The Tradition of Summoning Servants

Saber from Fate Series

In fantasy, it’s fairly common for servants to be summoned.  It could be for battle, healing, terrorizing, and the list keeps going.  You see it in books, cartoons, and video games with a countless number of systems.  The methods to summoning can range from mundane to pure evil.  It always results in the same thing though.  You get a sentient being to do your bidding.

I was thinking about this concept when I was watching a ‘Fate/Zero’ series.  The story is that there are 7 ‘wizards’ and each one has to summon a servant for a contest to claim the Holy Grail.  There are seven different classes with each wizard getting one of them, which is what made me realize this stems from a video game.  The mechanics aren’t important here because the point is that beings from time were being pulled to be worries.  Each one was granted powers too.  Honestly, I don’t understand it as well as I should, but the series can get confusing.  That’s another reason why I wanted to consider this topic for the entire week.

Summoning shouldn’t be easy to do within the mechanics of the world.  That is unless everyone is able to do it.  If only a handful are going to have this power, it has to be complicated or rare.  Maybe the materials are hard to find or a person has to be born with a gift.  Another option is that summoning is a lost art, which only a few select groups have managed to retain.  Even in a world of magic, there should be some level of amazement and specialness to summoning.  Imagine the power it would take to pull a being from another world or timeline.  It should be immense.

Summoning differs from magic in that you aren’t throwing out a basic attack, but conjuring a being for a certain amount of time.  They have their own thoughts and personality as well as some level of independence.  A summoner can order them around and they may obey without question, but they also have some ability to adapt.  That’s if they aren’t independent and uncontrolled to being with.  Remember the Isekai topic from September?  Many times the protagonist goes to another world because they were summoned.  This is a niche, but it shows the flexibility of the summoning concept and how it can be more than a cool addition to a battle.

From my own experience, I’ve noticed that summoning in video games tends to be a special power given to heroes.  In books and cartoons, you see it more often in the hands of villains.  The biggest use is when the antagonist’s goal is to summon a powerful entity to do their bidding and destroy the world.  It’s usually an ancient evil that they want to bring back, so the summoning doubles as a resurrection.  Having this does open the door for smaller level summons, but it’s still done by villains. I think part of this is because many authors immediately think of demon summoning and don’t branch the practice out to other options.

I guess it makes sense that characters would be evil when summoning servants in most fantasy settings.  This tends to happen with a level of enslavement, so it has dark and controlling undertones.  Can you write a summoning system without it?  It’s been done plenty of times such as when the summoned hero is the main character.  It’s just that people don’t always think of that unless it’s a core point of the story.  If it’s just an ability that can be learned or appears at times, many gravitate towards having it be used for evil instead of good.  At least, in Western fantasy because I can now think of several times in anime/manga where heroes summon things.  Guess it could be a cultural thing too.

So, what are your thoughts on summoning in fiction?  Have any favorite summoning systems?

About Charles Yallowitz

Charles E. Yallowitz was born, raised, and educated in New York. Then he spent a few years in Florida, realized his fear of alligators, and moved back to the Empire State. When he isn't working hard on his epic fantasy stories, Charles can be found cooking or going on whatever adventure his son has planned for the day. 'Legends of Windemere' is his first series, but it certainly won't be his last.
This entry was posted in Thoughts and tagged , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

12 Responses to The Tradition of Summoning Servants

  1. L. Marie says:

    So you’re talking about individuals being summoned for a service (like someone would summon a genii) or like in SABRIEL by Garth Nix where Sabriel summoned the spirit of her dead mother (but wasn’t actually sure that the spirit was her dead mother) to answer questions? Or like when Odysseus had to speak to Tiresias, the blind seer from Thebe in Tartarus before he could talk to his mother? I think Garth Nix’s system, which seems to follow the Greek mythology methodology is one I enjoyed reading.


  2. When you think about it, the concept of summoning a thinking being to serve you (in any capacity, not just battle) is troublesome. Even if someone is supposed to be a hero, they shouldn’t be coopting someone’s life that way. It’s kind of like Pokemon, in a sense. That you seek out fantastic creatures just so you can “catch” them and make them fight in a way that supposedly creates a bond of friendship.

    The times this works best for me is when the summoned creatures are definitely independent and even mouth off to the summoner. One that comes to mind I think is Fairy Tale, where the female POV summons astrological figures but often has to persuade them before they’ll help her.


    • Lucy’s summons definitely have more independence. They make it clear that a contract is made between them too. Pokémon is always a weird one since it started as a basic video game. The anime touches on independence at times, but you won’t really get very far of every pokemon ends up defiant and problematic. Ash typically earns their trust though either before or after catching.

      The summons for a hero requires a few things as well. It’s usually a ritual done at a time of great need. In isekai stories, it’s when a great evil threatens the world and there is no other choice. That or an accident.

      Liked by 1 person

  3. I’m in favor of it, since one of my main characters is a summoned character. Be nice to summon someone to do laundry or clean the house. Something more mundane could be fun. You get a magical servant every evening, but she’s more like your mother and nags about everything.


Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s