Hello All! After weeks of diligent work, I am proud to announce I’ve submitted my first story for consideration with the magazine, Shoreline of Infinity. September’s themed issue will feature fairytales with a science fiction twist. Anyone involved in writing knows, competition is fierce and rejections are inevitable. I’m just happy I finally had the guts to throw my hat into the ring! One can never succeed without trying! I’ll keep you posted as to when and where you can read my story.
In the meantime, my focus has returned to practicing my skills with flash fiction!
A Short Story Set in a Mythical Nordic Medieval World.
Glossary of Terms and Characters
Völvur: a shamanic order of women capable of foresight and communing with the otherworld.
Jötunn: god-like elemental forces of nature from the mountains, forests and wilds of the tundra. (Giants.)
Gobban: a Norseman, a smith and master craftsman of weapons.
Kalda: servant of Skadi, an ice sprite.
Skadi: winter goddess of jötunnic origins.
Seiomenn: men who practice conjuring magics.
Greta: the queen’s seeress.
Alfar: fairies, elves.
Surtr: Norse god of fire.
Muspellheim: elemental realm of fire.
Steinvegg: a stonewall.
Holde seg: a command to hold, stay, or remain still.
Part 7 “Winter Thaws”
Kalda’s suggestion flummoxed Gobban. The smith stared uncomprehendingly at the ice sprite.
“Isaz?” he asked incredulously.
An involuntary titter escaped Gobban’s pursed lips, replaced by silence as he observed Kalda’s sincerity. Forcing a cough, he cleared his throat to compose himself.
“I typically shy away from Isaz. The cruel cold tends to induce brittle weakness in steel.”
A fiery, azure light flared in Kalda’s eyes as she scowled fiercely. Gobban stepped back, head titled, eyes wide, and hands in the air. He simpered, attempting to mollify Kalda’s rising ire.
“Now, of course, Isaz can represent such things, but I have you, Kalda, to thank for showing me a different side to winter’s power.”
The ice sprite raised an eyebrow inquiringly, emboldening the smith to continue talking.
“With your guidance, my eyes have been opened to intriguing possibilities. Tonight, I have witnessed impossible feats wrought with the help of your wintry magic.”
“You understand then how the ice rune is crucial to achieving your goal?” Kalda asked.
“Isaz’s chill bite may diminish the beast’s inferno, making its fires unequal to those we used in forging this sword.”
“I believe victory will be won by the sword’s ability to endure,” Kalda said.
“Good. How do you affix the sigils to your work?”
Gobban led Kalda to a workbench. He laid the blade before them and fetched a small clay pot from a shelf.
“My family has perfected the recipe for an acid capable of eating into the steel.”
“How can this clay jar contain such a liquid without failing?”
“Simple. Nothing magical is involved. Manure from a cow solely fed spinach and kale greens is liberally mixed into the mud.”
Smirking, the smith removed the jar’s lid and dipped a fine brush into the etching fluid.
“I suppose your brush is made from spinach leaves?” Kalda quipped.
“Nope, just a regular brush. I trim the burnt end off after each use. One will last quite a while.”
The ice sprite rolled her eyes.
“I was hoping for something a little more exciting, master smith.”
“Sorry to disappoint.”
Gobban and Kalda giggled, forgetting momentarily the monstrous evil threatening the kingdom. As their laughter subsided, the smith regarded the ice sprite solemnly.
“Thank you for coming to our aide. I admit I was anxious, not knowing what to expect. But, ironically, your laugh, your presence warms my heart.”
Kalda nodded, reflecting.
“It surprises me, but I am pleased to be in your company. My kind and yours so rarely have such close dealings. Many questions arise in my mind. Being here awakes memories I had long forgotten.”
Curiosity gripped Gobban, but he held his tongue. Sensing Kalda would say no more, he clapped his hands, rubbing them together.
“Let me demonstrate the technique I employ,” he said.
