The Magic of Orthodoxy
Look, we know it: historically, Ye Olde Epic Fantasy has been more European than warm beer at a soccer riot. Legendary swords and continental castles and prophecies big and vague enough to wring out a dozen thousand-page bestselling doorstoppers. That’s cool. It’s also good that we have so many terrific authors who are pushing at the boundaries of the genre, widening the umbrella of epic fantasy to include more people and places than ever before.
Regardless: given fantasy’s Euro-genealogy, it’s not surprising that magic has often been a blueblooded affair. The oldest of the old schools make magic the domain of supernatural beings – if somebody like Merlin or Gandalf looks human, you’d better look again – and any mere mortal who tries to get a piece of that action for themselves is liable to get a Faustian comeuppance. Cue subsequent generations of winsome protagolescents struggling with their inexplicable gifts, only to find out that they are actually the son or daughter of Somebody Special. Even in stories as modern as Harry Potter, there is still some of that old British class system at work: you are either born a wizard or you’re not, and wizards are innately more powerful than non-wizards, and there is absolutely no changing of teams. It’s a shit deal for the muggles, but most of us are too busy Facebook-framing our Hogwarts house to mind much.
With D&D, things got a little more democratic. What if learning magic was as straightforward as medicine or turnip husbandry? If anybody with enough time and the right books can do it, suddenly a wizard is no more godlike than a good lawyer. The class system passively persists, though, just as it does in the Olympics and whatever MMO the kids are playing these days: only people with the means and leisure to practice fourteen hours a day come out on top.
So here’s my notion for a more equal-opportunity system, a more populist mystic order: what if magic comes from continuity – from orthodoxy? It can be cultural, empowering people who have been living on their own land, speaking their own language, keeping their own ways for a dozen generations. It can be religious: maybe you’re just a poor immigrant, but you have been keeping your Sabbath holy AF since you were old enough to say a bedtime prayer. It can even be genealogical, if you can not only name your begats from here clean back to the cataclysm, but also have their heirlooms and the 500-year-old family blacksmithing business.
I like that idea for all kinds of reasons. It lets fantasyland people draw on the same sources of strength and identity that empower us here in the real world. It gives them significant, serious limitations: if you break your commandments, pawn grandma’s jewelry, or get turfed off the family farm, you lose a big part of your mojo – and your enemies probably know it. And most importantly, it forces the same ongoing debate we have here in the real world: how much of our good old ways can we afford to keep, and which ones are we willing to give up in the name of forward progress? After all, continuity is great, until it becomes stagnation – and great discoveries don’t happen until someone is willing to sacrifice comfort and stability to try something new.
So if you like the sound of that, check out the Children of the Drought books, starting with One Night in Sixes. And if you have other novelicious new magic systems to recommend, please share them here: in the quest for a more innovative, heterogenous fantasy genre, we are conjurers of the first order!
Arianne “Tex” Thompson is home-grown Texas success story. After earning a bachelor’s degree in history and a master’s in literature, she channeled her passion for exciting, innovative, and inclusive fiction into the Children of the Drought – an internationally-published epic fantasy Western series from Solaris. Now a professional speaker and writing instructor at Southern Methodist University in Dallas, Tex is blazing a trail through writers conferences, workshops, and fan conventions around the country – as an endlessly energetic, relentlessly enthusiastic one-woman stampede. Find her online at www.TheTexFiles.com!
Dreams Of The Eaten (Children Of The Drought book 3) is available now from Solaris.