Posts Tagged ‘fantasy’

This may not be applicable if everyone has magic. Then again . . . .

Is it something they’re born with? If so, is it strictly hereditary or is something else at play? For example, in J. K. Rowlings’s Harry Potter series, magical families seem to pretty reliably produce offspring with magic. But muggle-born witches and wizards, like Hermione or Harry’s mother, Lily, aren’t uncommon either.

Or, is magic something invested by some ritual or acquired or awakened in some other way? If so, is there a cost to gaining magical abilities? In Brandon Sanderson’s Mistborn series, magic users must “Snap” to awaken their latent magic. This requires an emotional or physical trauma, often a near-death experience. While, some of the nobles in Mistborn are ruthless enough to submit their children to a severe beating to try to make them “Snap”, even then, not everyone will. And, of course, the nobility have no monopoly on trauma; the farmer trampled by his own oxen or the convict beaten by the prison guards may “Snap” when a noble youth does not.

However, if the process needed to awaken the magic can be controlled—well, then you have the possibility of one group, the elites, monopolizing the process and excluding everyone else. And the question of what those others might do to create their own ritual so they could get magic of their own and use it against their overlords.

In my Arthurian story, there won’t be many humans who can do actual magic. Those few will have a natural gift, but . . . I don’t think I’m going to be able to—or want to—ignore those two springs at the base of Glastonbury Tor: the Red Spring (now called the Chalice Well) and the White Spring. And that tantalizing (possibly) maze-like path up to the tor. Yeah, there’s going to have to be some sort of initiation to improve access to natural magic.

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Some examples might be helpful here.

  • In Piers Anthony’s Xanth series, everyone has one magical talent. In fact, if you don’t demonstrate a magical talent by a certain age, you’re exiled to Mundania.
  • Likewise, in Patricia Wrede’s Frontier Magic series, everyone learns at least basic magic in school.
  • But, in the Harry Potter series, only a fraction of the population is able to become a witch or a wizard.
  • In Lindsay Buroker’s Dragon’s Blood and Heritage of Power series, the only ones who can perform magic are descended from dragons.

If everyone can do magic, then there’s not likely to be much in the way of a torches-and-pitchforks, burn-them-at-the-stake response to magic users. Though, there still may be some distrust of the powerful magicians.

But, if it’s limited to a few . . . well, that raises some other questions. Is it essential for those who use magic to hide it from their non-magical neighbors, as in Harry Potter? What happens if the muggles find out about them?

Or are magicians accepted as useful members of society as in Patricia Wrede’s and Elizabeth Stevermer’s Cecilia and Kate novels? If so, are the magic users automatically part of the elite? Or are ordinary folk magic users, too?

Or do the magic users use their abilities to make themselves the rulers of the non-magical population? And, if so, what’s the reaction to that? And how much (if at all) do the non-magic users resent that?

Do the religious institutions employ/conscript magic users? How do they use them? And how do they feel about magic users who aren’t under their control?

Or, as with the Lakewalkers in Lois McMaster Bujold’s Sharing Knife series, do the magic users feel a responsibility to spend their lives fighting the things that regular people can’t fight?

Or, of course, any combination of the above.

In the Arthurian story I’m working on, there may still be a fair number of people keeping alive the knowledge of herb lore and methods of divination, but those with actual magic will be few. Between the antipathy of the Romans and the Christian church, they will be isolated and at least somewhat secret. I have yet to work out exactly how they’ll defend their space, but I suspect part of it will depend on rumors and tales of the danger of breaching its boundaries. Fortunately, some such stories did actually circulate about the high ground around Glastonbury Tor, which may have been considered a boundary between the worlds of the living and the dead—ant therefore dangerous—at one time.

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I’ve reached a point in my Arthurian story where I’m going to have to start writing something about the (very limited) human magic systems. Merlin’s magic is based on draconic abilities and I can do anything I please with that. But any purely human magic systems in fifth-century Britain would be based—at least somewhat—on the original Druidic practices. Somewhat, because the Romans appear, uncharacteristically, to have done their best to squelch the Druids. (The Romans were usually fairly lenient toward local religious customs.) And, of course, because Christianity would have come to Britain sometime in the fourth century and that would have had some effect on how—and by who—the ancient practices were carried on.

