Posts tagged ‘George R R Martin’

Monday Masterclass: The Wars of the Roses, Part Two

This week I continue my summary of the Wars of the Roses, a civil conflict in 15th century England between the House of York and the House of Lancaster, on which George R R Martin’s A Song of Ice and Fire is somewhat based.

The First Battles

The first fight of the Wars of the Roses was the First Battle of St Albans (in Hertfordshire, north of London), which occurred on 22 May 1455. Here, Richard, Duke of York, faced the Lancastrian King Henry VI and beat him. The Yorkists found Henry in a tent, wounded and lapsed into his mental illness. Richard set himself up, once again, as regent, and gave Margaret of Anjou care of her royal husband. Richard, of course, wanted himself to succeed Henry; Margaret wanted her and Henry’s son, Edward to succeed.

When Henry recovered the next year, he relieved Richard of his post as regent and sent him back to command English forces in Ireland. The country was beset by various problems. The Archbishop of Canterbury tried to resolve the York/Lancaster feud by holding a Grand Council, but it had little long-term effect.

After an attack on foreign forces by Richard Neville – Earl of Warwick, commander of the English garrison in Calais and a Yorkist – York, Warwick and another noble, the Earl of Salisbury were summoned to London, but didn’t go, fearing arrest. When the Yorkists tried to marshal their forces the Lancastrians intervened, resulting in a series of battles in 1459 and 1460. The upshot of these fights was that York was defeated and the Lancastrians had control of England.

Shortly afterwards, Warwick invaded England from Calais and defeated Henry VI at the Battle of Northampton (in the East Midlands). Richard returned from Ireland and took the throne, to the surprise of even his own supporters. After producing genealogical evidence supporting his claim, Parliament narrowly defeated his attempt to become king, but made him Protector of the Realm and Henry’s heir with piece of legislation called the Act of Accord.

Queen Margaret took her young son, Edward, to Scotland, where she agreed to marry him to James II of Scotland’s daughter in exchange for an army.

The Duke of York returned to northern England to quell Lancastrian resistance, but he was killed at the battle of Wakefield; his son Edmund and the Earl of Salisbury were executed by the Lancastrians afterwards. The Act of Accord meant that the heir to the throne was now York’s eldest son, Edward.

Edward beat Jasper Tudor at the Battle of Mortimer’s Cross. An atmospheric phenomenon called parhelion or sundogs occurred, where ice crystals in the air made it seem like there were three suns. Edward bolstered his forces’ courage by telling them they were the Holy Trinity.

The Earl of Warwick was defeated at the Second Battle of St Albans by Margaret’s army. The fleeing Yorkists left behind Henry VI, who was found sitting under a tree. Queen Margaret had the seven-year-old Prince Edward decide how to execute Henry’s Yorkist bodyguards. Her forces looted the Home Counties and were denied entrance to London.

Margaret’s army moved north. York’s son, Edward, Earl of March, joined forces with Warwick and entered London, where he was acclaimed by the populace. Parliament declared him King Edward IV. The Yorkists then gathered a huge army and followed the Lancastrians north.

The Battle of Towton, near York, on 29 March 1461 was the largest of the Wars of the Roses. Both sides agreed that it would be decisive battle and 20,000-30,000 men died in the course of the fight. The Yorkists won and Henry and Margaret fled to Scotland.

Edward of March was crowned in June 1461 and ruled for ten years, during which time the last of the Lancaster-supporting nobles were defeated – often after long sieges – Henry was captured once again and held in the Tower of London, and England and Scotland resolved their differences, forcing Margaret to leave for France.

The Last Battles

The Earl of Warwick became increasingly discontented during this period. He had been arguing that the king should marry a French princess to cement an alliance with France, but Edward IV had already married Elizabeth Woodville in secret. When this became public, the Woodvilles became more favoured than the Nevilles (Warwick’s family) at court. Edward would also not allow his brothers the Duke of Clarence and the Duke of Gloucester to marry Warwick’s daughters.

In 1469, Warwick, allied with the Duke of Clarence defeated Edward IV at the Battle of Edgecote Moor. Having captured the king, however, Warwick allowed him to return to London, the two men apparently reconciled. After putting down further rebellions, Edward IV declared Warwick and Clarence to be traitors and they fled to France.