Melting a lump of wax, the smith fashioned a mold outlining first one rune and then another until six letters ran down the length of the blade. The ice sprite watched intently as Gobban carefully applied the acid to the spaces surrounded by wax. The liquid fizzed and bubbled, wisps of vapor wafting towards the ceiling.
“It doesn’t take long.” Gobban offered.
Kalda remained quiet, seemingly deep in thought.
“That ought to do it. Here’s where I usually make a mess.”
Juggling the sword and clay pot, Gobban tilted the blade, causing the acid to run down its narrow length haphazardly. Most of the liquid successfully streamed back into the jar. After mopping up the small spill, he gently removed the wax, buffing the steel clean.
“One last thing to do. Then our work is done!”
Gobban attached a bronze guard and sturdy wooden handle to the tang. Fine wire and two strong bolts held everything together tightly. The smith sighed with pride as he presented the finished sword to Kalda.
“It is a beautiful sword.” Gobban beamed.
“Yes, it is. But do you believe it will be sufficient? Will it slay the beast?”
Gobban sighed grimly.
“If our sword fails the prince, my kingdom is doomed. There be nothing left to do but flee. And yet, I dare to hope this weapon will be exactly what his Highness requires.”
The smith smiled wanly, attempting to convey confidence. The ice sprite seemed not to notice. Absorbed in thought, she stared intently at the runes on the sword. Silence stretched as her eyes burned and her face hardened. Gobban struggled to read Kalda.
“What? You wrestle with something. Tell me.”
The ice sprite’s eyes bathed Gobban in a tangible radiance of sapphire light. The set of her chin was tense, her smile ferocious as she stood tall and proud.
“Gobban, there is yet one thing more I can offer to help you and your people.”
Something in the tone of her voice brought a lump to his throat as his heart quickened.
“You have done more than you know already, Kalda. What further aid could you render?”
“A foresight is upon me. Smoke and flame fill my mind. I fear the sword as-is will not be enough.”
Gobban shook his head.
“The beast’s fires will melt this weapon like all the others.”
“Why this sudden doubt?”
The smith squinted, raising a hand against the increasing glare from the aura of blue light surging out to surround Kalda.
“I see clearly now the wisdom in my mistress’ choice to send me to answer your king’s call for aid.”
“What are you doing?” Gobban shouted as her rotating screen of snow whipped faster.
“I will imbue this blade with my essence.”
Horrified, Gobban gasped.
“You can willingly part with an aspect of your life force?”
“I am prepared to hand over the entirety of my power if need be.
“Everything? Can you survive such a sacrifice?”
“My mistress, Skadi, has bestowed a great gift upon me; a means to redemption.”
“I do not understand.”
“The sword must be magically warded against the beast’s infernal fire.”
“The runes will….”
“My wintry spirit will amplify Isaz’s potency, protecting the sword. Its power will overwhelm and subdue the beast, allowing the steel to pierce and freeze its fiery heart.”
“Kalda, no! You are not one of the völvur. Pay no heed to this false vision. I have clouded your judgment, foolishly giving voice to my fears and uncertainty!”
The growing maelstrom of ice and snow writhed around the sprite filling the air with an ethereal sound as if a thousand tiny bells were simultaneously ringing.
“Gobban, for years beyond count I have existed, created when the world slept beneath majestic glaciers blanketing this realm in an endless winter. I am not afraid.”
“Kalda, please no!”
“Gobban, I welcome this. Being here has reminded me of my desire to right past wrongs.”
“Stop! I forbid this!”
Gobban held the sword behind him.
“I have made my choice, human. There is nothing you can do.”
“But, why? The beast will be defeated! The völvur seers foresee it. Think of the weapons, the tools, the art we could create together!”
Kalda’s magical presence expanded, filling the room.
“Please, Kalda. Stop. I know it sounds ludicrous, but I love you.”
“Master smith, you have thawed my icy heart, producing the closest thing to love a winter fairy may feel. Thank you. Goodbye, Gobban.”
