Magic’s Price …

MagicNo, not the novel with that title, but the concept that there must be some “great price” in a fantasy world for using magic.

Some of the most renowned fantasy authors advocate the thought/attitude that magic MUST have a price upon the user and not just a price but an ‘in your face’ price. Publishers and/or agents apparently accept the premise [since a friend had his novel rejected because there was no “price” for using the magic. Actually there was a price (since I’d read the novel) but it was subtle and not an ‘in your face’ kind of price.]

It is like they’ve have this notion in their heads about one kind of magic and that is all there is.

My question is, “Why? Why must there be this ‘price’ that is over and above just the normal exhaustion experienced by an athlete or someone who performs a hard day’s work?

When a marathon runner runs a marathon, no one runs around asking about price. Nor do they protest when/if a runner/athlete breaks a record, or a mountain climber climbs a mountain never before scaled.

‘But…but…they train.’ is an answer I frequently hear. Well, can’t those who use magic train? And the more they train the better they would become working magic effectively and efficiently. Logically, wouldn’t their capacity to utilize magic increase so that more could be accomplished?

Immediately the counter is: ‘But there has to be physical/visible limits!’

Again I ask, “Why?”

What if magic was built into the world in such a fashion that everyone had access to it? What would stop them from killing all their enemies and/or competitors and becoming a dictator?

Simply put – ethics, morals, and principles.

Is it so far beyond our society/culture to imagine that a person’s ethics, morals, and principles could restrict their behavior? Limit their actions?

Is it beyond our society/culture to imagine people with no interest in magic and therefore chose not to use it even if it is available to them?

What do you think?


6 thoughts on “Magic’s Price …

  1. I think the world would be a sad place without magic. It can be abused like anything else. Good and evil exist with or without magic. All actions have consequences. Magic is, in essence, an action. So of course, it there will be consequences, or a price. But is it worth it? In my world, it is.

    • Aubrey
      Interesting response. And true, magic can be abused. Speaking of which – when do I get to see “your world”?

  2. I’ve always thought of magic coming with a cost, probably because in most fantasy worlds the magic users are few–I suppose like superheroes would be in our world. But in most fantasies, the more the user practices, the better (and more powerful) they get. So most I’ve read about are like you say: they get fatigued, like a distance-runner, and run out of power. I think it depends on the kind of magic, and what it’s being used for.

    For instance, in Lynn Flewelling’s Night Runner series (well in most of her books, since they’re set in the same world) the magic users have no real cost other than fatigue. There is a limit to how much they can do at one time. There are risks in over-taxing themselves. But those who use ‘evil’ magic like necromancy, end up pretty much immortal, but terribly disfigured, so in that there is a cost.

    The way I think of magic needing to have a cost, is in repercussions. I don’t think you can keep using it as an ‘easy out’ without having some kind of exchange going on.

    As for everyone being good and not using the magic for ill, because of morals and so on, well not everyone has the same moral standard. Morals work on empathy, on the understanding that you don’t do something that would hurt someone else, because you understand how it would feel and wouldn’t want it to be done to you. Not everyone has empathy, sadly. So in any society, I think there would always be those who used their powers for ill. Sorry this was long. You got me thinking.

    • CJ
      Good thoughts. I can see a society where the moral standards are the same for everyone, but each individual also makes “choices” (free will) whether to follow his/her own moral standards (which then could change the individual since they’ve changed). Then there would be a price, that of his/her perception/behavior and the view/attitude from others in the society which could make him/her possibly an outcast.


  3. It’s not beyond our capabilities to imagine it, but it is beyond humanity’s capability to do it and that might be where the editors are having their issues. The ‘price’ that must be paid is simply to increase tension. If magic can do anything, with no limitations, then there’s no, or little, conflict. However, in the fantasy world, anything can happen.
    In my new series, Cat’s Tales (first book due out end of year), some of the Elves have magic. If they wanted, they could move mountains, but their Creator instilled a love of the world and all living things and they’re loathe to change it without good reason. There was no violence, no theft, no hunger, no sense of ‘rich’ or ‘poor’. A true Utopia. Until the bad guy and his minions arrived.
    That’s when the limitations of their magic become apparent. For example, there are few healers because they were only needed during childbirth and for accidental injuries. Healers cannot heal themselves. Their Creator gave them only enough fire magic to light their handfire, light lanterns and campfires and so on and so on. The limitations add to the tension.
    The only ‘price’ of using their magic is that overextension will debilitate them for a time.
    Does the weather on the other side of the world have to be affected if a wizard causes lighting to rain down on a castle? No, it doesn’t have to in my opinion, but it can if it suits your world. Does the user have to receive a scar for every spell he wields? Risk his very life for using a spell to destroy the bad guy? Not as far as I’m concerned, as long as there’s enough tension elsewhere. What’s the point of having magic if you can’t use it?
    But that’s the great thing about fantasy. You can create a people who wouldn’t use it, even if it lay at your fingertips. The hard sell on that story would be why? Or rather, why not use it? Humans wouldn’t set aside magic, if they had it. Most would want to use it for good, to help others, others would only want to help themselves. Yes, we can imagine it, but we can’t do it.
    Your friend’s novel has a subtle ‘price’. Editors don’t do subtle well. Perhaps he/she could make it slightly more obvious.

    • Sandy,
      Very well thought out comment, thanks and will consider.

      but it is beyond humanity’s capability to do it

      I must disagree with this part, but then that could be accounted for by having a bit different view of “humanity”. I think humanity CAN do that but my view is based on the people and behavior in the area where I grew up. I’m coming to think my experiences have been quite different than many others. Never thought of our community as that different – but apparently it was.

      Thanks for stopping by, reading and commenting.

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