When it comes to magic, pretty much anything goes, especially if you’re creating a fictional world and its associated rules from scratch. As I write the third book in the Beyond Androva series, Kellan’s backstory brings the chance to explore Xytovia in a bit more detail, and it got me to thinking about the history of magic in storytelling.
I have always loved stories that contain magic, and it was probably inevitable that fantasy would be my genre of choice as a writer. It’s been a while since I did an A to Z, so today’s post is a lighthearted list inspired by magic in fiction. I’ve tried to include a variety of sources—books (of course!), film, television, and even some folklore. Is there anything on the list that you hadn’t heard of? Would your choices be the same as mine? I hope you enjoy it, and thank you very much for visiting my blog today 💕.
Amulets are typically small objects worn or carried for protection, and their long and varied history dates back to prehistoric times. The “magic” in the amulet comes from what it’s made of, or its shape, or what’s written on it, or the particular way it was constructed. A couple of great fictional examples include the glass snowdrop in Stardust by Neil Gaiman, and the Amulet of Samarkand, the first book in the Bartimaeus trilogy by Jonathan Stroud.
The picture shows a Wedjat Eye from Ancient Egypt, a symbol associated with both Horus the sky god and Ra the sun god. Amulets with the eye—in this case a sandal buckle—were believed to bring protection, healing, and regeneration. (Horus lost his eye in a fight with his uncle, but it was magically restored.)
The Bifrost is from Norse mythology. It’s a rainbow bridge that connects Asgard, the world of the gods, with Midgard, the world of humanity. Heimdall guards the bridge and controls who enters and leaves Asgard. The Bifrost also appears as a visually spectacular special effect in the Marvel films, functioning as an obstacle and an enabler for various characters.
Healing crystals and stones have been around for thousands of years. The Ancient Sumerians (4,000 years BC) used crystals in their magic formulas, and “crystal” comes from Ancient Greece and the word for ice. Clear quartz crystal was thought to be water that had frozen so completely it would never thaw.
The picture is lapis lazuli, a crystal prized by the Sumerians for its ability to heal a wide variety of ailments. In terms of crystals in fiction, some of my favourite examples include the Elfstone created by J. R. R. Tolkien (it became Arwen’s Evenstar necklace in the Lord of the Rings films), lightsabers in the Star Wars universe, Marvel’s infinity stones, and the Seventh Tower series by Garth Nix.
“If I own that dagger, I control the Dark One. If I kill the Dark One with the dagger, I take his powers.”
—Rumplestiltskin to his son, Baelfire
Appearing in the television series Once Upon A Time, the dagger contains a curse that grants immense magical knowledge and power. The name of the Dark One is inscribed on the blade. Anyone in possession of the dagger has the ability to control the Dark One, and if the Dark One is killed with the dagger, the curse passes to the murderer, and the name on the blade changes. It makes for an interesting plot device that the dagger is the source of the Dark One’s strength but also makes them vulnerable.
King Arthur, a legendary English monarch from the late fifth century, has been linked to two swords. The first was a sword embedded in stone that could only be drawn by the rightful king (Arthur). The second was given to Arthur by the Lady of the Lake after the first sword was broken. Both swords have been linked to the name Excalibur in subsequent stories, and the sword is usually considered to be of magical origin and/or to possess magical powers. (The Dark One Dagger was found to be part of Excalibur’s blade in a later series of Once Upon A Time.)
Myths about sentient weapons may have started because the process of sword making seemed magical to ancient civilisations. A lump of earth being transformed into a shiny but deadly object like a sword would have seemed a lot like magic!
The feather of Ma’at (an Egyptian goddess who personified truth and justice) was used to judge the dead. Hearts were weighed against a single ostrich feather in the Hall of Two Truths. If the heart was lighter that the feather, the deceased was granted eternal life in the realm of the dead. If the heart was heavier, the outcome was rather less positive. The feather was the reason hearts were left in Egyptian mummies while the other organs were removed. Before being judged, the dead had to make their “negative confessions” and list all the bad deeds they didn’t commit. I guess the more you had to confess, the better your chances…
Greek Fire is an incendiary weapon that water can’t extinguish. I’ve included it as a magical item (in spite of the fact that it did once exist) because of its fictional use in ghost fighting in the Lockwood & Co. series by Jonathan Stroud. Also, the formula for creating Greek Fire as used by the Byzantine Empire in the seventh century has been lost to time, and no one today has been able to successfully recreate it.