A blizzard of energies engulfed the smith. Gobban flung his arms up to shield himself from the icy tempest, the sword clattered to the floor.
“No! Please gods, no!”
Kalda’s voice sung reassuringly above the din.
“I will live on in the winter and within the blade itself. Grieve not, Gobban.”
The smith fell to his knees, numbly watching the vortex of magic quicken. It hovered above the sword, channeling the frigid forces toward the blade. A brilliant orb of sapphire light crackled with energy at the point of contact as Kalda’s power surged into the weapon. Gobban could no longer see Kalda. A blinding radiance obscured everything from view until flashing and disappearing with a loud clap of thunder. The magic exploded, throwing the smith to the ground. The concussion extinguished the forge fire throwing the room into darkness as a wild wind ripped its way outside.
Silence dominated. The smith took a moment to collect himself. He lay on the floor and shivered under a new coating of snow and ice. Ghostly afterimages from the dazzling light danced across Gobban’s vision in the darkness. As his eyes recovered, he became aware of lighter areas of blackness outlining the windows and from somewhere inside a faint blue glimmer.
Sitting up, he beheld the sword gleaming with a radiance absent before. There was no sign of the ice sprite. Gently picking the blade up, Gobban studied it. The runes etched into the steel shimmered with an otherworldly blue light. One rune sparkled more intensely than the others.
“Isaz,” he whispered.
Responding to his voice, the sword crackled with light extending from the runes to illuminate the entire blade. A chill seeped down into the handle nipping his hand. Ignoring the frigid pain caused by touching the sword, Gobban cradled the weapon and wept.
“Kalda, your sacrifice will not be forgotten.”
Gobban’s heart ached to recognize the runes burned with Kalda’s familiar sapphire blue light. Loath to move, to disturb the solemnity of this grievous moment, he knelt quietly. The smith grappled with warring emotions. He knew he should be grateful, consumed with joyous relief. They had succeeded in creating a weapon to defend the kingdom. But sorrow and guilt welled up, threatening to drown him.
Listening to the shutters banging in the breeze, Gobban chided himself. He acknowledged the tragedy of Kalda’s death, but his emotions dumbfounded him. Humans and fey folk rarely interacted. The smith had spent one night with the ice sprite. He did not understand why he felt this way.
A faint, unfamiliar noise pulled Gobban out of his reveries. With dawn beginning to break, he wondered if the sound had come from outside. The smith refused to face the world just yet. He stood, walked to each window, and closed the shutters. He stumbled forward in the gloom using the sword’s light to see. After some effort, Gobban managed to rekindle a frost-covered torch. He grimaced in dismay surveying the sodden remains of the forge fire in the smoky, guttering torchlight.
Again, a muted sound caught his attention. He raised the flickering light to illuminate more of the smithy. A whispering murmur percolated from somewhere inside. Cautiously stepping forward, he searched the room. On the far side of the forge, a figure lay huddled on the floor.
Shocked, Gobban’s heart skipped a beat. His mind raced; he wondered if this was Kalda’s body. He hadn’t anticipated anything corporal remaining behind after the ice sprite had selflessly poured out her spirit. Gobban realized he was shaking, racked with indecision. He dreaded having to gaze upon her lifeless form.
The smith stood rooted in pace, hesitating until he perceived a quiet groan coming from the prone form. With a disbelieving, desperate hope, Gobban catapulted forward. Collapsing next to the body, he gawked. Coarse fabric and the filthy pelt of an unknown animal covered the figure. Long hair hid the person’s face.
Hand trembling, he reached out to turn the body over. Through the grime and dirt, Gobban could see it was a woman. He nearly leaped out of his skin when she coughed. He leaned closer, scrutinizing the stranger. Wild, dark, unkempt hair framed a beautiful face. Tentatively, he leaned forward to listen to her breathe. Instantly, he could feel her warmth and vitality. The woman stirred, eyes fluttering open with a look of surprise.