Louix XI suggested that Margaret and Warwick – formerly mortal enemies – ally with each other. Margaret once again betrothed Prince Edward – this time to Warwick’s daughter Anne – and Warwick invaded England in 1470. As Edward IV was in northern England quelling rebellions, Warwick was able to easily enter London and parade Henry VI as the restored king. Warwick’s brother, the Marquess of Montagu, turned sides and turned on Edward IV – forcing Edward to flee to Holland. The Yorkists were declared traitors and Lancastrians returned from exile.

At the behest of Louis XI, King of France, Warwick declared war on Burgundy; Charles, Duke of Burgundy and brother of king Edward, lent his support to Edward IV in another invasion of England. Clarence changed sides again and Edward captured London. At the Battle of Barnet, north of London, Warwick and Montagu were killed.

Queen Margaret attempted to join her supporters in Wales, but was defeated at the Battle of Tewkesbury in Gloucestershire. In the fight, Prince Edward was also killed; as a result, Henry VI was murdered shortly afterwards. Edward IV was restored to the throne on 11 April 1471.

Edward died suddenly in 1483, but on his deathbed he named Richard of Gloucester Protector of England. Thus began a period of intrigue between Gloucester and Edward’s queen, Elizabeth Woodville. Elizabeth took refuge with her younger children. Meanwhile, Edward V, the 12-year-old heir, was taken from his stewards (who were later executed) and imprisoned in the Tower of London. The Archbishop of Canterbury persuaded Elizabeth to also give up her younger son, the 9-year-old Richard.

Richard of Gloucester had Parliament agree that Edward and Elizabeth’s marriage had been illegal and that therefore the two young princes were illegitimate. Gloucester was named King Richard III. The two boys subsequently disappeared – their fate being one of the most famous controversies in English history.

The Duke of Buckingham, who had previously supported Richard, rebelled, declaring his support for the claim of Henry Tudor to the throne. The Lancastrian Henry’s claim was tenuous, but he was descended from Edward III. Buckingham’s rebellion ultimately failed.

Buckingham’s supporters rallied to Henry Tudor’s cause. Henry invaded England from France, by way of Wales, where he was unopposed, and fought Richard III’s forces at the Battle of Bosworth Field in the East Midlands. Richard was killed during the battle and Henry became Henry VII.

He married Elizabeth of York, daughter of Edward IV, and had many of his remaining rival executed – a policy that was continued by his heir Henry VIII. During Henry VII’s reign there were further uprisings, a couple involving pretenders who claimed to be heirs who were either dead or in custody, such as Perkin Warbeck, who claimed to be Richard, Duke of York, the younger of the two princes of the Tower. None of them succeeded.

Conclusion

The Tudor period saw the end of the Medieval era and the beginning of the Renaissance. The power of the nobility in England was much curtailed as rebels and claimants continued to be killed off and their military powers stripped from them. Even Henry VIII’s break with the Roman Catholic church was tied into the Wars of the Roses and their effects.

The Wars of the Roses were a period of complex intrigues, battles, claims, counter-claims, alliances and betrayals – all of which are some of the best features of A Song of Ice and Fire. There are few direct analogues between the history and the fiction. However, some incidents seem like direct parallels.

Queen Margaret’s promising of her young’s hand in marriage in exchange for military aid has obvious similarities to Catelyn Stark’s betrothal of her son Robb to one of Walder Frey’s daughters. Catelyn’s rather deranged sister and nephew, Lysa Arryn and Robert, also bear some resemblance to Margaret of Anjou and Prince Edward – especially the episode where Margaret makes the young boy decide how some Yorkist knights should be executed.

The ruthlessness of the civil war and the various executions of captured nobles is well reflected in scenes from the books such as the beheading of Eddard Stark (whose first name is surely no coincidence) by the boy king, Joffrey.

On the other hand, the land of Westeros is more monolithic than England. The Seven Kingdoms is a unique place in its world – the lands to the east, dubbed Essos, are exotic and alien; the lands to the north of the Wall are even more forbidding and strange. England, by contrast, was surrounded by various nations with similar cultures, histories and interests as itself – France and Burgundy to the south, Ireland to the west, Scotland to the north.

And, of course, there were no dragons in Late Medieval Europe.

