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The Shape of Magic: Part II

Updated: May 31, 2018

Time of the Twins by Larry Elmore, ©TSR, Inc

Fans of the Dragonlance Saga will recognise the serious looking man in this picture. Author Tracey Hickman was concerned that the original cover art to Time of Twins looked too much like a pulp romance novel. “Then I looked into his eyes,” he said.

Notice anything odd about the pupils? Look closely. Zoom in if you need to. They are the shape of hourglasses, and for good reason. Raistlin Majere has been cursed by magic.

One of those "first book you fell in love with" threads appeared recently on the Hopskotch and the Golden Cicada twitter feed. I didn’t even have to think about. I went straight to my bookshelf and withdrew my tattered 1980s-era copy of Dragon's of Autumn Twilight by Margaret Weiss and Tracy Hickman (still a mystery to me how two people can write one book), took a quick snap and posted it in the reply section.

Dragons of Autumn Twilight - 1985

Bottled magic

I loved everything about the Dragonlance Saga: the darkness and the light, the mystery and magic, the variety of races and how they played off each other (Flint and Tasslehoff’s love-hate relationship was an object lesson in character development). It was filled with creatures of legend and fantasy landscapes described in breathtaking detail. I’ll never forget the great vallenwood trees of Solace or the elven forest city of Qualenost, the moment the heroes first laid eyes upon the silver dragons of Paladine. Most of all, I loved the characters. One in particular stood out. His name was Raistlin Majere.

It was not because he was the hero – courageous, strong and selfless. Raistlin was the opposite of all those things. Crippled by illness, the introverted red-robe lived permanently slumped against death’s door (and one bad coughing fit away from collapsing through it). That he survived childhood at all was due to the selfless devotion of his twin brother Caramon. Raistlin’s disregard for his brother’s ministering made him a pariah to the rest of the heroes, whose attitude to the mage tilted between mild distrust to outright loathing.

Raistlin didn't care. Raistlin had his magic.

Through the hourglass

Of course, it came with a terrible price. During his test at the Tower of High Sorcery, the mages sensed the potential of Raistlin’s power, and the darkness tainting his soul. Intending to instil empathy for his fellow beings, they cursed him with silver hair, golden skin, and hourglass eyes. The latter is the important part, but what did it mean looking through them?

"What do I see? I see time as it affects all things. Human flesh whithers and dies before my eyes. Flowers bloom, only to fade. Trees drop green leaves, never to regain them. In my sight, it is always winter, always night." Raistlin MajereDragons of Winter Night

The Masters were trying to teach Raistlin a lesson. The lesson to the reader could not have been clearer: magic is dangerous; magic is unstable; magic comes at a price.

It’s no revelation

Any child will understand magic and consequence upon reaching their Disney phase, if not before. And for Raistlin, it could have been worse. Many do not even survive the test at the Tower. Which speaks to how dangerous magic is in the world of Krynn, and the extent to which the Masters control those who practice it. Failure equals death strikes me as a powerful disincentive to magic as a career choice.

The gods of Krynn are likewise cautious in putting hurdles in front of would-be mages. Here is the tallest: every time a mage casts a spell, it vanishes from memory. That means they must laboriously re-study all spells used in the course of a day. The idea conjures images of travelling mages carting wheelbarrows of spell books around the highways and byways of Ansalon. Early renditions of the Raistlin Majere reveal pouches full of spell books and ingredients arranged around his red robes.

Illustration by Clyde Caldwell, ©TSR, Inc

Nuts and bolts

The magical lore of Krynn was born of a D&D role playing module, and it’s hard to imagine a better pedigree than one rigorously tested by dice and Dungeon Master. I may delve deeper into the gods of Krynn and their magic in a follow-up post, but for now we’ll stay on target and record the parallels.

Both Ansalon and Broken Meadow are post-apocalypse worlds abandoned by their gods. The core magic of both is divine in origin and (at least, to some extent) passed on by blood. Those who practice it take great risks, and are not well liked for their power, regardless of their position on the good-evil scale.

Now, to Dellreigh

I have to tread carefully. It is not the intention of the author to add spoilers, or withdraw the veil from all of Dellreigh's mystery. This blog is to The Waking World trilogy what the bonus disc/director's commentary is to a DVD movie. You may prefer to learn about the magic of Dellreigh through the pages, as it was originally intended. For those so inclined, stop reading this and jump over to the SHOP page (really, I'm okay with it). For everyone else, read on...

Passed on by the Absent God Aethelron, the Whisper magic of The Waking World trilogy is in every other way different to the spell-casting of Krynn’s mages. It is an elemental magic, but only in the execution. A fire mage can control fire; a water mage can control water; air mages can summon wind and lightning; earth mages can tear the earth apart – raise great rock walls and dig great canyons. None can create their assigned elements out of nothing. None can do any of the above-listed without the required energy. Confusing, I know. Probably best I let a native explain:

“The essence of what you call magic is in fact the energy created by all living things – from plants and trees to the insects crawling upon them, and all the way up the food chain to the higher mammals. It is the final rush of adrenalin from a wolf pack pulling down its exhausted prey; the last gasp for life the doe makes before death takes her. Excitement, fear, anger, pain – all these create energy. The ancient Florens called it velaneum voltair. Translation: the whispered winds. Each person standing here creates it now with their thoughts, their emotions, adding their own unique voice. The more turbulent they are, the greater the tempest.”

Long before Dapple shares his thoughts on Whisper magic in Book II – Hopskotch and the Hidden Tribe, our hero gets the first taste of his own latent power. From Book I, Chapter 7:

“Hopskotch spun his head about, trying to locate the source. It sounded like it was coming from his left – a different voice than the one he’d thought belonged to Dobbin. Almost immediately he heard another – different again and from somewhere else entirely. It felt as if someone was calling out to him inside his head.
But who?”

That Hopskotch is on the cusp of adulthood is significant. His senses are beginning to open up to the world around him; the blood in his veins is awakening the gift of the Absent God. We immediately learn the consequences are not good.

“Hopskotch ran his fingers hard through his hair and forced himself to focus on what was in front of him. Clenching his eyes shut for an instant, he tightened his grip on his walking stick, kneading the hardwood between his fingers.
It was a temporary reprieve from the whispers, but still he felt an overwhelming urge to run away from the Square – and the sooner the better.”

It is Hopskotch’s first warning: tapping into the creative energy of others invites their madness into your own skull. In a confined space filled with festival revellers, it may be a benign enough experience. In the midst of danger, another thing altogether. From Book I, Chapter 40:

“Flek dug her fingernails into his skin and spun him roughly around. “Don’t!” she pleaded, tugging Hopskotch by the arm. “It’s too much. It’ll kill you!”
Hopskotch startled at the words. He squinted into the raging fire and felt the heat upon his eyeballs. His legs felt so drained he could barely stay upright.
A voice in his head whispered, “She’s right.””

Young and ignorant, Hopskotch had no idea how to control the forces he was channelling. Even experienced Whisper mages, trained and disciplined in the art, would find such an environment challenging. Which raises a slew of questions. How would a Whisper mage contain such volatility in a battle situation? How would they stop the cauldron of madness from bubbling over? Conversely, what power would a Whisper mage have in isolation – in a desert, on a mountain top, sailing upon an open ocean? If only there were away to channel and contain the overflow when it was present in abundance.

Hopskotch and the Golden Cicada - dreigh amber

Of course, the answers can be found drip-fed within the pages of The Waking World trilogy. For those who need to know sooner, stay tuned for The Shape of Magic: Part III, in which we will be discussing power conduits and artefacts.

Not all the answers are set in stone.

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