Gobban studied the woman’s face. He recognized her features, but instead of pale, unnaturally white features, Kalda had a tanned, ruddy complexion. Deep, dark brown eyes gazed back at the smith. Astonished, Kalda studied her hands and felt her face. She smiled, crying. Gobban assumed she shed tears of joy.
“But, how? I don’t understand,” he asked.
“The gods have restored me to what I was eons ago before the völvur’s magic made me into something different.”
“You, you were human? I mean, you’re human?” Gobban whispered.
“Yes, human.” she laughed.
Gobban clasped Kalda tightly in an embrace. Showering her face with kisses.
“I don’t understand. But, it doesn’t matter. You’re alive!” the smith said.
“The gods have forgiven me, Gobban. I have a second chance.”
“But, why? What did you…?”
Kalda touched a finger to Gobban’s lips, silencing him.
“Not yet. Please. I promise I will explain soon,”
Sensing Gobban desperately yearned for some explanation, Kalda sighed, shaking her head.
“I was foolish and vain. Lust for power consumed me, stealing my humanity.”
“But, you’re not… I mean, you’ve… changed?”
“I believe I have. Yes. Yes, I have. After all these years, meeting you has changed everything.”
Kalda smiled broadly and giggled. Gobban smirked, blushing. He shook his head, struggling to reconcile the youthful image before him with her claim to ancientness.
“Older than you can count, master smith. And yet, I am beginning to feel young again.”
The Saga of Jockular, the Swamp Barbarian and George the Dishwasher Continues!
George sat at his kitchen table, head resting on his hands, staring at the butterfly he had just drawn. He waited impatiently, feet bouncing. It had been a week since his sketch of Jockular, his LARPing character, had come to life.
My life was boring! Can’t say that anymore. What the fuck is happening? This shit is crazy! Amazing! But, insanely crazy!
The shock had worn off. But, his body refused to relax. Instead, it continually idled, awaiting the next adrenaline rush. He knew he wasn’t hallucinating. Yet, he still had no explanations.
Wonder why the timing is so inconsistent.
George had brought other things into existence; nothing monstrous as Jockular requested. He had been exceedingly judicious with his choice of subjects. First an apple, then a rose, followed by a ham and cheese sandwich and a housefly, all eventually became reality. He had googled butterflies, searching for a picture of a type common to this area. George selected the spring azure. Its periwinkle, blue wings with traces of purple had enchanted him. Peering closer, he sensed all the waiting was about to pay off. The monochrome sketch, still only shades of grey, appeared to shimmer. The perspective seemed deeper, stretched.
George’s life was literally an endless, boring routine of wash, rinse, and dry. He was dishwasher at a local restaurant.
“George! Running low on plates again!”
Perhaps, Mr. Witherson, if you shelled out some money to buy more plates, we wouldn’t be constantly running out on a busy Friday night.
“Right away, Sir!”
His current job at “Rodeo Ribs” was the latest in a long line of menial gigs. Never lasting, he either quit or was fired within a couple of months.
This job rots. My hands are perpetually pruned. I leave every night drenched down to my underwear and I smell like an old sponge.
Despite being intelligent, college was a disaster. Failure to focus, when disinterested, was a constant. George dropped out after a semester. Retrieving a rack of dishes, he climbed upstairs.
And who puts the dish sink in the basement of a restaurant?
George wasn’t completely devoid of ambition, however. He had two passions; his art and role-playing. Drawing was intimately connected to creating fantasy characters to play. He enjoyed putting his imagination on paper. Recently, he discovered LARPing. Now, his entire world revolved around it. When live action role-playing, he felt authentic and truly alive. His alter-ego was a bold, brawny, swamp barbarian named, “Jockilur of the Murky Fens.” His character wasn’t the brightest, but compensated for this flaw with stupendous strength. The barbarian’s legendary battle-rage filled even his most formidable opponents with dread.
“George, I said plates!”
“I’m working on it, Mr. Witherson.”
George sputtered and skidded back through the hectic kitchen to the top of the stairs. Rushing, he nearly fell on the way down.
