what I like about it. In context, I’ve been developing the Tower setting (straight urban fantasy) and mucking about with a couple others—secondary fantasy and Earth-urban fantasy—and not really finding what I’m looking for in the others. Then I began to mess around with post-apocalyptic fantasy.

A lot of what I’m thinking about is somewhat similar to Ilona Andrews’s Kate Daniels series, her post-apocalyptic Atlanta, GA. Basically, in that setting magic has returned to the Earth after several thousand years. However, this didn’t happen all at once but rather has been happening in ebbing waves over 30+ years and is still on-going. Eventually, magic will completely take over and return, causing technology to completely stop. In the meantime, there are tech times and magic times.

 Most of these settings that I can recall are similar, in that the action takes place relatively soon after the magic causes apocalyptic-style events. The Shadowrun RPG-verse comes to mind as well, also about 30-40 years post-magic (according to the 2nd edition version at least).

I like this sort of setting for a few reasons. First, it allows for whatever tech level the writer desires from stone age to advanced, depending on how magic interacts with technology. Second, it can allow the creation of what amounts to a secondary world that can still reference Earth cultures and backgrounds. Third, for an open magic world (versus hidden magic), history doesn’t have to be rewritten. Only the events after the magic event need to be recorded because all the prior history is the same as our world (or can be), we don’t have to worry about how viable, working magic affected WWII or the Cold War. Those just happened as is, though we do need to figure out what happened between, say, 2016, when the event occurred, and today. That might only be a couple generations, a couple years, or even a couple centuries.

For what I’m playing with right now, I’ve set the Event as occurring about 150 years prior to the present. So, things have more or less settled down, multiple generations have been raised with magic and non-humans, new governments have formed, and all that stuff. Sort of like turning Earth into a secondary fantasy world, with random tech levels and magi-tech.

 I’m hoping it will work out well and prove interesting for me, possible readers, and the characters who just arrived there.

The Tower Conception

After the last couple weeks, I thought I’d talk a bit about the conception and early development of one of my current projects. This one has been taking most of my writing time lately, I suppose enough to call it my primary focus for the time being.

 The setting’s working title is simply “The Tower” for the focal element.

 The Tower was conceived during a point when I was frustrated with Lev Grossman while reading The Magicians. It was a point when I was rather fed up with what I dubbed “Harry Potter for nihilists”. At that stage, the setting was intended to only be a single location. It was not intended to expand. And Earth, although connected, was meant to be nothing more than some relatively vague development that was present as window dressing and a place that characters came from.

 The idea was a magical education facility attached to Earth, but not on Earth. Which brought the question: why? Why? Because training in certain kinds of magic is deemed too dangerous to be undertaken on Earth—they’re safe to use on Earth, by trained individuals, but the training process itself has too much potential for disaster (including property damage and damage to the magical community’s concealment from mundane humans).

 That sort of developed the basic world idea and some other elements.

 I wasn’t entirely certain what, if anything, to do with the setting, except build it as a thought experiment.

 Then I started thinking about magic school stories. It occurred to me that I haven’t seen anyone take a magic school from the perspective of the faculty. I suspect this is because of the shared experience idea. Everyone’s been a student at some point, so we’ve all shared that experience. Fewer people have formal teaching experience, so the experience is less widely shared, less relatable.

 That just bounced around in my head for a while, vaguely with no real formation or concrete feel to it.

 A few days, maybe a week, later I was doing some chores around the house, washing dishes I think. The relatively mindless activity let my mind wander around random stuff. Somewhere during that load of dishes, an introductory lecture on the nature of magic in the world popped into my head. I suspect I was thinking about the world’s magic system and how it worked. Long story short, I wrote down the lecture (290 words), kept going, and somehow expanded that lecture into a scene, the scene acquired a plot, and the whole thing is currently over 4700 words with a 23,500 word incomplete world build.

