marycatelli (marycatelli) wrote,
marycatelli
marycatelli

mood and magic

Some forms of magic work better to set mood that others.

Tolkien, for instance, had all the functional magic ensconced safely in the hands of non-human and non-hobbit characters, or trapped in objects.  Easy to conjure up wonder that way.  Doesn't even quite qualify as theurgia among the old terms of magic, because while you can ask for help, you can not compel the magic.  Which has the convenience of its not being handy to solve your characters' plot problems, and letting you suggest rather than lay down the rules.

Then there's sword and sorcery magic, a la Conan the Barbarian.  Which is bad news.  Some magic items announce their badness by their very ingredients, and the sorcerer trafficks with things better left undealt with.  If, indeed, Conan does not have to deal merely with the monstrosity that ill-advised sorcery left in its wake.  Once in Howard's oeuvre, Conan teams up with a sorcerer, Pelias. At the end he muses that while Pelias unquestionably saved both his life and his kingdom, he never wants to see him again.  Not so much wonder, but easy for a creepy or spooky mood.  (Well, there is one use of good magic in Conan, in fact in the first story -- but that calls on the same type as Tolkien's:  a long dead priest, not sorcerer, appears to bless Conan's sword against his foes.)

But then there's magic you firmly ensconce in the main character's hands.  Useful.  For world-building, for plot purposes, for many other things.  But not so much for mood.  Once it's the characters' technology, they aren't going to have as much reaction to it.  sigh
Tags: sensawunda, world-building: enchantment, world-building: magic (technique)
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