Really need some non-slip shoes or I’m gonna kill myself.
George whistled happily, daydreaming about his upcoming weekend. His LARP group was hosting this month’s regional adventure weekend. It was called, “Taming the Titan’s Tempest!”
Two whole days of play. Can’t wait to show off the new armor I’ve constructed. Good chance of winning MVP, if I effectively deliver those new jokes and taunts I’ve been rehearsing.
His barbarian’s name was a play on the word, “jocular”. Feeling particularly clever, George enjoyed explaining the name’s pronunciation accentuated the character’s ubiquitous laughter and prodigious sense of humor. Jockilur gleefully sought any opportunity to taunt his adversaries with gruesome puns foreboding impending doom. George also never forgot to mention the spelling of his character’s name alluded to the barbarian’s athletic prowess.
Look at all these dishes! Jockilurwould never tolerate having to while away the time scrubbing at dirt and grime like some kitchen wench. Ha! No need! He eats with his fingers!
“George? Mr. Witherson is going to have a coronary. You have those plates yet?” one of the waitresses called down.
Hefting a load of fresh plates, George hurried to deliver them. Taking the stairs two at a time, he failed to make proper contact with the last stair.
He fell with a tumultuous clatter. Plates shattered everywhere as George landed with a sickening pop on the basement floor.
“George?! Are you ok?”
The waitress clamored down.
“Ow, ow, ow!”
George heard Mr. Witherson yelling upstairs.
“What was that noise? Was that plates breaking?”
George racked with pain, ignored the shouting above.
“Damn! Oh, God! Oh, God!”
“Your forehead’s bleeding!” the waitress exclaimed.
George swiped at his face. His hand came down slick with blood. Scrambling to get up, his right foot erupted with an agonizing explosion of pain. He crumbled to the floor and threw up.
“Somebody help! George is hurt bad!”
Mr. Witherson begrudgingly allowed a busboy to drive George to the emergency room. An x-ray confirmed his ankle was broken. George was sent home, sulking with a cast and a bottle of prescription painkillers.
Once home, beginning to feel the dull throb grow, George defeatedly collapsed on the couch. Reading the instructions on the prescription container, he tossed it on the cluttered coffee table in disgust.
Ugh. Next pill in about four hours.
Rummaging about George found his sketch pad. Gingerly propping his foot up, he began to draw.
Thank God, I didn’t break my hand. I’d die without being able to draw.
As the charcoal pencil danced across the paper, a figure gradually emerged. George sketched a burly man clad in furs, wearing a scaly, green, armored breastplate. Elk antlers protruded dramatically from either side of the barbarian’s helm. His face was ringed with a golden mane of unruly blonde hair. George smiled down at the image he had created of Jockilur blithely, brandishing a bloodied, double-bladed battle-axe. Gradually, he retuned to thinking about this weekend and all the fun he was going to miss. George frowned.
Damn! Whole weekend is ruined!
Disgusted, George threw the notepad and pencil across the room. The sketchbook skidded to a stop just outside the kitchen. Breathing heavily in anger, he closed his eyes, listening to the grating sound of his pencil roll across the linoleum.
Ugh! I hate my life!
Lying still, feeling sorry for himself, George heard something. It was the sound of rustling paper. Quietly listening, attempting to identify the source, he was startled by a loud crash from the kitchen. His foot adamantly protested as he sat up quickly.
“Dragon’s Piss!” someone whispered loudly.
Alarmed, George painfully hobbled toward the kitchen, arming himself with a pillow. Reluctantly, he edged closer to the muffled commotion in the next room. Pausing, just around the corner, panic took over. He froze.
Oh, God! Oh God! Come on George! You need to look!
He managed to peep, ever so slightly, into the other room. He was instantly paralyzed again by the sight. In the middle of his kitchen was an unnaturally large beast, back turned to George, doubled over, picking up the shards of glass from a broken pickle jar. The refrigerator door was glaring, wide open. Food littered the countertop. Initially, mistaking the figure for an animal, he realized it was a man dressed entirely in an assortment of furs. Regaining control of his body, George stepped backwards, placing the entirety of his weight on his bad ankle.
