Thoughts of World Creation Part 2: magic as a metaphor


Continuing on the topic of world creation (see part 1.), another important subject, specifically for fantasy stories, is the existence and nature of magic. How does magic work in this world, what is its role in society, and who possesses such giftings? Is a person born with these abilities or do they have to acquire them?

The terms high magic and low magic are used to describe the frequency and magnitude of magic within a setting; a world where magic is common and easily wielded is described as high magic while a world where magic is rare and not as powerful is low magic.

My personal preference is on the high magic side of the spectrum, at least compared to a lot of low magic stories, but I agree with many low magic proponents that unchecked magical abilities within a story will quickly become over the top. This brings up the nature of magic and what limits or controls will be placed on it. Where does magic come from and how does it work?

Going deeper than the mechanics of this new world and into the intent as an author, what is magic a metaphor of? Control? Art and beauty? Is it forbidden knowledge or power which must be sacrificed for to be achieved?

Within my own world magic characterized as the ability to interact with or control the æther, an energy which permeates the void beyond the physical realm. I use it as a metaphor for creativity; our ability to interact with and cultivate the world around us. Just as the ability to exert our will over the world and others can be used for good purposes or destructive ones, so too magic can be used for benefit or harm. Magic provides me with the metaphor to explore these ideas and this tension. It also serves as a metaphor for knowledge and ability; while the capability to use magic is something a character is born with, the controlled use of it has to be learned and practiced much like exercising or learning a language. I also use it as a tool for exploring aspects of life and humanity.

What are some of your thoughts about magic and its nature? What are some examples you have seen either within your own writing or that of others?


About Tim Oldenkamp

I am fantasy writer working on my debut novel and a trilogy of short stories. My wife and I recently moved back to our native California after living in Grenoble France for three years.
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4 Responses to Thoughts of World Creation Part 2: magic as a metaphor

  1. Pingback: Thoughts on World Creation Part 3: names and nuances | The Writings of T. H. Oldenkamp

  2. somemaid says:

    I’m currently revisiting the world I’ve created and setting things in concrete. You’re post has given me much to think about especially how magic, (or my version of magic), is used in my world and what it represents .

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