Magic as an Object

I’ve noticed lately that whenever I read about magic, I either like it, fail to notice it (this can be a good, er, reaction, as it is a sort of applause to subtlety), or it’s amazingly intrusive. Or fakey.

How does that last thing happen? How do we so often get this incredibly gimmicky magic that just looks overblown and ridiculous?

Sometimes I think that we objectify things in order to better grasp them, if you’ll forgive the pun. We don’t really “get” magic, so we make it as like something we understand as we can.  I think that a lot of people who write fiction seem to see magic as something that can be held, stolen, or thrown.

Not overall, of course. I’ve seen all kinds of stuff involving rituals, tradition, components. All this stuff that implies mysticism and training. But there’s just as much usage in media that implies magic is intangible.

Perhaps faith in something else (a cause, a religion, etc.) gives one a better context with which to believe or at least pretend and create an intangible force. Maybe that’s part of why the Jedi turned into the Presbyterian Church. (click the link and look at the picture before you get mad. This is a referential joke.)

A lot of amateur fiction and most definitely JRPGs (maybe other RPGs too) have big displays of power that, if anything, merely nod towards the idea of what casting might actually mean. You see a character mumble to themselves, and then they toss a fireball.

Maybe that’s where magic as an object started. Tossing fireballs.

In RPGs, magic is treated with as much logic as any other big, ridiculous skill. The character poses, maybe something that alludes to the preparation and ceremony of casting, and then we have a small animation of poof-y magic happening. It doesn’t have to be explained–in fact, the few times I have seen the story try to explain magic, it’s ultimately been disappointing.

Magic probably shouldn’t be something so physical, even with physical action that is supposed to be purely symbolic. I’m not trying to tell anyone how to write it, and I’m certainly not saying that it’s a real force that must be treated with respect or something. But its lost mysticism is a bit sad. Here is this force that a good writer could grab back from all the hackneyed fantasy scribblings, and turn into something wholly unknowable. Return to the wizards their ineffability and pomp.

It’s kind of funny saying this when I myself am working on a story where use of magic is a talent not all that unlike singing, and its application is incredibly utilitarian, with methods and concepts that are well-explored in ways similar to how we have explained the physics of our real world.

But it’s still weird to read a story where a character treats their magic like an object or even a sentient being. Maybe I’m just having a hard time with my recent reads.

…I wrote this in 750 words and then spent about three hours trying to edit it and hold a conversation at the same time. I’m just going to post it and hope it makes sense. If it doesn’t, then someone else can write it better.



3 thoughts on “Magic as an Object

  1. Pingback: Shattered waters, shattered magic | Pioneers of the Shattered Waters

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