Ode to Shiny Rocks (or: Self-limiting Magic in Fantasy Worlds, a rambling)

  • Post category:Writing

So, let’s say that magic is controlled by talent and will, which is pretty standard for Ye Olde Generic Fantasy World. Only the people who live there have no way of knowing this. Think about it, when weird things happen what do we do? We rationalize it. Thunderstorms? The Gods are angry. Lightning? The Gods are really angry. Lightning striking Cousin Bob? The Gods have it in for a) Bob, b) people like Bob, c) people who aren’t like us, or d) praying to Steve, God of Lightning apparently does work.

This is what I like to call my ‘magic rock’ theory. Say Phil really needs a fire, only he has no way of starting one. But Phil’s in luck, he’s got the gift and the will and presto! he’s got his fire. Phil’s first reaction is probably not going to be ‘I did that!’ In fact his first thought will most likely be ‘Ack! I didn’t do that!!’ So Phil has two choices, either a) blame it on a handy deity or b) something else that is not Phil. Lacking a deity-of-campfires, Phil focuses on a nearby shiny rock. ‘Why of course!’ he thinks, ‘it’s a magic rock!’ So the next time he wants a fire, he pulls out his magic rock and presto! fire! Because the magic could care less how he goes about it, just what he wants to happen. Likewise, anyone he tells the story to will get the same result (assuming the have the gift). Which leads to people looking for more shiny rocks, which leads to a revolution in the fire starting industry.

Of course, with a little research and an open mind someone will figure out that the shiny rock is not needed. But for the most part humans are hunky-dory when it comes to a status quo that requires no effort on their part. So they might ‘develop’ better shiny rocks, or find a way to smelt them into even shinier doodads, but unless the society has hit their Renaissance period (in which people are paid to sit around all day and think), it’s doubtful they’ve started working on any ‘no rock’ theories.

Which is why it bothers me, somewhat, to read a fantasy world in which the gift and the will are all that’s needed… and everyone is aware of the fact. How did they find out? Why?

Fantasy would benefit from more shiny rocks, methinks.

Martha Bechtel

My name is Martha Bechtel and I write fantasy and science fiction stories, paint small model horses silly colors, cast resin and plaster magnets, code random code (and Wordpress plugins)... Come on in and join in the fun!

This Post Has 3 Comments

  1. nmdrkangl

    pfft… *waves hand dismissively* like you need any more shiny objects to distract you from whatever world you may, or may not be currently working in.

  2. etcetera_cat

    I feel my icon adequately and exhaustively explains my position on this topic.

    Now I’m going to go and be ever-so-somewhat unhinged in another venue.

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