Tuesday, February 10, 2009
How do people become magicians? Let me count the ways.
If one or both of your parents were magicians, you’ll be one too. This is very common, but it makes me wonder.
In the Potterverse, having one Muggle parent didn’t seem to have any effect on the offspring’s ability (e.g. Snape). What if this wasn’t the case, though? What if magical talent was more like skin color, something which could be diluted or lost altogether enough generations down the line?
This would place some entertaining pressure on magicians. If they were an endangered species, so to speak, they might be required to reproduce only with other magicians. Fall in love with mundanes, by all means, but don’t plant cedars in a cornfield.
Magic can be taught. This is also very common in fantasy.
In a population where everyone has low-level magic (or no magic at all), some people might ignore magical skills entirely while others would use their abilities to pursue their chosen profession, whether that’s farming or trade or mining. Some, though, will have the resources, the talent and the volition to train to improve their skills – becoming magicians.
The more rural the setting, though, the fewer people will go on to that kind of higher education. Even Harry needed all those Galleons his parents had left him. A protagonist could conceivably be taught magic by a wandering wizard, but that would raise the questions of why the wizard had only taught the protagonist (please, no Chosen One) and how everyone else in the protagonist’s community feels about one person being singled out as the beneficiary of arcane knowledge.
In Elizabeth A. Lynn’s novel Dragon’s Winter, shapeshifters have to design and make a piece of jewelry inspired by the animal into which they will shift. After that, they can change shape at will, but their power is bound up in the jewelry. Steal that, and they can’t shift.
I like this idea. For one thing, it gives the magic a realistic weakness – something acquired can be something taken away. For another, it opens up all kinds of story possibilities.
What if a meteor exploded above the atmosphere, scattering hundreds of shards over the world, and each shard gave people the ability to do magic? The shards which fell in populated areas would be snapped up, of course, but what about those in more inaccessible regions? We’ll assume that one weakness of the magic is that it doesn’t facilitate tracking down more shards.
So people would be hunting those down. Meanwhile, back at the ranch, others would be trying to acquire more and more of the shards for themselves.
4. Gained involuntarily
In the Wild Cards universe, a virus infected everyone on earth. Most people died, but the survivors ended up with some kind of power (though many of these powers were useless – like the ability to levitate a penny – or the people ended up horribly disfigured as well).
My kind of story, in other words. Some are born great and some achieve greatness, but when some have greatness thrust upon them, they don’t always make the best use of it. The same would go for magical ability.
Magic could be tied to location or time. For instance, everyone is a mage when standing inside one of the special chalk shapes on the hillsides. Or everyone gains magic powers as natural light increases. Would this make midnight or high noon more dangerous a time?
What other ways could you suggest?