Magic, it appears (and disappears, so don’t blink or you’ll miss it) has rules.
I’m not going to list all the rules of magic that exist specifically for writers of fantasy that I’ve encountered. Far too tedious. This is about the one rule with which I have issue: the cost of magic.
This ‘rule’ states that the user of magic must pay a price for wielding that magic, that magic itself will forcibly take its toll by sapping the user’s energy or vitality or lifespan.
No kidding? I’d always kinda regarded that as a given.
But to imply that working magic is more taxing than any other activity, like — giving birth? Or making it through the elimination rounds in a fencing tournament? Or scaling K2? Or competing in the Iditarod, or a pentathlon? How about doing your taxes, or earning a masters degree, or putting a human being on the Moon and bringing him back in one piece, or dealing with the mind-numbing bureaucracy of — well, you get the idea.
This bugs me. Why? Because damn near all human endeavors demand a price. Why should the wielding of magic be any different?
“But studying magic is so haaarrrrd!”
Oh, good grief. Try that whine at any formally trained symphonic musician, and see what kind of sympathetic noises you get.
“But there’s so much at stake to get the magic rrriiiiight!”
Tell that to the surgeon who’s been dragged out of bed at 4 a.m. to do an emergency four-way bypass on someone you love.
Yes, I know magic is the stuff of fiction. But I can’t care about or respect any character wielding it if he/she insists on being a superficially tragic martyr with it.
The ‘rule’ that magic must have a price, that there are folks out there who insist that this is magic and that this is not — because it doesn’t jive with their consensus — disturbs me.
Like I said, my issue.
If other writers want to obey those rules, that’s cool. For them.
But I’m perplexed. Magic — in this context being an imaginary concept in imaginary settings that have imaginary laws of physics, and wielded by imaginary people for imaginary agendas — with all this potential that’s limited only by the imagination of the writer at the keyboard, has rules that I have to recognize and heed in my stories — as though it were grammar or punctuation or spelling?
Oh, no. No. I never joined that union. Never will.
Who made up these rules? And who’s going to enforce them, and by what power? A magical power? Don’t they know that will cost them? After all, Magic has a price. But if you watch for that flashing blue light, you might get it on sale.
So, after reading numerous fantasy novels wherein various characters deploy — or are afflicted by — this crazy little thing called “Magic”, I see I’ve no choice but to wing it, and make up any words I might need for the mystical systems of whats-its in my fantastical construct of a universe,…
… a universe that’s thankfully free of dragons, unicorns, and elves.
A bit of a rebel, I can’t allow anyone else to dictate the terms and limitations for the weird and the mystical in my stories. This isn’t some franchise I’m buying into,… it’s my own little collection of self-engineered figments.
Why should I let someone else have all that fun? My court, my ball, my game, my rules.
I can’t use the word ‘magic’ because, from my own experience and questioning, everyone has a different definition of the word. Whenever I hear the word ‘magic’, three things typically come to my mind — an RPG by that same name; geezers with pointy hats and glowing staffs or wands; and entertainers like David Copperfield and Lance Burton — none of which can convey what I need to convey to readers.
The words ‘magic’ and ‘magician’ are over-burdened with connotations that are useless to me. Were I to use words that conjure erroneous expectations in my stories, it might delight some. But it might offend others, inspiring them to come after me while shrieking, “You’re doing it wrong!”
Oh, please. And no thanks.
There’s no such thing as ‘magic’ in this universe of mine. The inhabitants don’t even have a word for it. And why should they?
But there’s something different, a mystical energy that readers will — hopefully — find just as intriguing. Yes, it demands a price. But what endeavor doesn’t?