What are your thoughts on the Wars of the Roses and their reflection in A Song of Ice and Fire? What do you think of the relationship between history and fantasy literature? Post your comments for the whole world to see.

Monday Masterclass: The Wars of the Roses, Part One

As George R R Martin’s fortunes continue to wax due to the popularity of A Song of Ice and Fire and the TV series based on it, Game of Thrones, I thought I’d take a look this week at one of the main inspirations behind the epic fantasy story: the Wars of the Roses.

The Wars of the Roses were a series of conflicts in the late 15th century over the succession to the throne of England. They were fought between the houses of Lancaster and York, the eventual winner being the House of Tudor, a branch of the Lancaster family.

Houses and Roses

Plantagenet
The  House of Plantagenet was the ruling dynasty of England from the 12th century to the 15th century. It was a French family, originating in Gâtinais and Anjou. Its empire, the Angevin Empire (‘Angevin’ is a Victorian coinage), comprised, at one point, western France, the whole of England and eastern Ireland. There were fifteen Plantagenet monarchs of England, including John (who signed the Magna Carta), Henry V and Richard the Lionheart.

Lancaster
The House of Lancaster was a branch of the Plantagenet family. After the death of the first Duke of Lancaster, Edward III (Plantagenet) made his third surviving son, John of Gaunt – a man whose marriage to Blanche of Lancaster had made him a wealthy landowner – the next Duke of Lancaster. The house provided three kings of England: Henry IV, Henry V and Henry VI. Although Lancaster is a city in north-west England, Lancastrian land was held in Gloucestershire, North Wales and Cheshire.

York
The House of York was another branch of the House of Plantagenet and also gave England three kings: Edward IV, Edward V and Richard III. The first Duke of York was another son of Edward III, the fourth surviving son, Edmund of Langley. Later Yorks were able to claim a line of descent from Lionel of Antwerp, Edward III’s second surviving son, thus giving the house a legitimate claim to the throne of England. York itself is a city in Yorkshire, but York lands were spread throughout England and the Welsh Marches.

Tudor
The House of Tudor was descended from the House of Lancaster by the maternal line and illegitimate offspring. Henry Tudor became Henry VII and married Elizabeth of York, uniting the two families of York and Lancaster. His second son succeeded him to the throne, becoming Henry VIII, whose daughter, Elizabeth I was the last Tudor. The house originated from Anglesey in Wales, but also owned Richmondshire located between Lancaster and York in the north of England.

The Roses
The name ‘the Wars of the Roses’ appears to have been coined by Sir Walter Scott, 19th century novelist. The roses – the Red Rose of Lancaster and the White Rose of York – are the badges we associate with each family, but they may not have been used often at the time. Livery badges of each soldier’s respective lord would have been used – Richard III’s, for instance was a white boar.

When Henry Tudor ascended to the throne at end of the civil war he adopted the combined red and white of the Tudor Rose to symbolise the union of the two families, which has been used by English monarchs ever since.

Background to the Wars

Edward III, ancestor of all the claimants to the throne of England in the Wars of the Roses, ruled England from 1327 to 1377, making him one of England’s longest-serving monarchs. He was a successful king, overseeing the development of government and initiating the Hundred Years War against France, gaining much French territory in the process. He lived so long that he was succeeded by his grandson, Richard II.

Richard II’s father was Edmund, the Black Prince, who died when Richard was nine. The following year, Edward III also died. Councils of nobles ruled for Richard II in his early years, and his later reliance on certain noblemen caused unhappiness amongst others, who then took control of the government. Later still, Richard, having taken back control, exiled or executed these men.

When his uncle, John of Gaunt, Duke of Lancaster died, Richard disinherited John’s son, Henry of Bolingbroke. Henry invaded England from exile in 1399 and was able quite easily, with growing support amongst the nobles, to seize and depose Richard II, making himself Henry IV, the first Lancastrian king. Henry’s claim to the throne was not cast-iron, as he was descended only from Edward III’s third surviving son. He quickly faced rebellions and died in 1413.

Henry IV was succeeded by his son Henry V, who successfully continued the Hundred Years War (immortalised in Shakespeare’s play bearing his name). Henry faced the Southampton Plot during his reign, aimed at putting Edmund Mortimer, another descendant of Edward III, on the throne; this plot failed when Edmund told Henry about it.