Specifically, Rapunzel's magic hair from the 2010 Disney film. Taking its power from the golden flower that healed Rapunzel’s mother, the queen, it’s very long, super strong, and has the ability to heal anything and everything. Including old age, if old age can be seen as something that needs healing! (Mother Gothel certainly thinks so…)
Harry Potter’s Invisibility Cloak is an incredibly useful magical object that plays a role throughout the whole series. It enables Harry (and therefore the reader) to discover important plot points that other characters would never reveal in front of him. It’s not infallible either, as we see when Draco Malfoy realises Harry is spying on him beneath the cloak. And in the final book, the cloak is revealed to be one of the Deathly Hallows. The special effects in the films make the cloak appear very convincing!
I thought Tom Riddle’s Diary was the most interesting out of the seven horcruxes (Harry excepted!) not just because it was the first that Voldemort created, but also because it allowed the reader to “meet” Voldemort while he was still Tom Riddle. When I first read the book, and the letters in Tom Marvolo Riddle rearranged themselves to spell I am Lord Voldemort, I was on the edge of my seat!
How does a witch or wizard get around if they don’t want to apparate or use the Floo Network? They hail the Knight Bus, as Harry did in The Prisoner of Azkaban. The bus was apparently commissioned in 1865, taking inspiration from the Muggle bus service of the time. It’s invisible to Muggles, and it causes other objects to dodge out of its way. That’s a trick that would make the traffic on my journey to work a lot easier to navigate…
Aladdin’s story is closely associated with the Arabian Nights (One Thousand and One Nights) even though it wasn’t actually part of the original Arabic text. It was added later in an eighteenth-century French translation. In most film adaptations, the genie of the lamp is a much bigger star of the story than the lamp itself. Have you ever wondered what you’d wish for if the lamp (hypothetically) came into your possession? Would you use one of your wishes to grant the genie their freedom?
Mirrors are the perfect example of an everyday item that can become a credible magical object. They can be windows. They can reveal or hide. They can be used to communicate. Some of my favourite fictional examples include the mirror used by Snow White’s stepmother (who’s the fairest of them all?), the mirror in Dracula by Bram Stoker (“this time there could be no error, for the man was close to me… But there was no reflection of him in the mirror!”), and the Mirror of Erised in Harry Potter (haven’t we all wondered what we’d see if we looked into it?).
The necklace I’ve chosen is from Arthurian legend, and it was given to Sir Pelleas by the Lady of the Lake. Sir Pelleas was a Knight of the Round Table said to have been rescued from an unrequited love by Nimue (the Lady of the Lake in many versions of the legend). She came across Sir Pelleas after his heart had been broken. Using magic, Nimue made the other lady love Sir Pelleas while he would be cured, feeling only hate for her in return. Sir Pelleas later fell in love with Nimue, and they married. The necklace contained an enchantment to make its wearer “unfathomably loved.”
I had to include this one! Arguably the most powerful artefact in Tolkien’s fictional realm of Middle-earth, it was infused with Sauron’s evil intentions and almost impossible to destroy. You only have to look at how Déagol became Gollum to understand the ring’s ability to distort and corrupt its bearer.
Given the role of portals in my own books, there was only one possible choice for this letter 🙂. Portals, or magical doorways, are exciting and unpredictable. Anything and anyone could be on the other side. As a reader, the first portals I discovered were in the Chronicles of Narnia by C. S. Lewis. The wardrobe in The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe is probably the most famous one, but the characters were able to go to Narnia through other doorways too. I think the wardrobe is the most memorable because when I was eight years old, it seemed almost possible it could happen to me.
I don’t know why, but magic and quills seem to be a frequent combination in storytelling. Perhaps it’s because the traditional image of a magician in a fantasy setting might seem a bit strange if there were a plastic biro on the table (you know, next to the parchment 😉).
