As part of the online release event for The Seventh Magpie by Nancy Chase, me and eleven other fantasy folk are getting together and posting to our blogs in honor of this momentous occasion. Check out the all-week Facebook party to get in on the fun and prizes!
Illegal magic is a widely explored element in modern high fantasy. In fact, at the moment, I can’t think of a series in which free magic is the norm. It’s common to have supernatural powers banned, usually as an extension of an overlying tyranny where the reigning despot doesn’t want people to have a means of deposing him or wants everyone with that means to be in his service.
Niccolo probably never thought he would be referenced in quite this context.
Like Machiavelli said, a ruler who takes care of his people will allow them to have whatever armaments they wish because he won’t give them a reason to boot him from office, but a tyrant or a conqueror has to disarm them or risk his life. Machiavelli was talking about swords, but I think the same can be applied to magic. Therefore, it makes sense that fantasy worlds featuring evil dictators and dark lords would also feature a magic taboo.
Or you can just have lots of rules.
The alternative to this is regulated magic—like in Cinda Williams Chima’s Seven Realms series or Intisar Khanani’s Sunbolt. Both worlds have a magic restriction because of evil done by past mages.
In this case, the reader is brought to understand just why someone would collar the spell weavers, but at the same time begins to question if maybe things have begun to go a bit far. The enforcers of the rules have become so legalistic that they hunt fledgling magicians while in both cases a diabolical mastermind is preparing to take over the world.
Then you have the miscellaneous category.
There are plenty of fictional worlds that follow either pattern or a culture of free magic depending on where you are in the respective world. The Sword of Truth series by Terry Goodkind is a good example of variance scattered across a map and then there are those that are more or less in a classification all their own.
Much of the story in my Argetallam Saga takes place in the country Brevia. There magic is revered and those born with it are glorified. Unfortunately, this means that the Argetallams, the people who are not only immune to magic, but can steal it or destroy it, are outcasts at best. It is one of the large driving factors to the plot of the series and it wasn’t until recently that I realized how different the paradigm was from everything I tended to read.
But so long as there’s magic…
In the end, I don’t think we readers much care whether magic in the story is outlawed, restricted, lost, or put on a pedestal, so long as it’s there. That is, after all, one of the defining elements of fantasy and I find myself drawn into a world’s enchantment paradigm no matter what it may be. All we need is sorcery and a good story to go with it and writers can get away with more or less anything.