Race in F/SF, Some Thoughts

In the on-going mess of projects, the issue or question of race has come up repeatedly, given the fantasy and sci-fi genres. For some writers, many writers actually, the issue of race or species can be a problematic one to deal with. On one hand, we have the issues of race in the real world that influence how we deal with race in fiction, even among elves, dwarfs, Klingons, and Twileks. Additionally, the question and issue of biological determinism rears its ugly head in these cases.

 A classic example of real world race issues merging into the fictional is J.K. Rowling’s work, in which the goblins introduce issues of negative Jewish stereotypes and the house elves bring concerns of slavery that reflect the colonial era enslavement of Africans.

 Biological determinism has its clearest example in J.R.R. Tolkien. This is actually one of Terry Pratchett’s critiques of Tolkien—the elves are inherently (biologically) good regardless of their actions, the orcs are inherently evil regardless of their actions. Neither can change, ever; there are no evil elves and no good orcs, ever.

 The inclusion of real world race issues can be a strong element of fiction. However, it can also be a minefield unless handled carefully and with a significant amount of research. Cultural appropriation can occur, versus cultural appreciation. Which can lead to issues of conscious or unconscious (systemic) racism coming out or appearing to be present.

 On the other hand, biological determinism often leads to flat, generalized, and boring species and characters. For example, I suspect that one reason R.A. Salvatore’s character Drizzt is very popular (annoyingly so) is that he breaks the mold, he is not typical for his species. In other words, he violates biological determinism. Of course, because of his popularity, he is no longer unique or even uncommon (every other drow is a “good guy” rebelling against “evil” drow society anymore).

 Despite these potentially problematic concerns, I think species/races are useful in the fantasy and sci-fi genres.

 In sci-fi, they are especially useful for thought experiments and cultural experiments. They can be employed to play with different kinds of cultures or to examine particular elements of the writer’s home culture. Gene Roddenberry’s Vulcans and Klingons are good examples that also create a juxtaposition against the Federation’s culture. And, of course, virtually every sci-fi species is made up more or less from scratch.

 Conversely, most fantasy species draw on Earth’s deep body of folklore, legend, and myth. Non-humans were originally used to represent outsiders and foreigners, whether outcasts (werewolves) or strangers halfway around the world (sciopodes). Today, I think they are fun to play with, to subvert or toy with the old stories and assumptions, to create new variations. And some of those assumptions are based on the genre itself. For instance, Rowling’s house elves are excellent because they simultaneously reflect European folklore traditions of brownies and other household fae while subverting our Tolkien-esque expectations regarding elves in fantasy literature—instead of being tall, beautiful, majestic, lords of nature they’re small, servile, and decidedly urban.

 For my work on the Tower world, I’m playing with idea of a single species urban fantasy (in this case mages). Other species once existed but are now extinct, on Earth at least. Each of those other species is rooted in Earth’s folklore and legend—from djinn to dwarves, fae to werebeasts. According to the dominant surviving species (mages), they couldn’t adapt. According to their descendants (mixed with humanity, four species), they were victims of mage-instigated genocide, and their descendants are in hiding both from humans and mages.

Magic Revisited: Symbol vs. Tool

Lately, I’ve been working on several projects including posting things here. These include:

 Company Earth/Section 15—An urban fantasy worldbuild and story (about 2400 words, middle of chapter 2)

Kingshaven—An urban fantasy piece (about 2730 words, starting chapter 2)

Great Covenant—An urban fantasy worldbuild

Eight Cities—A fantasy worldbuild connected to the Great Covenant Earth

Kindred Spirit—A fantasy worldbuild and story (about 13,250 words, starting chapter 8)

The Tower—An urban fantasy worldbuild and story (about 1900 word scene)

 I list these here mostly because I’ve been looking up a lot, and thinking, about magic again lately. These six settings all use magic differently to one degree or another. Some are more different than others, whether at a fundamental level or a more superficial level.

 Symbolic Magic versus Magic as a Tool

I’ve come across a variety of blogs and writer (sadly didn’t save any of them) who argue that all magic must have a cost, whether in terms of fatigue or something more significant (life?). Others have suggested that magic should symbolize something, or be a character unto itself.