There are two particularly memorable quills in the Harry Potter books. The Blood Quill is used by Professor Umbridge to deliver a nasty form of detention. Painful magical cuts appear on the back of the user’s hand to mirror the lines they are writing. “I must not tell lies” in Harry’s case. The Quick Quotes Quill is used by journalist Rita Skeeter to take notes during her interviews, sensationalising the words of her interviewees to the point that they bear little resemblance to the truth. “My eyes aren’t ‘glistening with the ghosts of my past!’”
Riptide is another magical sword, this time belonging to Percy Jackson in the world created by Rick Riordan. The sword is made from Celestial Bronze, a material that is only deadly to gods and demigods (and a few other non-human characters). If you’re an ordinary mortal, Riptide will pass straight through you as if the sword were an illusion. Percy is able to keep it in his pocket as a pen, turning it back into a sword by taking off the cap.
Steles are tools used by Shadowhunters in the books by Cassandra Clare. Made from the heavenly metal adamas, a stele looks a bit like a kind of wand, and it glows when being used to draw runes onto the skin. These runes grant the supernatural abilities that Shadowhunters depend on in their fight against demons.
I guess this one is more of a story enabler than a magical item (unless you include the Time Turner used by Hermione Granger). As a reader, I’m a big fan of time travel, though I do prefer it when the characters go back instead of forward. I love the chance to learn about the past through the eyes of a modern-day character. My favourites as a child were Tom’s Midnight Garden by Philippa Pearce and Can I Get There by Candlelight? by Jean Doty. More recently, I’ve really enjoyed the Outlander books by Diana Gabaldon.
This one comes from Scottish folklore and refers to a special kind of water that has magical healing properties. The water itself is not magical, but the method used to collect it makes it so. It must be taken “from under a bridge, over which the living pass and the dead are carried, brought in the dawn or twilight to the house of a sick person, without the bearer’s speaking, either in going or returning.”
I suppose on reflection, the Vanishing Cabinet as described in Harry Potter is like a portal, although it only works if you have two of them. A person who steps into one of the cabinets will instantly emerge from the other. Draco Malfoy repaired a Vanishing Cabinet at Hogwarts that was linked with another at Borgin and Burkes, allowing a group of Death Eaters into the school. The resulting confrontation with Dumbledore forced Severus Snape to make good on both his promise to Dumbledore and the Unbreakable Vow he made with Narcissa Malfoy, Draco’s mother.
No magical list would be complete without a reference to wands! The mention of wands in fiction dates as far back as the eighth century BC, when Homer described the use of magic “rods” by Hermes, Athena, and Circe in The Iliad and The Odyssey. There are so many fictional characters that are associated with wands, heroes and villains both, from Cinderella’s Fairy Godmother to the White Witch in The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe. And I will hold my hand up and admit that I do own a Harry Potter wand from when I visited the Studio Tour a couple of years ago (Severus Snape’s).
In Chinese mythology, Xirang (Breathing Earth, Living Earth) is a magical substance with the ability to continuously grow, something that can be extremely helpful in stopping flood water, for example, or creating land for farming.
Yggdrasil is an enormous ash tree from Norse mythology that is supposed to connect the Nine Realms. It was pretty much considered to be the centre of the known universe. The idea of “warden trees” continued right up to the nineteenth century. They were believed to bring good luck to the land on which they grew.
The thunderbolt was a weapon made for Zeus by the Cyclops in the war against the Titans, a dynastic conflict that ended when Zeus killed his father, the Titan Cronus. Before you feel too sorry for Cronus, legend has it that Cronus had previously seized control from his own father and had become so paranoid that his own children would one day do the same to him that he ate them all! Zeus, the youngest child, was hidden by his mother until he was old enough to return, rescue his siblings (who were growing inside Cronus) and wage war. The never-ending bucketful of thunderbolts proved to be a deciding factor in Zeus’s victory.
Thank you for reading!
Thursday, 15 October 2020
“There are people who think that things that happen in fiction do not really happen. These people are wrong.”
“While we read a novel,
we are insane—bonkers. We believe in the existence of people who aren't there,
we hear their voices...”
― Ursula K. Le Guin
“With reading, we get to live other lives vicariously, and this is doubly so with writing. It is like a lucid dream, where we guide the outcome.”
