A group of us from /r/fantasywriters set up a new subreddit focusing on the construction of magic systems, as an integral part of fantasy fiction. So what happens when the magic is for ‘entertainment purposes only’?
A lot of magic-building posts focus on the epic, the nuts and bolts of the creation myth, the way magic works, and earthshattering dragons. I’m reading a great book which has a magic system very much focused on the high fantasy knights, goblins, wizards and demons, and I’m loving it. However, in one chapter, a sceptical gang of pirates demand to know whether the wizard they’ve just met can do proper magic — not just perform tricks like any old street performer.
In creating a wider world, it’s probably also important to focus on the mundane, and small-scale. I won this month’s /r/fantasywriters contest with a story about a magician/shaman working as an lowly performer entertaining the troops who performs mostly common illusion parlour tricks, but then pushes the men in the room across the spiritual veil in order that they can say goodbye to fallen comrades – in the protagonist’s case, his lover.
Also, in honour of my Charles Dickens magic show post, and in anticipation of the show itself on Friday, I was thinking about writing a story about a stage magician in my world and how much he relies on sleight of hand, and how much he can use. Magic is unreliable, dangerous and mysterious, dependent to a certain amount on the concept of religious grace (that is, it happens not by human agency but by external decision; the phrase ‘let go and let Goddess’ springs to mind), and has a deleterious effect on the mind if used too much. I’ve yet to decide whether it’s going to be a standalone novella or whether I will add it in as a plotline to the third book in my first trilogy, so no spoilers, but…
So it stands to reason that any conjurer plucking a rabbit out of his hat, or exercising his psychic ability to pluck a particular name out of the phone book might save his strength for the really big tricks.
Likewise audiences in a high magic world like your average D&D setting, with magic part of everyday life, would need something pretty spectacular just to get an audience interested.
However, there’s potential for rich world-building here. An illusionist might get on well with the early Victorian fad for phantasmagoria, in which the illusions might be real spirits come to play around rather than tricks of the light. We all know that mediums could put on fairly entertaining shows with alleged physical manifestation, and that people like John Edwards still work as entertainers. In a world where magic more obviously exists, there’s potential for animated magic lantern shows – could this perhaps take the place of cinema or TV?
So how do your magicians entertain?