It’s the first Wednesday of the month again, time for a post for the Insecure Writer’s Support Group.
I’m not going to answer this month’s optional question. Instead, I’m going to write about my preferred genre. I’m a speculative fiction writer, so all my stories are either science fiction or fantasy. In most fantasy stories – mine or written by other writers – magic is always close to the surface. Something is always happening because of magic.
Admittedly, magic isn’t necessary confined to fantasy fiction. It exists in our everyday lives as well, and in our mundane vocabulary, magic is always a good word. Consider these well-known idioms: magic moment, magic touch, magic show, work your magic, and the most popular – magic word.
But in a fantasy land, magic has a different connotation. In fantasy stories, magic is a force only magicians can wield. Have you ever wondered what those idioms might mean to a magician from a fantasy novel? I have and I asked a magician, Eriale, the heroine of my novel Almost Adept (now out of print). Below are her definitions of the idioms that include the word magic.
Magic word – that is a metaphor. There are no magical words except ‘please’ and ‘thank you’, and there is no real magic involved, just politeness.
Magic touch – this is usually reserved for small magic. When I need to heat the water for my bath, I touch the water and infuse it with energy through the touch. The water warms up. When I need to coat a wood splinter with an illusion, to make it look like something else, I touch it, apply my magic through the touch, and voila, it looks like a feather or a knife or a spoon. But such a spoon couldn’t be used for eating, of course, or the knife for cutting. Only the appearance changes.
Magic show – a show created by using magic. For example, fireworks displays in the sky during Midwinter celebrations or visual storytelling on birthdays. My father is excellent with visual storytelling. He uses distinct illusion spells for every character involved in a story. Children love his shows. When I was a child, my favorite illusionary character was a cricket spy, a very tricky little lad. I haven’t mastered this kind of magic yet. I can do fireworks displays, of course, but visual storytelling is a very delicate and precise application of magic. It requires lots of patience and practice.
Work your magic – means exactly that. When a client needs something done with magic, he would hire a magician and say: “Work your magic.” It could be applied to sending messages, or checking food for poison, or screening patrons in a gaming house, or changing the weather.
Magic price – is what a magician pays for working magic. Magic is energy generated by a magician’s body. Anything that can be done without magic can be done with magic, and the magician applying it pays the price. For example, if you want to carry a cargo to the other side of the country, you can do it using a horse and a wagon. And lots of time. Or you can employ a mage to transport your cargo. The horse would spend energy pulling the wagon. It would need to eat and sleep to replenish its strength. So would a drover. A mage is no different. He compacts the time and space needed for transportation, and he uses the same amount of energy for the same job, but he pulls this energy out of himself. Of course, mages are always hungry and tired after working magic. If they are not careful and overextend their magic, they could faint or even die. Sometimes, when there is no choice and many lives are at stake, a magician might work too much magic and burn his own magic; cripple himself to save others. It doesn’t happen often, but I read about a few such cases. Those magicians were heroes. They sacrificed themselves for the good of all.
Below is a snippet of a dialog on the subject Eriale has with another character from the novel, Kealan.
“What if a mage wants to use more magic than his body generates?” Kealan asked.
“He can’t.” Eriale’s expression clouded. “Unless he resorts to blood magic. Then he can, if he extracts the energy from the pain and death of others. It’s easy magic, but…it’s dirty. Blood magic corrupts a mage’s soul.” She shivered. “It makes me want to puke, like poison.” She hugged her knees and stared into the distance.
“Sorry I asked.” Kealan didn’t like her looking so forlorn. He thought of a distraction. “What if something can’t be done without magic? Like turning a man into an animal? Is it possible with magic?”
“Why?” Eriale snickered. “Do you want to turn someone into a frog?”
“No. I heard a rumor that some crazy mage at the royal court turned a duke into a goat. I thought it was a hoax. They were just pulling my leg, right?”
“Ah.” She kept silent for so long, he wasn’t sure she would answer at all. At last, she stirred. “You can transform one living being into another, but it’s a very complicated spell and a brutal one,” she said quietly. “It takes lots of power and lots of knowledge. You have to learn every detail of the anatomy of your original creature and the target creature. Otherwise, you’ll create a monster. And the overall masses of both creatures should be the same. You can’t turn a man into a tiny frog. Where would the extra mass go? Unless you want a frog the size of a man.”
Kealan grunted. His imagination leaped into overdrive, visualizing a possible result of such a transformation. “A frog the size of a man. Should be charming.”
She giggled. “There’s another solution. I could use a transportation spell. You know, find a frog in a nearby pond, transport the man there and the frog here. It’s a kind of a switcheroo. Done properly, it only takes a moment. For a bystander, it would look like a transformation, but it’s a trick, really.”
What about other genres? Do you know other genre-specific words that have different meaning in the genre books than on our mundane lives?