Friday, July 1, 2011

Divine Magic

Posted by: Jane Kindred
A system of magic is one of the things that makes fantasy fantasy. When I begin writing a story, I rarely have the magic in mind. It's usually the characters who come first for me; they show up and I have to find a place to put them. And in my writing, that place is usually of a wholly imaginary variety. (I say "usually" because my latest series decided it wanted to be set in Russia, and who was I to argue with the voices in my head?) A magical system is something I generally thread in later, which causes me no end of frustration trying to make sure everything works together logically and believably.

When I started the book that became the world of my recent release The Devil's Garden, however, I barely had the character on the page before she started conjuring things. She was very determined to do things her way, and she insisted that to speak was to create. I got to thinking about that phrase and realized it was very godlike. Coincidentally, this was also a character who told me her name right off, and it happened to be the name of a male Egyptian god. By that point, I was pretty much under her thumb.

That character didn't end up in The Devil's Garden, though hopefully you'll get to meet her in the future. What did end up there was the system of magic, and a world in which each city-state along a vast, Nile-like river was ruled over by the god who spoke it into being. The god in this story is only a secondary character. It's the human heroine Ume Sky who is "magical" here, and it's a very ordinary magic: the power to seduce.

Ume is a courtesan at the temple of the god, and she gives her body to her patrons as an act of sacred sex; as a temple courtesan she is the human embodiment of the divine.

It's this concept of the divine in all of us that interests me more, the magic that each of us creates in the world every day simply by being alive—and always with the power of our words. A certain friend of mine would say this is a little "woo-woo." He's an atheist and a very pragmatic person. The thing is, so am I—perhaps a somewhat animistic atheist with pagan leanings, but an atheist nonetheless. I have a concept of the "divine" that has nothing to do with any external deity. (Yes, I realize this is a contradiction in terms, but I've always been difficult.)

But as Orson Scott Card says in How to Write Science Fiction & Fantasy (a book I highly recommend to anyone who wants to write speculative fiction), every system of magic must have a price. And the price the gods pay in The Devil's Garden is losing their own humanity. Like Ume, they give a little bit of themselves with every act of magic, until they no longer have the power even to rule their own lives.

If you could speak things into being, what kind of trouble would you get up to? Tell me in the comments and I'll choose one commenter at random to win a copy of The Devil's Garden. (Don't forget to provide an email address where I can notify you or to check back on Saturday to find out if you're the winner!)

Jane Kindred


  1. Ummm I'm going to have to give this some thought. Just speaking alone gets me into if my words changed the course of destiny??? I'd say the world would tilt on its axis, but it already does that without my help.


  2. LK: You could start small, with "let there be pancakes." See how that goes. ;)

  3. I'd say that I'd definitely have to speak into being, many of the mythical creatures I've read about or dreamed of.
    Therefore, it would cause scientific classification problems, society & cultural changes. Basically, the world would become a different place, but for the better, I feel.
    It would be worth it.
    I want to live with Mermaids, Werewolves and Fairies. Life would be a delightful adventure.
    Thanks for the contest.
    Sherri A. Dub

  4. I like the idea that magic must have a price -- definitely keeps up the conflict.

    As for the trouble I could get into by speaking things into being ... "May every politician be infected with pinocchio virus." Plastic surgeons around the world would be rubbing their hands with glee :)

  5. Oh my. If I really could speak things into being, my greatest flaw would include overlooking the price. As it is, I already have a strongly superstitious way about how I speak, believing that there is magic in the words we utter aloud.

  6. Sherri: It would definitely be interesting. I've often wished I could just speak my characters into being in the real world, fantastical or otherwise. I like hanging out with them. :)

    Jenny: I'm sure I would be a dangerous "Charlie X" sort of person if I had the ability...or I'd be sending people to the cornfield. It's probably best I don't. ;)

  7. Cayswann: I would just hope there'd be no trick price, like with the monkey's paw. "Be careful what you ask for" is always a good policy to keep in mind.

  8. I don't think I'd say anything. I'd be too afraid of making something go wrong even if I had the best of intentions.

  9. I would use this creative magic to heal people and animals. I don't know what trouble this would get me into, but I'd hope I wouldn't have to pay the price of my own health going a bit further downhill every time I healed another creature.

  10. Thanks, everyone! The winner of the giveaway is Jenny Schwartz! :)

  11. Woohoo! I love winning books :) Thanks, Jane.


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