So, I have tried to do some research on the Druids. Unfortunately, the only really reliable answer I’ve been able to arrive at is: Nobody knows. The bare handful of ancient writings by Greeks or Romans contemporary with the Druids barely say anything about their practices. And most of those are phrased by comparison, always unfavorably, to Greek or Roman practices, which actually says more about the attitudes of the writers than about the Druids themselves. Later writers appear to have made up a lot of what they say they know.

About the only thing that seems reasonably certain is that the Druids did have some methods of divination and might have also had some knowledge of healing and herbs.

So, it looks like I’m going to have to make up whatever magic system I use for the few humans who will have the ability. And, in this case, try to make it fit into a fifth-century context. Fortunately, I intend for any real magic (as opposed to herb lore, for example) to be fairly rare and somewhat limited.

Nevertheless, I thought now might be a good time to go into some of the questions I might ask myself in developing a magic system for one of my stories. These questions don’t always need to be answered in the story, but I may need to know the answers, even if my characters don’t. Also, some of the answers can be fodder for more conflict or obstacles for my story.

  1. Who can do magic?
  2. How do they acquire magic?
  3. Where does the magic come from?
  4. What is needed to perform magic?
  5. What can magic do?
  6. Are magic users organized in some way? How?

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Sometimes, it takes a while for ideas to percolate and then for me to voice them—to myself, first.

Another point Gail Carriger made in her book, THE HEROINE’S JOURNEY, is that readers or audiences of the two journeys are after different things. Those who favor the Hero’s/Warrior’s Journey are looking for excitement. Hairs-Breadth Escapes! Battles! Starships exploding! (Even in space, where there’s no oxygen, but . . . never mind.) Those who favor the Heroine’s/Leader’s Journey are not averse to excitement, but they’re looking for something else. She calls it comfort, which is as good a way to describe it as I can come up with. The satisfaction that things come out all right, happily, in the end—which the Hero’s/Warrior’s Journey doesn’t deliver.

However, when I think of LORD OF THE RINGS, I can’t help noticing something. Frodo is definitely on a Hero’s/Warrior’s Journey, but most of his solitary battle is internal, fighting against the growing influence of the Ring. After the breaking of the fellowship, almost all of the “exciting” bits—the battles—take place in Aragorn’s part of the story. Helm’s Deep, the Battle of the Pelennor Fields, and the Assault on the Black Gate. And, as I argued here, Aragorn is on a Heroine’s/Leader’s Journey.

Which leaves me thinking. If a Heroine’s/Leader’s Journey supplies enough excitement along the way . . . well, I suppose some of the adrenalin junkies might think the ending is sappy, but they got the excitement they were after, so they’re not disappointed. And those looking for the satisfying ending of the Heroine’s/Leader’s Journey still got that.

Is it possible to please both with the same story? It seems so, but I need to think some more on just how to make that work.

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I don’t think I really need to go into depth about the Warrior’s Journey. We all know the shape of that story. And, anyway, there are a lot of resources for learning more about it. But, maybe we need to look closely at a good example of the Leader’s Journey. Unfortunately, neither Katniss nor Samwise are the best examples of a Leader. Katniss is not very good at creating a team by her own efforts, though she’s extremely loyal to her team once they’ve been recruited. She says it herself, that she’s not good at making friends. In the beginning, both Peeta and Haymitch do more of the recruiting than she does. And, at least initially, she seems just as happy to be off on her own. And then there’s Samwise, who never recruits a team at all. So, for an example of the Leader’s Journey, I’m going to follow Gail Carriger and go back to ancient Greek mythology and the story of Demeter and Persephone. I’ll mark the major points of the Journey in bold.

Demeter was the Greek goddess of agriculture and the harvest and she had a daughter named Persephone. One day, when Demeter was on Mount Olympus, seat of the Greek gods, tending to business, Persephone went for a walk in the meadows below, picking wild flowers. Suddenly, a chasm opened up beside her and Hades, god of the Underworld, grabbed Persephone and dragged her down to his realm.

Someone dear to Demeter, her daughter, is in danger.

Demeter didn’t know what had happened to Persephone, but she knew something wasn’t right. She appealed to her brother gods for help. (In Greek mythology, quite literally her brothers.) They were sympathetic, but none of them offered any real help or solutions. Demeter threw down her crown and stepped down from her throne, leaving Mount Olympus to search on her own.