― Dean F.Wilson
Today’s blog post is a writing update for the Beyond Androva series, and the update comes with a few thoughts on the consequences of creating a strong-willed character. The character I’m talking about is Kellan, a seventeen-year-old magician who escaped from prison just in time to turn the events of Engraved in Magic upside down. He’s graduating from secondary character to protagonist.
As a self-confessed pantser (someone who “writes by the seat of their pants” instead of planning stories in advance) I’m accustomed to letting my characters take the lead. Stories evolve around their choices. I approached the new book in the same way, but I hadn’t written more than a thousand words before I had to confront a couple of Kellan-sized problems.
I might not plan stories in advance, but I always know how they’re going to start.
In Matched in Magic, Serena’s adventure naturally began as she went to Xytovia for the first time and met Art. In Engraved in Magic, Art picked up the story at the exact moment Serena stopped, so I could explore the aftermath from Art’s point of view.
I meant for the third book in the series to follow that pattern. After the prologue, which takes place about a century before the main timeline, Kellan would take over where Art left off, focusing on the search for his grandmother. That’s what I tried to write. Several times, unsuccessfully.
Kellan insisted the story had to begin at the moment he went into the Dimension Cell. This was something I didn’t want because it would require a retelling of Engraved in Magic’s plot. Kellan argued that important things had happened while he was off the page, things that were vital to “his” story. He also said his version of events would be much better than Art’s.
(By the way, I know it’s strange to describe Kellan as if he’s a real person... He’s not real, of course, but in the context of my writing imagination, he exists, and he has very strong views!)
Each Beyond Androva story is told from a different point of view as the series arc evolves and its focal point moves between characters, but the incoming protagonist/narrator isn’t a stranger. They’ve been introduced through the eyes of the outgoing protagonist.
However, despite Kellan’s contribution to Engraved in Magic, I didn’t feel like I knew him at all. His point of view is hard to write! On the face of it, he isn’t a particularly sympathetic/likeable character. His self-confidence borders on arrogance and he has very little accountability. It took me a while to get past his exterior to the person underneath, and the Dimension Cell scene (the scene I hadn’t planned on writing) turned out to be really important.
In conclusion, I’m pleased to say that the third book in the Beyond Androva series is officially underway with a starting point that seems to be working and a (mostly) willing protagonist. I’m not sure how the prologue will link up with Kellan’s story, but I’m looking forward to the journey!
Which fictional characters are your favourites? Would you choose to meet them in real life if you could? Thank you very much for visiting my blog today 💕.
Sunday, 30 August 2020
Interview with Kellan, set before Engraved in Magic
Me: Thank you for agreeing to this interview.
Kellan: (smiles faintly) I don’t have much ability to influence what happens in here. Dimension Cells are pretty good at restricting a person’s choices.
Me: I suppose so. Although you could have ignored me.
Kellan: I know. I considered it. But an imaginary visitor is better than nothing. Why are you here?
Me: I’m a writer. I’m going to write about you.
Me: Is that a problem?
Kellan: (sighs) No. Even before they convicted me, I knew a biography was planned. I just… I guess I thought my imagination could do better.
Me: (hides a smile) I see.
Kellan: (folds arms) I have to warn you, I’m not interested in talking about my life history. I can’t think of anything more boring than sifting through my childhood memories. And if you’re expecting me to tell you whether I’m guilty, you’d better make yourself comfortable because you’ll be waiting a long time.
Me: I’m not that sort of writer. I tell stories.
Kellan: Stories? What kind of stories?
Me: Mainly about magicians your age having life-threatening adventures. There are enterprising villains, dangerous spells, magical journeys… that kind of thing.
Kellan: Hmm. I suppose that could be interesting.
Me: There’s romance too.
Kellan: (makes a face)
Me: There are also different worlds.
Kellan: (frowns) Impossible. I might consider participating in far-fetched fiction, but not outright fantasy. Xytovia is the world. The sun, the moons and the stars aren’t inhabitable. Those are facts.
Me: Don’t tell me you’d rather stay in here. Besides, it might be fun.
Kellan: I’d rather keep my dignity intact if it’s all the same to you, Storyteller.
Me: (considers) I suppose I could rewrite your part. It would be a lot of hassle, but if you’re really not keen…
Kellan: (eyes narrow) My part? What do you mean? I thought this was my story.
Me: I never said that.