 An alternate view, and one I prefer, is the idea that magic is simply a tool. In this set up, magic is ultimately no different than a hammer or sword, regardless of how one actually performs the magic. I suppose one reason I like it is that there is still significant room for variation and playing with the idea, and at the same time there is no inherent moral or other symbolic element. And it can still have a cost.

 Rowling presents a good example of this method in which magic, while an important element of her world, is little more than a tool and has a cost, albeit a minor one, in the form of learning time, and sometimes fatigue (or more, as shown in Deathly Hallows with Voldemort’s blood sacrifice protection and the horcruxes).

 High Magic versus Low Magic

As I’ve been working on the settings above, I’ve become interested in this idea. In short, the concept is that there are two (or more) layers of magic: low and high. These can have internal layers as well. So, low magic would be simple, basic magics; the hedge magic or hedge witch idea. It could be roughly equivalent to a secondary school education or an apprentice in a trade. On the other hand, high magics would be advanced, potentially superior (and more costly) magics. They are special, powerful, and require extra training. Perhaps only a certain percentage of the magical community undertakes the necessary education, roughly equivalent to modern grad school or a master in a trade.

 I like this concept because it brings in the idea of abilities and knowledge hidden (because of danger, power, or some other reason) from the majority of mages. In a way it is also somewhat realistic, in that the master or grad degree holder has a higher degree of knowledge and information, or tricks, than the apprentice or high school graduate.

 Old Magics versus New Magics

Another concept I’ve been playing with is old versus new magics, or different ages for different magics. In my own thinking, this has mostly been an evolutionary track, but it could also take the form of lost magics or a host of other possibilities. And the different magics could exist concurrently in the modern era.

 Older magic could be taken as more raw in terms of power or involving less control. Alternatively, the old magics could be potentially more precise and stronger (in a form of declining magical arts). Meanwhile, new magics could be more precise, though perhaps weaker and/or more specialized. Trudi Canavan plays with this idea to a certain extent with her Black Magician trilogy (lost, powerful magic). Esther Friesner works with evolved, rarefied modern magic in Split Heirs. Steven Brust also plays with the concept in the Dragaera books with the differences between raw, powerful, uncontrolled Elder Sorcery and modern sorcery. Ilona Andrews does as well with the Kate Daniels series, through the title character and her father’s family.

 Raw Power versus Skill/Control

I’ve also been thinking about differentiating raw power from control. An individual may have a phenomenal amount of potential power, but little to no control (at least initially); such as the Skywalker clan, supposedly. On the other hand, someone could have great skill and knowledge, but very little raw power. Canavan suggests this possibility throughout her series as well.

 Power Generation versus Spellcasting

If energy is being used by the magician, there is also the question of how power is generated, acquired, or replenished. Some work with ambient absorption, a sort of unconscious recharge based on rest and time (Canavan uses this as do others). Others involve active rituals and even sacrifice (also appears in Canavan, via bloodletting).

 Sometimes, there are magics that exist solely to provide energy and power for the caster—blood sacrifice, organ consumption, draining magic items, tantric magic—while other magics are involved in actual spellcasting, e.g. creating effects with that power. This is something I’ve been playing with to an extent as well. Allyson James’s Stormwalker series seems to use this idea to some extent, ex. sex magic appears to be used solely for the purpose of powering other magics, whether already in place or cast during the act (ref. Stormwalker in which Janet and Mick reinforce her wards on the hotel).

 Enchanting versus Enchantment

There is also an interesting, not really confusion but multiple uses of the term enchantment. Traditionally, enchantment refers to mind affecting magics. Since at least the early days of D&D, enchantment can also refer to the creation of magically imbued items, e.g. enchanted items. I think much of the issue here comes from the real lack of definitive usage of terminology, both historically and in modern usage. This is true, in its own way, of virtually all terminology related to magic—e.g. sorcery, wizardry, magic, witchcraft, necromancy—that are, in some cases, used interchangeably, or for multiple things.