Abdication of a position of power and even of a part of her identity, not always voluntarily.

Demeter searched everywhere, but couldn’t find any sign of her daughter until one of her sister goddesses, Hecate, caught up with her. Hecate suggested that they should talk to Helios, the Greek god of the Sun, since he might have seen something as he drove the chariot of the sun across the sky. Helios reluctantly admitted that he saw what happened and told Demeter that Hades took Persephone. But he also advised her to look on the bright side, after all, Hades would make a powerful son-in-law.

The Leader’s team excels at information gathering.

Depressed and feeling even more betrayed by those she expected to help her, Demeter continued to wander, disguising herself as an old woman. In this guise, she was found by the daughters of a local king. The girls took pity on the old woman and took her back to the palace, where she was given a place and made nanny to the infant prince.

The Leader is in the most danger when she (or he) is alone.

Disguises are a common feature of the Leader’s Journey.

Iambe visited with Demeter and told her dirty jokes until Demeter laughed. This lightened her mood and finally began to break her out of her depression.

Humor is much more common on the Leader’s Journey than on the Warrior’s Journey. It can be a source of cohesion within the team as well as breaking the tension.

Demeter now realized that what she needed was a new team—one that would help her recover Persephone. So, she decided to make the infant she was caring for into an immortal so that he could help her. In Greek mythology, this could only be accomplished by burning the mortal part away.

She laid the infant in the fire to begin the process. Just then, the baby’s mother came in and freaked out. (Well, wouldn’t you?). Hearing the uproar, the father came in—and also freaked out. Demeter then dropped her disguise, appearing before them as the goddess. By way of apology, the King built a big, new temple for Demeter and in return Demeter taught their older son the principles of agriculture.

Building or other signs of an increase in civilization are hallmarks of the Leader’s Journey.

Also, the Leader is just as willing to help her team mates as she expects them to be to help her. In fact, she may often recruit her team mates by helping them first.

Once Demeter took the throne in her new temple, the other gods—the ones who hadn’t helped Demeter in the beginning—came to beg her to return to Mount Olympus. Without her, there had been no harvest. There was a famine, and the gods were afraid that if everyone died there’d be no one left to worship them. To each, Demeter replied that she wouldn’t return to Mount Olympus until she saw her daughter.

Finally, Zeus sent Hermes, the messenger of the gods, to the Underworld to tell Hades that he had to let Persephone go. Hades was reluctant, but agreed to a visit. Hermes led Persephone up to the surface where she and Demeter were reunited.

However, Hades revealed that, while in the Underworld, Persephone had eaten four pomegranate seeds, which tied her to the Underworld. Demeter proposed a compromise. Persephone would spend four months of the year in the Underworld with Hades, and the remainder of the year with Demeter.

The Leader is willing to compromise and find a win/win solution. She (or he) doesn’t care about glory or revenge. She (or he) is all about results. And loyalty to her (or his) team.

Another aspect of the Leader’s Journey not exemplified by this story:

The Leader is also good at delegation, asking each member of the team to undertake the tasks that they are individually best suited for—and giving them the glory for achieving those tasks. When the mission or the team is in jeopardy, the Leader is likely to react as a general, deploying her (or his) team to best effect. This is partly why I chose to call this journey the Leader’s Journey.

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One of the fascinating things about researching the legend of Arthur is that you can almost watch the story grow over time.

What turns history (or even pseudo-history) into legend is that it grows and changes in the telling and retelling. Some changes are introduced as later tellers reframe it into a world they recognize—changing Arthur into a king and his companions into knights, for example. Sometimes it grows by plain old-fashioned exaggeration. Sometimes other stories are added to it—older stories or brand new ones.

Not much more about how the legend of Arthur was growing survives until The History of the Britons in the early ninth century—more than 300 years after the Battle of Badon Hill. It’s the first historical source to actually name Arthur, describing him as a warrior and a war leader, but not a king, though it describes him fighting alongside the kings of the Britons. It lists twelve battles, most of which cannot be located from the description. Some of them are listed in other sources, but not attributed to Arthur. The History is also the first historical source to connect Arthur with the Battle of Badon Hill. Though the text also claims that Arthur killed 960 of the enemy all by himself in that battle, somewhat undermining its credibility.

