There’s an odd debate within the fantasy circles. Okay, another odd debate. Let’s face it, people. Fantasy readers and authors will go to war over how a world should work, the use of elves, rate of character death, and whatever else you got. This one is about magic and the characters that use it. I’m not counting holy magic that comes from gods because that is already designated to priests. This is all about arcane casting.
It’s hard to get into this topic because there are so many facets of it. The truth is that nobody is really wrong too. It all depends on the world and how the author designs the magic system. You might disagree with their decisions, but it doesn’t make the world wrong. Here are the more common battles on this subject:
- Man Versus Woman– Somewhere along the line, people began creating systems where magic was only done by women. A male spellcaster was designated to villain corrupted by his power, a freak of nature, or totally inept. I think part of this stems from how female characters grew out of the ‘damsel’ role. Magic gave them power without changing their physical limitations, which slowly evolved into it being their new role while men held onto the warrior status. I don’t like either thing because I prefer magic (and combat training) to be open to all genders. It’s rarely made clear why only women do magic in books, so I would recommend giving an explanation if you decide to go this route.
- No Humans!– Most stories have a human as the main hero. Some authors have taken the approach of letting them keep this role and sacrificing the use of magic. Elves and various creatures get to cast spells while humans are designated the more ‘primitive’ race with their weapons. As with a male wizard in a ‘female magic only’ world, a human with magic in one of these worlds gets the role of villain or heroic freak. Many times the existence of magic is at risk or it’s going to return to humans. That’s one of the issues with very restrictive magic systems. They tend to take a chunk of the plot in order to justify or explain them. If not then the magic is more of a novelty for a supporting character and/or villain. Again, just my opinion.
- Lineage Systems– Another method of spellcasting in fantasy is the lineage. In these worlds, magic is handed down through specific bloodlines. The origins of these can be anything from ancient deals with gods to they come from a time where magic was common. Of course that magic is probably what caused the world to become less magical. Anyway, you can put a character like this in any role because lineage doesn’t always mean skilled. You can have the embarrassment to the family, the evil child, and the heroic last of the bloodline. Authors use this system to limit the magic and reserve it for special characters/situations. It’s a safe system too because it’s easily built into the world and a reader will accept it. After all, you either have it in your blood or you don’t. Can’t argue with that.
- Who Can Use Magic Items?– Now, I have it that anybody can use a magic item if they know how. Some have activation words or rituals or specific situations while others require that you touch them. Those that are easy to use tend to be simple like enchanted pots for cooking or a simple dagger of force. Yet, there are worlds where only specific people can use the items. There are varying degrees from only those who have the knowledge to people from a specific bloodline. One type that I never understood is when all magic items can only be used by wizards who already have their own magic. I tend to see magic items as a way of giving non-spellcasters a chance to combat a wizard. A knight is doomed in a world of fireball flingers if he’s not allowed to use the Shield of Fire Immunity. Why would a spellcaster need magic weapons if they have spells anyway? I guess a world where everything is immune to magic, but that kind of negates the usefulness of magic in the first place. I’m ranting here. Again, it can make sense for the world and a reader (like me) has to suck up and deal with it.
As usual, that’s the big thing with fantasy. The author has the final say on how the world works and has to hope it translates to the reader. Magic systems and fantasy cultures are ripe for issues. Honestly, you can’t control a person’s perception and you’ll drive yourself insane by trying. Change it for one and then you’ll have another angry at the new version. Basically, choose your magic system and stick to your guns.