Henry V died suddenly in 1422 and was succeeded by his baby son, Henry VI. Henry’s regents were unpopular, losing a lot of land back to France. Henry also suffered from mental illness that incapacitated him for periods and allowed the nobles to vie against each other to take over the running of the country. These noblemen included the Duke of Gloucester, popular with commoners and who was arrested for treason and died in captivity; also, the Duke of Somerset wanted to sue for peace with France; the Duke of York, lieutenant of the English forces in France, wanted a stronger war effort.

Henry was weak and granted much power and lands to the Lancastrians. After another bout of mental illness, Richard, Duke of York became regent and imprisoned Somerset and other Lancastrians. When the king recovered, his queen, Margaret of Anjou, headed the Lancastrian fight back, forcing York out of the court.

Richard of York, in fearing that he would be arrested for treason, made the suspicion a reality by marching on London with an army in 1455. This resulted in the First Battle of St Albans, the opening battle of the Wars of the Roses.

Next Time, On Elements of Fantasy

Next week I’ll give a summary of the Wars of the Roses themselves and their outcome.

Friday Fast Forward Rewind

Another batch of fantasy-related articles to tickle your fancy.

Friday Fast Forward Rewind

Whet your literary tastebuds on another smorgasbord of fantasy morsels.

Friday Fast Forward Rewind

Monday Masterclass: Barbarians in Fantasy

Contemporary fantasy aside, most works of fantasy depict a world with a much lower level of technology than our own world. Fantasy secondary worlds are often quasi-Medieval, or depict worlds similar to the Renaissance or to the civilisations of Ancient Greece or Rome. The plot will generally be set in or centred around the most advanced part of the world, but will incorporate a common fantasy trope: the barbarian.

 

Etymology

The word barbarian today means an uncivilised person with strong connotations of savagery and cruelty, but its original definition – it come from the Greek barbaros – was simply ‘foreign, non-Greek’. The word was an onomatopeic representation of how foreigners spoke (either their own language or Greek).

The name of the Berbers of north Africa comes from the same root, as does ‘Barbary Coast’ (ie, coastal north Africa). Even the female name ‘Barbara’ is related – probably because of the many female foreign slaves in Ancient Greece.

Example in Fantasy

The most famous fantasy barbarian of all is, of course, Conan – who was created by Robert E Howard in the early twentieth century and has been the hero of many stories by subsequent authors, including Robert Jordan, Lin Carter and L Sprague de Camp. Conan is a native of the northern land of Cimmeria, and his people are based on ancient Indo-Europeans and Celts; the Cimmerians are also descendants of the Atlanteans, although they have no memory of this heritage. Their land is gloomy and mountainous and the Cimmerians are an extremely hardy people. While they are a primitive, tribal race, they also have a strong sense of justice – which, in the tales of Conan’s exploits, is contrasted with the decadence and corruption of more civilised lands.

Fafhrd in Fritz Leiber’s stories such as ‘Ill Met in Lankhmar’ is another prominent barbarian northman. Terry Pratchett satirises the trope with his Cohen the Barbarian, an elderly warrior who laments the passing of a heroic age. Cnaiür urs Skiötha in R Scott Bakker’s The Prince of Nothing series is a Scylvendi barbarian whose homeland is between the largely unpopulated northern regions from where the preternaturally insightful Anasûrimbor Kellhus hails and the civilised lands around the Three Seas.

In A Song of Ice and Fire by George R R Martin, the Dothraki are barbarian horsemen of the eastern continent who are led initially by the Khal Drogo, a man who whose extremely long braid signifies that he has never been beaten in battle. A khal is the leader of a band called a khalasar (Drogo is, coincidentally (maybe), the name of Frodo Baggins’s father). The Dothraki are nomads and skilled riders who who literally and figuratively live on their horses and who complement their lifestyles by raiding.

The Aiel of Robert Jordan’s The Wheel of Time are a barbarian (or barbarian-like) people who live in a desert to the east of the main setting of the story. Although to most of the westerners they are barbarians, their civilisation is actually quite advanced. They live by a strict code of honour and women can become warriors – in fact only women can own property, but only men can become clan leaders. They are highly skilled warriors, but never use any weapon that is solely used for combat (ie, swords).