 To clarify this, some have referred to the creation of magic items as “artifice”. However, that term also refers to trickery, cunning, and deception. Recently, I’ve been favoring “crafting”, as in “He carried several Crafted items” or “She was a master of Crafting” versus enchantment (for mind affecting magics).

 Props versus No Props

Some writers, bloggers, and readers believe that all magic should involve complication. This can include the use of rituals, special words, or other devices that make it showy for the story—Rowling’s use of wands, for instance. Others, less commonly, prefer to employ sheer willpower for magic, with little to no “showiness” (Canavan). Some mix a variety of things—Brust, for whom most Dragaeran sorcery requires a simple thought, but witchcraft requires ritual, and advanced sorcery sometimes requires materials, psychic abilities work . . . differently.

 Props certainly limit the usage of magic, but whether props are effective or needed varies widely by world and writer.

When Genres Collide: Mixing Tropes and Styles

I’m shamelessly ripping off part of the title from an old SFRA conference name.

I’ve been working on two small, focused worldbuilds lately, taking a break from the massive multiverse builds and getting back to basics. In the process, I’ve been thinking more than a little about cross-genre writing and exploration. Obviously, this is something that’s been around for a while, at least the last thirty years, probably more. After all, Ray Bradbury preferred people to consider his writing fantasy (including The Martian Chronicles) rather than science fiction, despite the obvious sci-fi elements and lack of “traditionally” fantasy ones. And Fritz Leiber wrote in almost every genre imaginable, with a few crossovers in his Lankhmar stories (notably with Lovecraftian horror), roughly 80 years ago.

On one hand, I like genres. They certainly serve a purpose. They give readers a sense of what to expect from a story, they make marketing and advertising easier, and all that stuff. On the other hand, it’s also fun to see and think about cross-genre writing. C.J. Cherryh’s Morgaine and Hammerfall books spring to mind alongside John De Chancie’s Castle Perilous and even Robert Asprin’s MYTH books.

And, really, virtually all fiction is cross-genre. Lord of the Rings mixes epic fantasy and fairy tale; Harry Potter combines urban fantasy, epic, and mystery; Artemis Fowl mingles urban YA fantasy with action/adventure/spy; the Southern Vampire series mixes urban fantasy, southern lit, chick lit, romance, mystery, and horror.

Right now, I’m at the point of considering a high/urban fantasy and space opera mix. In a way something like secondary world Harry Potter grown up meets Firefly or Stargate (once I figure a few things out) with a dash of MYTH (without the humor and punnage). I’m still letting the broad strokes stew, poring over some fine points, while wrapping up a straight urban fantasy setting.

Regardless, I find cross-genre work very interesting, when done well. As with anything, when it’s not thought through or just slapped together, it tends to fall flat. Mixing the tropes and styles gives birth to some fun, new things as the synthesis of genres creates something rather different from its ancestors.

Confessions of an English PhD

I hold a B.A. in English, an M.A. in English Language and Literature, and a PhD in English Language and Literature. My specialties are officially medieval, early modern (Renaissance), and speculative fiction literature. My confession: I think most “great literature” is awful.

Chaucer, I like. But, I prefer Marie de France, Chretien de Troyes, the Gawain-poet, and several anonymous writers. Beowulf, I enjoy.

I read Shakespeare and think he’s important to look at for his influence. However, I don’t particularly care for him. There are others from the era that I like better.

I don’t see why Hardy, Dumas, Hemingway, Steinbeck, and scores of other canonical “great” writers are considered so great. I don’t think it’s because I’m not smart or knowledgable enough, after all I read Beowulf in the original Anglo-Saxon.

That said, there are classics I enjoy: Poe, Dickens, Wright, Bierce. But, they are pretty few and far between after the 16th century.

I’m much happier reading, researching, writing about current genre greats, or those I consider to be great or even good. Quite frankly, I’ll take Pratchett, Rowling, Heinlein, Gaiman, or Brust over Dumas any day and I’m not ashamed to say it.