Eeeeeyy.” he squealed involuntarily.
The man spun around.
“What ar ya doin on yar feet? Ya’r suppose to be restin!”
Disregarding his pain, George skittered backwards, bumped against the wall and slowly slid to the floor. This hulking man standing before him was exactly how he imagined Jockilur. The fur, the long hair, the antlered helm, even the green, dragon scale breastplate; it was all there. It was as if Jockilur had climbed straight out of George’s drawing. The man sighed with exasperation.
“Now, I was fixin’ to whip ya up a thing, a healin’ thing. Does me ever so much good when I find meself feelin battered and bruised from battle. Trust me! It’ll work ya wonders. Ya’ll be on yar feet in no time.”
The stranger folded his arms and laughed loud and long. George stood stock-still, gawking. Catching George completely off guard, the huge man lunged forward, his hands outstretched.
Effortlessly, he plucked George up off of the floor and schlepped him back into the living room.
“Quit yar belly achin’ lad.”
Depositing him onto the couch with care, the giant stuffed a pillow gently underneath his injured foot. Grasping a nearby blanket, the stranger then clumsily tucked it around George.
“Thar! Snug as a bugbear.”
He chortled to himself, striding back to the kitchen. Stopping abruptly, the behemoth bent down.
“Oh. Ya dropped this.”
Holding up George’s sketch pad and pencil, he walked back over.
“Har’s yar quill n parchment. Oooh! That quill looks magical. Gives me the heebie-jeebies just touchin’ it. Mind ya, I ain’t afraid. Seem to remember haring of things such as this. Is it a quill of eternal ink?”
George lay staring up, eyes wide as saucers. He was in shock. Receiving no response, George’s new and unexpected caretaker returned to the kitchen.
“Ya’v cared for me many a times, Georgie. My turn to return the favor. I don’t spect ya’ll thank me none too soon tho. This ol’ shaman’s recipe, me Mam taught me, tastes of pig shit.”
The man snorted and guffawed as he returned to the kitchen.
Coming to his senses with the giant out of view, George dared to quietly flip his sketch pad back to the page he been working on.
The sketch was gone.
The page was completely blank.
“Balderdash! Ya seem to lack some of the necessary ingredients. Not to worry! I’ll forage about. Shouldn’t be hard findin’ some goat snot. Course, now that I think on it, Mam did say I can always use me own.”
“Jockilur?” George whispered to himself.
Jockilar leaned his head suddenly back into the room.
“Oh! Georgie! When ya’r feelin’ better, perchance ya’d draw me some trolls er goblins to practice me fightin’ moves with. Whatcha ya think?”
In honor of the co-creator of Dungeons & Dragons, Gary Gygax. Most gamers try to do something special on July 27th, Gary’s birthday. How does one throw a party for the late, original, consummate dungeon master? Gather together with fellow RPG geeks and dive deep into an adventure for the entire day! Well..that’s what I did. The game has evolved over the years with several edition. I still prefer AD&D, first edition. This year my DM decided to run a later edition module. I created a green–ancestry, dragonbornpaladin to play, which was really going out of my comfort zone. Interestingly, this adventure was recently finished posthumously for Gygax by his two sons, who used notes he made, but never got around to using.
My penchant is to play wizards, magic-users, druids, illusionists or any other arcane force weilding character. Consequently, I definitely had wizards and dragons on my mind when I decided to put out a piece of flash fiction inspired by my love of Dungeons & Dragons.
The resulting 1500 word (just small enough for some to still classify as flash fiction) story has been rattling around in my head for months. The characters Garv, Bryndis and Amin feature prominently in a fantasy book I’m developing. The scene is from deep within the middle of the plot. So…treat it like a trailer for a movie.
Music also fuels my imagination. I recommend listening to “Fix You” (The cover of the Coldplay song.) by Danny Olson with Jadelyn.