Analysis

Fantasy barbarians are part of the literary tradition of the noble savage. The noble savage (originally, the word savage didn’t have the negative connotations of cruelty and brutality, but indicated ‘wildness’ in the sense of belonging to nature) is an individual from a less technologically advanced culture who yet has an advanced moral sense. It is both a romanticisation of the primitive and a critique of a morally bankrupt western culture. Primitive peoples have been viewed in two opposing ways. There is ‘hard’ primitivism, which posits a tough, brutal life in which people are continually fighting against each other, other tribes, the environment; and there is ‘soft’ primitivism, in which people live simple, pastoral lives and are innocent of the vices of civilisation. The key element to the debate is whether humans are innately moral and good, or whether they require the civilising influence of education, law and religion to make them such.

In terms of fantasy, barbarians are, in a way, doubly appealing. Part of the attraction of fantasy, for many, is that the quasi-medieval settings often portrayed represent a return to a simpler age when life hadn’t been corrupted by technology and good and evil were absolutes that had real meaning. The barbarian represents this desire for a simpler life in its most basic form. The barbarian is a natural man – an animal being with the advantages of sentience, but none of the disadvantages of civilisation. In Joe Abercrombie’s The Blade Itself, for instance, the only likeable viewpoint characters – the only ones without moral flaws – are the northmen Logen and the Dogman.

On the other hand, barbarians in fantasy fiction could be seen as representing the Other in the worst way. Most fantasy is Eurocentric; barbarians are from far off lands – usually from the north or the east – which the light of civilisation has yet to illuminate. In The Lord of the Rings – work generally regarded as being the epitome of world-building – swarthy men from the east – Easterlings – fight for Sauron … and that’s pretty much all we know about them.

Conclusion

Ultimately, I think the barbarian is popular because of his (and he usually is a he) status as an outsider who is uncorrupted by the vices of civilisation. He is a strong, fearsome warrior, he is misunderstood, he is quick to anger; he may be selfish, but he possesses a strong moral code that always chooses right in the end. For fans of fantasy – who, as a general rule, are not the bravest, burliest bunch – he is the ideal vessel of escapism.

What other fictional barbarians do you know? What does the barbarian mean to you? I’d love to know what you think.

Friday Fantastic: Game of Thrones Parodies

For any fan of fantasy, the recent, highly acclaimed Game of Thrones series was the most exciting thing on TV for a long time. And with success come the piss-takes. Foolhardy Productions has a number of parodies up on YouTube. They are promising one video for each episode, but at the moment, they’ve completed spoofs of episodes 1, 2, 5, 6 and 7 only (and strangely). Here’s Episode 1.

Friday Fast Forward Rewind

Here are a handful of fantasy-related pieces that piqued my interest this past week. May they pique yours also.

Friday Fast Forward Rewind

Another batch of fantasy-related goodies for your weekend reading pleasure.

Monday Masterclass: magic

(This week’s Monday Masterclass is a little bit late. Maybe I should call it Tuesday Taster Class.)

Last week I wrote an introduction to secondary worlds. That post quickly got longer and somehow less detailed than I had intended, so this week, I’m going to start exploring some of the various aspects of secondary world creation that fantasy writers must consider when starting a project.

Choose Your Magic

First and foremost is magic. Magic – whether in the form of a raw energy that can be utilised by people with special abilities, or in the form of magical creatures, objects, events or places – is the defining aspect of fantasy. A great deal of thought must be given to the rules of any system of magic in a good fantasy story.

Perhaps the most basic choice a writer has in designing the secondary world is high-magic or low-magic. A high-magic world is one that is, maybe not full of magic and things magical, but one where such things are not uncommon. A low-magic world is one where wizards and beings and artefacts of power are extremely rare.

Other things to consider are: Is the power to use magic innate or can it be learned? What can magic do and not do? What are its drawbacks and risks? What kind of energy is it? Does it come from within the magician or is it drawn from the environment in some way? Can it be harnessed as a raw energy or are special substances, objects etc required? Are there different types of magic? If so, how do they interact with each other?