Kellan: Obviously, I assumed it was. Who on Xytovia has a better one?
Me: You’ve been in here a long time, Kellan. Xytovia has changed.
Kellan: Changed how?
Me: I’m offering you the chance to find out for yourself.
Kellan: No. Tell me. And it had better be good if you want me to downgrade myself from protagonist to supporting character.
Me: I can’t tell you. I’m sharing this interview with readers, and spoilers would be a bad idea. But I do think it’s worth it. Your role is vital to the story.
Kellan: (sarcastically) Awesome. Next you’ll be telling me I die to save the hero.
Me: No comment.
Kellan: (rolls eyes) I never thought I would imagine a visitor as annoying as you. My subconscious must be very keen to escape.
Me: Then you’ll do it?
Kellan: (pauses) I suppose so. (brightens) Anyway, who’s to say I can’t change the story once I’m a part of it?
Me: If any character could manage it, you would be the one.
Kellan: Is that a compliment?
Me: Sort of.
Kellan: (grins) I’ll take it. When do we start?
Me: You won’t have to wait too long. You turn up in Chapter Six.
Kellan: OK. You know, you really should consider giving me my own book one day. Promise me you’ll think about it.
Me: I promise I’ll think about it.
Kellan: (nods) It’s a deal.Me: And that’s the end of the interview. Thank you very much for reading!
Thursday, 23 July 2020
Saturday, 4 July 2020
** Engraved in Magic is still on track for publication in late July **
I like the sound of this one because although it has a traditional fairy-tale setting, one of the main characters, Harper, is from the contemporary world, and she isn’t at all happy to find herself in Emberfall. It also has dual POV, so the reader has the chance to see things from the perspective of Prince Rhen (the ‘beast’) as well as Harper.
It once seemed so easy to Prince Rhen, the heir to Emberfall. Cursed by a powerful enchantress to repeat the autumn of his eighteenth year over and over, he knew he could be saved if a girl fell for him. But that was before he learned that at the end of each autumn, he would turn into a vicious beast hell-bent on destruction. That was before he destroyed his castle, his family, and every last shred of hope.
Nothing has ever been easy for Harper. With her father long gone, her mother dying, and her brother barely holding their family together while constantly underestimating her because of her cerebral palsy, she learned to be tough enough to survive. But when she tries to save someone else on the streets of Washington, DC, she's instead somehow sucked into Rhen's cursed world.
A prince? A monster? A curse? Harper doesn't know where she is or what to believe. But as she spends time with Rhen in this enchanted land, she begins to understand what's at stake. And as Rhen realizes Harper is not just another girl to charm, his hope comes flooding back. But powerful forces are standing against Emberfall… and it will take more than a broken curse to save Harper, Rhen, and his people from utter ruin.
1. We must all play the cards the fate deals. The choices we face may not be the choices we want, but they are choices nonetheless.
not going to fall in love with you,” she says.
Her words are not a surprise. I sigh. “You won’t be the first.”
3. This was never a curse to be broken. This is a death sentence. The true curse has been the thought that we might find escape.
Cruel Beauty, by Rosamund Hodge
This version appeals to me because there are elements of Greek mythology in the story and because the premise is intriguing. Nyx starts out intending to commit an act of murder to free her people—something she’s been trained for her whole life. I imagine she won’t succeed immediately otherwise there would be no story, but I look forward to reading how the romance is presented.
Betrothed to the evil ruler of her kingdom, Nyx has always known that her fate was to marry him, kill him, and free her people from his tyranny. But on her seventeenth birthday when she moves into his castle high on the kingdom's mountaintop, nothing is what she expected—particularly her charming and beguiling new husband. Nyx knows she must save her homeland at all costs, yet she can't resist the pull of her sworn enemy—who's gotten in her way by stealing her heart.
1. “Have you seen lamplight shine through dusty air, setting the dust motes on fire?” He waved a hand. “Imagine that, spread across the night sky—but ten thousand motes and ten thousand times brighter, glittering like the eyes of all the gods.”
2. I was alone, and I had no hands to clench around my memories. I had no memories, no name, only the knowledge (deeper and colder than any darkness) that I had lost what I loved more than life. And then I forgot I had lost it. Time unwound. Prices were unpaid. The world changed.
don’t tell me you’re sorry, because that would make you a very pitiful
“I’m not an assassin!” My head snapped up and I saw that he was kneeling right beside me.