I must have replayed this hundreds of times while visualizing the scene in this story when dragon fire starts flying!!!
Please follow the link below to read the story, “The Dragon Eyrie”.
“You can’t get something for nothing.” is an old familiar saying. Consequently, anything worth having in this world is only gained with hard work, sweat and even a few tears. If one is lucky, the work required is well-suited to one’s sensibilities and becomes a joyous labor. Yes, there are people who live easy, by subjugating others or perhaps on inherited wealth. This is the exception though rather than the rule. Until limitless energy, endless supplies of raw materials and free labor (without any human cost) is discovered, everyone must exert effort and spend time to receive material gain. No matter how small the desire, it necessitates some form of sacrifice. Yet, the setting of a fantasy or science fiction story distorts, weakens or altogether negates this maxim. Readers can enjoy immersing themselves in a world full of magic or advanced technology (and with a willing suspension of disbelief) feel as if anything is possible. For example, the replicator, from Star Trek: Next Generation, is an interesting story element often paid little heed. With ample supply of energy this device allows humanity to instantly order up any form of matter desired. Viewers see the characters use this technology primarily in the storyline to order food or beverage at a moments notice. But, I don’t see anything limiting this ability, so long as the desired specifications for an object are inputed. In this futuristic, utopian setting, humans now have no need for money. There isn’t anything to be bought. There is an endless supply of essentially anything, provided the technology is available and sufficient energy. And there it is! The limiting factor remains. My musings have brought me back full circle. “You can’t get something for nothing.”
Let us contemplate how magic is typically portrayed in a story and think about the rules governing its use. There is almost always an economy of power dictating, when, how often and in what fashion magic is used. It is a very rare to find an example of a character with unlimited magical powers. Effortless use of magic tends to be found more often in tales written for youth or when the story’s purpose is to entertain. Consider Bewitched, a 1960’s sitcom featuring the character, Samantha, a good-natured witch living as your average suburban housewife. She can do practically whatever she wants with only a twitch of her nose and pointing her finger. I Dream of Genie replicated this format, simply replacing the witchery with the all-mighty power of the jinn. Of course, it was necessary to have some limitations to their powers, otherwise there would be no struggle to drive even these simplistic plots. The shows were light-hearted comedies. The audience wasn’t looking to see “under the hood” at the magical engines. There was not mention of how the magic worked. It just did.
Magic begins to be more reflective of real life attitudes and values when encountered in highly developed fantasy settings. Ultimately, the existence of magic, supernatural powers or sci-fi technology gives an author great fodder to be used in tackling heftier topics. But, before dipping our toes into a more serious discussion, let’s look at the motif of magic as an arcane study. The Harry Potter series veers closer to a more believable rendering of magical power with the J. K. Rowlings’ fabrication of a “school for magical arts”. In Harry’s story, the magical world is able to perform great feats, but only with intensive study and lots of practice. Genetics is a bit of a wild card for Rowlings’ characters. Not unlikely in sports, some are just born with more raw talent.
Many RPG gamers, from the 1970s and 80s, undoubtedly feel familiar with what is presented in J. K. Rowlings’ books. The magic-using character classes designed for play in Dungeons and Dragons also follow this path. Magic-users must travel and adventure in order to gather treasure and experience to make their magical studies worthwhile. Just like Hogwart’s students, these imaginary characters shop for magical items, gather spell components and commit to memory obscure knowledge. They too, early in their careers, are limited in terms of the magic they can successfully perform. Further constraining their power, once a spell is discharged it must be painstakingly prepared again. The cycle of study, researching, memorizing, and obtaining additional magical component is never-ending. The rules and mechanics of the game are complicated and at times frustrating, yet they give it life and purpose.