The question of who can use magic is an interesting one – and one that can be interpreted politically. Many fantasy worlds require magic-users to have some innate magical propensity for their talent. There is a sense in which this is an elitist view – in other words, some people are just better (ie, more magical) than others. In other secondary worlds, there is a more democratic ethos – that is, anyone can learn magic as long as they put in sufficient effort.

High and Low

Robert Jordan’s The Wheel of Time is a good example of a high-magic world. The magic-users of this world are all part of a powerful organisation that, while based in one city state, has great influence across the continent in which the story takes place. Many of the main characters of the books can use magic; those that don’t often have quasi-magical abilities. The hero’s two best friends, for instance, aside from being affected by something called ta’veren, which twists fate in their presence, have between them unnatural luck, memories from past lifetimes, wolf-like senses and the ability to communicate with wolves, and access to the World of Dreams.

Although J K Rowlings’s Harry Potter books take place within the wider, non-magical world of muggles, magic and its use are so prevalent in the stories, that we can call the Britain of Hogwarts and the Ministry of Magic a high-magic secondary world.

The Gormenghast trilogy, by Mervyn Peake, on the other hand, is perhaps the very lowest of the low end of low-magic worlds. There isn’t really any magic in Titus Groan’s world (unless you count the high technology he encounters in Titus Alone – but that’s more sf territory). In the first two books, at least, there is an air of darkness and mystery, there are baroque ceremonies and a vast, labyrinthine castle, there are larger than life characters and strange events – but no definitively identifiable magic.

You’ll notice that I’ve contradicted myself by saying that magic is the defining aspect of fantasy and then introducing a fantasy story without any magic. Clearly, by this definition, the Gormenghast books are not fantasy – but they do take place within what appears to be a pure secondary world – one with no connection to our own.

Tolkien’s The Lord of the Rings is a low-magic world. In TLotR only certain beings can perform magical feats. The Valar, the gods of that world have long since left it to its own devices. Within Middle Earth there are still a few of the Maiar, powerful beings created in the early days of the world; Gandalf, Saruman and Sauron are all of this race. Apart from them, the elves are the only others who are capable of magic, and elven magic is less powerful, more territorial. The rest of the magic of Middle Earth is contained in objects like the Rings of Power and in beings like the Ents or Shelob.

Indeed, what gives Tolkien’s masterwork its elegaic beauty is the fact that much of this magic passes away at the end of the story – the One Ring is destroyed, which in turn destroys the other Rings, the elves sail west to the Undying Lands.

George R R Martin’s A Song of Ice and Fire is another well known low-magic world. In it there are dragons – but only three – wights – but they are rarely seen – and sorcery – but only performed by one or two characters and with indirect or vague results. Instead, A Song of Ice and Fire is a study of medieval conflict, brutality and politics.

Detail and Description

In some secondary worlds, magic is a mysterious force, the practicalities of the use of which are not explained. In others, magic-use is explained in great detail.

In The Lord of the Rings, the Maiar can use magic because of their divine heritage; others are able to use magic because of their great learning. But how either perform their specific works is not elaborated on – the reader just has to accept that the characters can do what they can do.

In The Wheel of Time on the other hand, magic and its use are described in great detail. Magic is called the One Power; this comes from something called the True Source. The One Power is divided into a male half (saidin) and a female half (saidar); it is further divided into five elemental Powers, Air, Water, Earth, Fire and Spirit. Channellers must have the innate ability to channel – which may be weak or strong – then they are trained for years, or they learn on their own, often unconsciously (these latter are called wilders).

Creating a magical spell, or weave, involves seizing hold of the appropriate half of the One Power (each of which has different, but fairly cosmetic qualities) and then creating strands of each element required. Creating a fire, obviously requires only Fire; if you wanted that fire to move through the air, as a fireball, you would need Fire and Air. Healing is the most complex form of channelling and requires all five elements woven together in intricate form.

Channelling is tiring – the more complex the weave and the more One Power used to create it, the more tiring it is. At the beginning of the story, only women are legally and practically able to channel – in a previous age, the male half of the One Power was tainted by the Dark One (the evil god) so that male channellers eventually go mad and start destroying everything around them. This twist and its ramifications is one of the more interesting aspects of the world Robert Jordan created.