“Oh. I’m sorry. That would make you a very pitiful saboteur who carries a knife for nonviolent purposes.” His crimson cat eyes were laughing at me.
by Naomi Novik
The description caught my interest because there’s no mention of a curse to be broken. Instead the ‘beast’ is described as an ageless wizard who returns his captives to their homes after ten years of service. Also, Agnieszka sounds like a very interesting protagonist!
Agnieszka loves her village, set deep in a peaceful valley. But the nearby enchanted forest casts a shadow over her home. Many have been lost to the Wood and none return unchanged. The villagers depend on an ageless wizard, the Dragon, to protect them from the forest's dark magic. However, his help comes at a terrible price. One young village woman must serve him for ten years, leaving all they value behind.
Agnieszka fears her dearest friend Kasia will be picked at the next choosing, for she's everything Agnieszka is not – beautiful, graceful and brave. Yet when the Dragon comes, it's not Kasia he takes.
1. I’d been watching only to be sure he actually left; it took nearly all the caution left in me not to throw something down at his head, and I don’t mean a token of my regard.
2. He looked at me, baffled and for the first time uncertain, as though he had stumbled into something, unprepared. His long narrow hands were cradled around mine, both of us holding the rose together. Magic was singing in me, through me; I felt the murmur of his power singing back that same song.
3. Then he spluttered at me, “You impossible, wretched, nonsensical contradiction, what on earth have you done now?”
Heart's Blood, by Juliet Marillier
I’m interested in reading this version because Whistling Tor is described as a safe haven for Caitrin. That’s a little different to the traditional construct where the heroine is imprisoned by the beast against her will.
Whistling Tor is a place of secrets, a mysterious, wooded hill housing the crumbling fortress of a chieftain whose name is spoken throughout the district in tones of revulsion and bitterness. A curse lies over Anluan’s family and his people; those woods hold a perilous force whose every whisper threatens doom.
For young scribe Caitrin it is a safe haven. This place where nobody else is prepared to go seems exactly what she needs, for Caitrin is fleeing her own demons. As Caitrin comes to know Anluan and his home in more depth she realizes that it is only through her love and determination that the curse can be broken and Anluan and his people set free.
1. Trust can be a hard lesson; hope still more difficult.
2. I cannot expiate my sin, yet I am compelled to try. My mind will not let me rest. There must be something I could have done, some way I could have acted, something I could have changed to snatch victory from bitter defeat.
3. “How could you not know?" His voice was full of wonderment. "You changed me utterly.”
by Meagan Spooner
I can’t wait to read about Yeva. She’s described as a hunter who is very familiar with the forest, but it’s also clear she has no first-hand experience of magic or fairy tales. The book’s description doesn’t give anything away in terms of who the ‘beast’ is and how much of a challenge Yeva faces.
Beauty knows the Beast's forest in her bones—and in her blood. After all, her father is the only hunter who’s ever come close to discovering its secrets. So when her father loses his fortune and moves Yeva and her sisters out of their comfortable home among the aristocracy and back to the outskirts of town, Yeva is secretly relieved. Out in the wilderness, there’s no pressure to make idle chatter with vapid baronessas…or to submit to marrying a wealthy gentleman.
But Yeva’s father’s misfortune may have cost him his mind, and when he goes missing in the woods, Yeva sets her sights on one prey: the creature he’d been obsessively tracking just before his disappearance. The Beast.
Deaf to her sisters’ protests, Yeva hunts this strange creature back into his own territory—a cursed valley, a ruined castle, and a world of magical creatures that Yeva’s only heard about in fairy tales. A world that can bring her ruin, or salvation. Who will survive: the Beauty, or the Beast?
1. There's no such thing as living happily ever after — there's only living. We make the choice to do it happily.
2. It’s the wanting that brought me here, to her. To another soul as empty as mine, and yet not empty at all, because it’s so full of everything I thought only I ever felt. Her soul against mine feels like music, like a heartbeat, like magic. Like beauty.
3. She hated the indecisiveness of people in town, how they waited to make decisions, took weeks or months or years to settle, until the decisions were made for them by inaction.