The source of power in our world is readily attributed to science, technology and other educational endeavors. But, what does one resort to when the mundane ways of getting something we want fail? Depending on how important it is to us, we might find ourselves turning to a faith-based solution. After all, the miraculous requires the intervention of something extra-ordinary; better yet, supernatural. Thus, we pray, beg, plead and bargain with any higher power, we feel might listen. Perhaps, skepticism is high and faith low. Submitting our laundry list of requests, we already expect disappointment. In small matters, we accept the silence, thinking “something” beyond us must know better. We console ourselves, proclaiming the ill we endure will ultimately lead to a better opportunity unasked for. Yet, what happens when the request involves grave or dire circumstances? One may desperately offer to sacrifice anything for an answer to their prayer. This need causes people to recite or perform lengthy religious formulas, fast, abstain from all-manner of things, exorbitantly give alms, devote all their time to charitable works and even subject themselves to pain, in an attempt to cajole from the heavens speedy, effective aid.
Religions evolve from the desire to ward against and make sense of the evils and misfortunes of this world. Proffering a sacrifice to buy salvation is the ultimate result. It is here one finds the crux to why humanity invents and tells stories. We use fiction, as a means of mulling over our circumstances, as mere mortals, and in the process map out a remedy for it. Our favorite characters, settings and plots help us to cope with the ravages, this indifferent life can put us through. A vivid fictional portrayal of this is found in the popular television series, American Horror Story. The Coven season depicts, Marie Laveau, a voodoo priestess, performing a powerful fertility spell. A component to the ritual requires Laveau to ingest, straight from the fire, the hottest type of chili pepper in existence. The character professes her belief that displaying a willingness to suffer will cause the spirits to “sit up and take notice”. Watching the scene, one wonders what circumstance in the real world would make us willing to suffer so greatly. It’s only a story some might say, but cultures in the not-too-distant past ceremonially slaughtered individuals as offerings to obtain a greater good for the many. Modern society abhors the notion of human sacrifice, but elements of the practice remain. We have offered to the gods the choicest animals, other valuables, arts or the best share of harvested goods. What was presented mattered not as long as it was the best, the most beautiful and invaluable.
The idea of only gaining great power through an immense sacrifice is central in many high fantasy plots. A well-known example from current pop culture is the story of the arch villain, Thanos, from the Marvel Universe. He seeks an unimaginably, powerful artifact. The bearer of this item is able to alter the very fabric of time, space and existence. His goal is to reorder all life in the universe. Thanos has an interesting perspective of the known, physical world. He is haunted by the suffering of those too weak to grab their fair share of what they need to survive. He sees over-population throughout the universe and resulting scarcity of resources as the root cause of war and conflict. In order to ensure a more peaceful future, he embarks on a quest to gain the power to eliminate half of all life in the universe. Interestingly, the notion of wanting to bring an end to warring over resources and providing all with ample living space is a noble one. But, his willingness to sacrifice trillions or more is misguided to say the least. It is an evil plan of immense proportions. It is worth pointing out, one can readily identify shades of this scheme within our own human history, which is full of instances of ethnic cleansing and wars for living-space. The implement Thanos is seeking is a gauntlet powered by “magical” stones. They must be collected and inserted into the glove. One of the stones needed, to complete his plan, can only be obtained by sacrificing someone he loves. Knowing her father to be cruel and always self-serving, his daughter believes Thanos has failed. She is convinced he is incapable of love. Any villain, worthy of the title though, is complex and harbors within good intentions long laid aside; even love. To everyone’s dismay, Thanos does gain the stone because does love his daughter. In a perverse fashion, he is committing a great act of love, self-denial and sacrifice. Tragically, Thanos’ ability to parse good from evil is eclipsed by his fanatical devotion to his belief that he is actually saving the universe.
Next time…I will explore characters, who gain magical or supernatural power by making sinister bargains with the darker forces in fiction.
Do you enjoy fun and comedic characters who absurdly can do just about anything? Know about other stories of magic/power involving characters who study and refine their craft at a school, academy or as an apprentice in a guild? Lastly, share with me your favorite story-lines in which a character must sacrifice something they hold dear or someone they love to access magic/power.