It also repeats the story of Vortigern and Hengist, adding the story of Vortigern’s concessions in return for marriage to Hengist’s daughter, Rowena. And it gives the first version of the story of Dinas Emrys, where Vortigern’s attempt to build a tower on top of the hill was thwarted because the tower kept falling down. Vortigern was advised to sprinkle the blood of a boy without a father over the site to lift the curse. When Emrys is brought to him, the boy reveals that the cause is two dragons fighting underneath the hill.

The next source is the Annals of Cambria, probably written down around the middle of the tenth century, although the earliest surviving copy is from the twelfth century. It adds the detail that both Arthur and Medraut (Mordred) were killed in the Battle of Camlann. It doesn’t say whether they were fighting together or against each other, though. There’s also a disputed entry for Merlin. It’s disputed because it uses a form of his name, Merlinus, that only appeared later. The old Welsh form would have been Myrddin or Merdin.

The Welsh texts are mostly frustrating. Most survive as later copies (13th or 14th century) and so may have been changed from the original. And some of them, like the Triads of the Island of Britain and The Stanzas of the Graves, seem to be mnemonics to help oral story tellers remember details, which means they give hints, but don’t actually tell the story. But there are a few things that can be gleaned. Camlann, Arthur’s last battle is mentioned. Arthur, Gawain (Gwalchmai in Welsh), Bedevere (Bedwyr), and Kay (Cei) are also mentioned. So is Yvain (Owain), son of King Uriens of Rheged.

Up to this point, the stories about Arthur were mainly told in Britain and Brittany. But then came Geoffrey of Monmouth and his version of the Arthur story as told in the History of the Kings of Britain in the first half of the twelfth century—after the Norman Conquest. Geoffrey was writing for a new Anglo-Norman/Norman-French audience. He claimed to have had access to an ancient book, now lost. Maybe not, but he might have used some original sources. He certainly added a good amount of imagination, too.

Geoffrey’s Merlin is probably based on at least two actual characters from Welsh tradition—neither of which had any previous connection to Arthur—blended together. He also changed the name from Myrddin to Merlin to better appeal to his French-speaking audience.

Without regard to any actual history, he also has Arthur conquer most of Europe and even Rome. Possibly he conflated Arthur with a fourth-century Roman general with ties to Britannia, Magnus Maximus, who actually did some of that in the 380’s. Maximus was a Roman general stationed in Britannia and he may have married a Welsh princess. But he was not a Briton, having been born in Galicia on the Iberian Peninsula. His legions declared him emperor and he took control of Britannia and Gaul for a while, with at least grudging acceptance of the actual Roman Emperor of the time. He lasted for about four years. When he tried to invade Italy to take Rome, too, Emperor Theodosius I defeated and executed him. Magnus Maximus was definitely not Arthur.

Geoffrey of Monmouth also gives a different account of Mordred than the one we’re more familiar with. According to Geoffrey, while Arthur was in Europe, word reached him that Guinevere and Mordred were having an affair. According to Geoffrey, this is the cause of the Battle of Camlann, where Arthur kills Mordred and is mortally wounded himself. But Arthur is carried off to the Isle of Avalon to be healed.

Finally, Geoffrey completes the reframing of the story into a medieval world, rather than the actual context of the Dark Ages. Arthur is a king—in fact, he’s not just a high king, he’s an emperor. His companions are knights. And Geoffrey introduces the very medieval concept of courtly love, as well.

The older versions of the Arthur story were mainly about his battles. But Geoffrey’s version took off, making the legend known—and improved upon—across Europe. After The History of the Kings of Britain, the legend snowballs. Wace adds the Round Table and the idea that Arthur might return some day.

And then Chrétien de Troyes gets hold of it. This is where we get most of the romances. He adds Lancelot, the greatest knight in the world—who just happens to be French. And he starts the story of the adultery of Lancelot and Guinevere. He also adds Perceval and the Grail Quest.

More and more gets added and changed over time, but that’s where the core of what we know as the legend of Arthur comes from.

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It’s been a little while since I posted, hasn’t it?

Well, some of that is because I’ve been writing. Not making any speed records, here. But I actually am writing. I’m also still doing research for this one.

