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Wizards That Go Bump In The Night

February 16, 2013

It’s time to address magic in fantasy literature, and much can be learned from the world of Sword-and-Sorcery fiction. Many of the magicians and wizards of the modern fantasy genre have taken a turn where they are represented as kind and benevolent souls working for the good of the world they inhabit. As authors, we can, too easily, succumb to this type of thinking and forgot the unhealthy nature of magic and its ultimate end of perverting the natural order. Just the same as the paradox presented in time travel stories, the smallest act of magic changes the nature of destiny and re-orders the expected timeline of events. Rather than bore you with rehashed thoughts, I’ll let the following quote from C. L. Werner, author of the Warhammer series, speak on its own.

“There is a disease that is rampant in fantasy fiction where magic has become almost mundane. Wizards are hired to heat furnaces, or to run “flying carpet transit lines” and other such nonsense. Somewhere along the line, magic has become common, and many writers treat it as casually as a crime author might treat a handgun or a sci-fi author would treat a laser gun. Magic has become something that the fantasy author feels the reader will instantly accept, so he doesn’t need to explain it or really devote any time to describing it. This might work for a hyper-drive or artificial gravity in a sci-fi setting, but I think it is really diminutive when applied to magic. Sorcery should always be shrouded in mystery. It should always have a slightly sinister air about it. Even the most innocuous spells should make the skin crawl, should have a feeling of “wrongness” about them. I am reminded of Arthur Machen’s excellent stories and the very esoteric way he tried to describe true evil as a violation of reality – trying to force rocks to sing and the sky to bleed, that sort of thing. I think that same attitude could easily encompass magic – it is something that twists and warps reality and even at its most benevolent, magic should still be viewed as something of an abomination.

While on that subject, wizards themselves should be treated much like magic itself–always mysterious and with a sinister air about them. Men who pursue such studies are learning things that the human mind is probably better off not knowing. They should always be treated as eccentric at best, certainly not quite as “grounded” as normal people. Much like other supernatural forces, a wizard should always feel a bit “wrong;” even at his most benevolent he’s the sort of person who causes conversations to die and windows to slam shut.

I think it is these trappings of sinister mystery that really make a sorcerer stand out for the reader, much more-so than any world-shattering spells they might be called upon to cast every other chapter. Think about literary wizards like Gandalf or even Toth-Amon. They don’t really do anything immense with their spell-craft, yet they have been given such a vivid air of unspoken power in their descriptions and the way people react to them that they stand out as some of the greatest sorcerers in the genre.”

-C. L. Werner

Evening darling, little Harry Potter, who was cute-as-a-button when he was young, exhibits a darkening character as he matures and reveals an evil nature that is only constrained by the greatest of efforts. Voldemort recognizes Harry’s potential for great evil and hope’s to exploit it for his own gain. An all-good Harry would be unrealistic, not to mention boring, and without Potter’s internal conflict, there would be no story.

In Stone of Power, the second book in the Ashandor Chronicles, I am introducing wizards that have the feel of “wrongness” spoken of by Werner. Though they fight for the side of right, it is evident that their allegiance is tenuous, at best, and the overall character map is one of controlled evil that understands the power that is available, but chooses, for the present moment, to wield their art for the good of Ashandor. They have Werner’s “sinister air” and “make the skin crawl.”


Here is a quick scene with one of my wizards in the upcoming novel, Stone of Power. I’ve edited to remove any spoilers:

“I have killed thousands, boy,” he said. “Thousands upon thousands.” Toran no longer recognized the man standing before him. The magician’s aged appearance was fading, and the air crackled with an eerie light. The wizard’s face was aglow with an aura of horrifying power that shook Toran’s nerve. Fear swelled into each crevasse of the young boy’s mind, and everything that was sane shouted at him to flee from the presence of this unspeakable terror.

“No matter the reason,” said the frightening magus, his now-deep voice seeming to echo from the forest wall, “I have stolen something from them that they can never reclaim. For an even greater multitude, I have directed their thoughts and molded the paths of their lives. In that, I have taken away the one thing every creature deserves – free will.”

He surged forward, and Toran stumbled back, landing in a cloud of dust. The wizard leaned close over the young boy.

“No man who meets me can ever know, from that day forward, if he is the author of his thoughts, if the path he follows is of his own making, or if his destiny is nothing more than the whim of my imaginings. That, Toran,” he whispered, “is the worst evil imaginable.”


Is it time to return our wizards to the status of formidable power with dark leanings? Are our magicians more memorable when they cause “conversations to die and windows to slam shut?”

Post your comments below and let us know what you think.

From → Art and Craft

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