Other Examples

In most fantasy stories, mages, wizards, sorcerers come into their power by come combination of innate ability and long training. In Stephen R Donaldson’s The Chronicles of Thomas Covenant, however, the main character (Thomas Covenant) comes into his powers by the simple coincidence of having a wedding ring of white gold – a material of extreme rarity in the world he finds himself in. In order to use this magic, he doesn’t need to go to a magical university – instead he needs to find his self-belief, an issue that is intimately tied up with his belief in the Land in which the story takes place.

Donaldson created another interesting take on magic in the Mordant’s Need series. In it, magic – called Imagery (which cleverly contains the word ‘mage’) – requires mirrors. The mirrors, correctly used, translate things from other worlds. The hero, Terisa Morgan is translated to the world of Mordant in this way. In one scene, two mirrors facing each other across a field of battle summon a chasm in the middle of the ground.

In Steven Erikson’s The Malazan Book of the Fallen magic comes from places called warrens with exotic names like Omtose Phellack and Kurald Galain. These warrens are not just sources of magical energy, but entire realms that can be entered physically. Omtose Phellack, for instance is a realm of ice and the special warren of an ancient race called the Jaghut.

Magical items are a staple of fantasy and often serve the function of emphasising a hero’s righteousness – Arthur’s Excalibur, for instance – or of thrusting a modest character into the midst of great events – Bilbo and Frodo’s Ring. Also, magical artefacts are simply the tools of the trade of a mage – such as Harry Potter’s wand. Sometimes they may be relatively simple and tractable tools; often, though, their use comes with inherent dangers: the wild magic generated by Thomas Covenant’s white gold ring always threatens to get out of control, and could even destroy the world; Michael Moorcock’s character Elric of Melniboné must contend with an evil sword that brings him strength but also misfortune to those around him.

Places can also be loci of magic. Lord Dunsany’s The King of Elfland’s Daughter has the mundane realm of Erl neighbouring the magical realm of Elfland, where magic is possible and time flows differently. Elfland or Faerie or similar ideas have been around in folk tales and fairy stories for hundreds of years. Magical locations can be more specific: the wizards’ school in Ursula Le Guin’s Earthsea stories has two special places where powerful magic is easier to perform. In Robert Holdstock’s Mythago Wood, Ryhope Wood seems to be a small English forest from the outside, but inside is a vast magical realm where archetypal beings come to life.

Times, too, can be magical. The full moon is the most obvious example – a time when werewolves transform and lunacy is rife (the word ‘lunatic’ comes from ‘luna‘ – ‘the moon’). In Ian Cameron Esslemont’s Malazan novel, Night of Knives, the action takes place over the once in a generation event called a Shadow Moon, when the warrens become permeable and eldritch powers vie for control.

Words and Language

In some secondary worlds, language is key to the use of magic. For the wizards of Earthsea, names are vital; to know something or someone’s true name is to have power over it or them. However, when a wizard travels to other lands, language changes, and if the wizard doesn’t know the new language, his power over things diminishes. The magic of Harry Potter requires the use of special short incantations, which form a kind of sham Latin. In R Scott Bakker’s The Second Apocalypse series, mages effect magic by simultaneously speaking words in one language and thinking words in another language.

This leads on to a further point – the terminology used to describe magic in a fantasy novel. I feel that words like ‘magic’, ‘mage’, ‘wizard’, ‘sorcerer’ are overused to the point of cliché and parody. A believable secondary world needs terms that are original but authentic. Robert Jordan used terms like ‘channel’, ‘weave’, ‘One Power’, as well as making up new names like ‘Aes Sedai’ (the female order of magic-users). Other writers, like Stephen R Donaldson, use obscure synonyms for magic, such as ‘puissance’ (‘power’), ‘thaumaturgy’ (‘miracle-working’), or ‘theurgy’ (‘divine intervention’).

Conclusion

There are many more types of magic used in secondary worlds than I can cover here: necromancy, telepathy, divine intervention, deals with devils and so on. Hopefully the above gives you some idea of all the considerations a writer must undertake before settling on a system of magic for his or her new secondary world. Personally, I’m planning a system that requires a kind of meditative state to alter reality, using an original set of of words that I’ve adapted from Latin roots.

What are your favourite kinds of magic from fantasy stories? Which ones are the most original? Which are the most believable? Post below with your comments and ideas.