Part of the goal is to get as reasonably close to history as practical–at least the history of the times, since there is no historical documentation of Arthur at all. That’s important because I mean to carry the story and at least Merlin forward beyond Arthur’s time. But Arthur’s time, to the extent that any part of the legend has a real basis, is the fifth century–the Dark Ages. And the reason it’s called the Dark Ages (beyond the fact that daily life almost certainly did get grimmer than it had been during Roman times) is that there just isn’t a lot of historical documentation. Archaeology to the rescue. Except that mostly what archaeology has turned up complicates the legend.

Before the Romans, the native Celtic Britons had been organized into dozens of small, tribal territories more likely to fight each other than the invading Romans. Which, of course, the Romans exploited. And the Romans had mostly left that ground-level organization in place, and just put a layer of Roman administration on top of it. So, when the Romans left, the Britons naturally fell right back into their tribal territories–and their inter-tribal warfare. And it’s most likely that several of those small tribal “kingdoms” hired Saxon or other Germanic warriors to help them out against their neighbors. Who then also hired Saxons to fight on their side. So the image of Arthur uniting the Britons to expel the Saxons is just not realistic.

And, at the same time, I want to keep enough of the legend that it is recognizable, but without all the flourishes that later writers, like Geoffrey of Monmouth, Chretien de Troyes, and Thomas Mallory added. Though, I am keeping Merlin even if Geoffrey of Monmouth mostly made him up. Just, well, my Merlin will be very different than Geoffrey’s.

I will not, for example, be using the story of Merlin disguising Uther so Uther can get into Tintagel and spend the night with Igraine. Sorry, but I’ve never liked that story and I like it less now. Frankly, it’s rape, since no one asked Igraine what she thought about it. And that’s not the kind of story I write. Anyway, having just written a couple of books inspired by the legend of Hercules it’s impossible not to notice that it’s basically a direct copy of the Greek myth of Hercules’s birth. Which I also didn’t use.

Right now, I’m writing the part where Merlin discovers there’s a dragon under Dinas Emrys, where Vortigern is trying to build a fort on top of the hill.

Oh, yes, there will be dragons.

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Wow! Looks like I haven’t been back here in almost two months. Sorry to say, nothing much happened writing-wise during that time. And now, I’m pushing the restart button.

Truth to tell, I’d love push restart on this whole year. I imagine most everyone would. But that’s beyond my power.

What I can do is push restart on my writing. Literally.

It’s weird the way one thing will prompt another. I was attending to some mundane tasks–getting my books up on GooglePlay–when something just clicked. The reason I was not making any progress on my current writing project–well, apart from the general background stress and feeling of being overwhelmed–was that I’d started in the wrong place. Way too early. Again. That background might make it into a prequel novella some day, because it is important, but it’s way to far back from when interesting things actually start to happen.

So, restart, quite literally. I wrote the new first chapter yesterday. And it was fun! And at least a partial antidote to being overwhelmed.

The story has a new title, too. Merlin’s Gambit.


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I confess to having been knocked a bit off balance last week. A lot of things happened in a short space of time. I know I’m not alone in that. It’s a new reality we’re all trying to cope with.

But this week I am committed to getting myself back up out of that slump and doing things. At least those things I can do. Some work in the yard (I did a little this morning.), some house cleaning, something creative. And figuring out how to manage or work around those that I can’t or shouldn’t do right now. (I fall into the vulnerable group as far as this virus goes.) I’m seriously tempted to restart my vegetable garden (in some other place until I can clean up the old one), even though I know nothing would be ready for harvest for at least two months.

I did manage to get the books and stories I still had in Kindle Select/Kindle Unlimited pulled out and up for wider distribution. So, that’s something. And now that they’re wide–or as soon as the distribution works through the systems of the various retailers, I’ll likely start setting some of them free for a limited time. Everybody needs some form of escape right now and books seem to be one of the only safe ways. And, in times that are just as unsettled financially as they are health-wise, well, it’s something I can do to help out.

Gold Flame Dragon

And I swear I am going to get some work done on the new story. Really. I may even start working on cover art.

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I haven’t really gotten any writing done recently. But, as I’m about to have two weeks off (I hope it’s only two weeks) while the schools are closed, hopefully I’ll be able to make the most of the time.

I’ll also use the time to prepare several books/stories that were in Kindle Select/Kindle Unlimited. I’ll be taking all of them wide (Apple, Kobo, Barnes & Noble, etc.) by the end of this month.

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