Just How Much Magic Belongs in Fantasy?

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We’ve been hearing about this. It seems to pop up as though magic content in a piece of writing is something wholly arbitrary, as though  it were just a matter of setting a thermostat. This shouldn’t be too surprising in this digital age of stimulus starvation, this diminished world of the future, where very few of us go into the woods with an axe in order to survive, where conversation is being replaced in cinema with swooping dives off skyscrapers and tumbling infernos of colliding cars. If our fantasy writing needs punch, we just scroll to the far end and click, right? We just add magic.

We disagree. After a certain point, plunges off tall buildings get boring. Magic does add interest, depth and excitement. It can even turn loose an inventive writer’s imagination, but too much ruins everything.

Portrait of a young lady with bottle in her hand

Portrait of a young lady with bottle in her hand

We use magic with a great deal of respect and restraint. What magic we use is assigned properties, just as though it were a natural phenomenon, grand and limited in the same sorts of ways as the forces of nature. Our malevolent heroine may be able use magic to travel instantly by spell, but she can’t just do it because she wants to or she’ll get into serious trouble. She must first use a scrying ball to see where she wants to go, or she may end up drowned in a cellar which was not supposed to be flooded. The great Crystal Heart may give her fearful powers, but she can neither call them forth nor control them without a great deal of study.

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Literary tension is what we build and develop throughout a story to add excitement. Interesting characters must struggle in the same sorts of ways that everyone must in order to get where they need to go. Since we can identify with their struggles, they keep our attention. And if they are able to wield magic, there must be some sort of predictable struggle involved, or we have no reason to pay attention. If having the Crystal Heart is like running around with a smoldering stick of dynamite, we understand. It has our attention.

So how much magic in a story excites you? And just what kinds of magic intrigue and fascinate you? Tell us, if you don’t mind. We’d like to know.

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Carol Marrs Phipps & Tom Phipps

King James’s Escape

“Fates! What was that?” said James with a moan, as he sat bolt upright. “Oh bell tolls from the Pit! Probably something going off in my stupid, stinking head. Why sit up, anyway? There’s not a thing I can ever see, even when I bump into it.” He reached for the familiar itchy place on his scalp, which had just lately gotten gooey, and found it unexpectedly painful. He lay back with his hand over the spot to keep the filthy straws from poking it. “Mmmm! It throbs just lying down. Why, oh why doesn’t Spitemorta just execute me…?”

“Mercy no, King James! Fates forbid it…!”

“Damn!” cried James with a wail, not knowing in the least whether he was delirious or whether some speaking something had gotten into his cell with him. 

“Sire! Your eyes are mattered shut,” said the young soldier, nodding at another to come forth with a torch, as he knelt to peer into James’s face. “I’m Owain, I was…”

“Yes!” cried James as he accidentally broke into sobs. “You brought me that nice supper, didn’t you! You’re the one, right? You’ve got to be…!”

“I am! I said I’d be back. I’m terrible sorry hit took so long…”

“Yes. I see you do have a light…I mean through my lids…”

“Well we had a delay, ye might say. We found one amongst us who was a stinker, a traitor, if ye know what I mean, a loyalist to the queen. We had to carry on very careful Hit took us a right smart number of days to be safe. Here sire, let me help you up.”

“You’ve come for me then?”

“Why absolutely. I gave ye my word, sire.”

“Certainly…” he said, breaking into sobs all over again. “Oh forgive me! I’m not acting like much of a sovereign…”

“Why, you’ve run clean out of hope, is what. Anybody would, slow as I am, if ye know what I mean, sire.”

“I’m just so very, very grateful.”

“Easy, Your Majesty…Here. Take his other arm, Llewyrch. He’s right wobbledy.

“Well as I was saying, there was one amongst us who was a-spying for Spitemorta. She never did find out that he was, but he was fixing for to wheedle his way into her good graces, the best he could.”

“He’s as big a fool as I was,” said James, trying to steady himself. “Spitemorta has no good graces.”

“You’re no fool sire, but she certainly has no good graces,” said Owain as he and Llewyrch carefully helped James to the door. “Anyway, as I was a-saying, we caught him attempting to take her news of our plans to get you out of this dungeon. Well. We pinned him down last night and the varmint confessed everything. There’s ‘way more to the story than that , but…”

“What will keep him from going to her behind your backs if you already can’t trust him?” said James.

“Oh he won’t have a chance. Ol’ Culwch (that’s his name, by the way) won’t be bothering a soul.”

“You killed him?”

“Nay. Not yet. I guess you don’t have your eyes open yet…”

“I haven’t tried. They’ve felt like they had sand in them and I couldn’t see anything anyway, so…”

“Well, we got Culwch standing right before ye, all blindfolded, gagged and tied up. There are five more of us here to keep him pointed the right way, and we’re going to make him nice and comfortable in your old cell. Won’t take but a minute.”

James heard some scuffling and a muffled yell before the groan of hinges, a heavy bang and the rattle and jingle of hasp, lock and keys behind him. He felt light and giddy, but there was no way he could stay on his feet. As his knees buckled, he felt Owain, Llewyrch and the others grab him up to haul him hurriedly down the corridor, up several flights of gritty stone steps and outside for a good way in the gloriously fresh air of early dawn. A rooster crowed. He could smell unicorn manure and hay. Somebody was cooking breakfast, maybe egg in a hole. He felt like singing. “I’ll thank the Fates for the privilege of being allowed to enjoy this world, every single day,” he thought.

“Oh, that’s right good advice for each and every one of us, Your Majesty,” said Owain with a grunt, right at his ear.

“My word! Have I lost track of when I’m speaking?”

“You’re a-having your first joy in quite a spell, sire. I’d speak out too, and that’s a fact.”  

At last they carefully stepped through a narrow door with him into some other building. They set him down. “Here sire.” said Owain as he carefully took James’s hand and put his fingertips into some warm water. “What do you think of that? If that’s about right, we’ll get those filthy rags off you and Pryderi here will give ye a proper bath. He’s a barber and a healer, and he’s right good.”

“Oh, it’s perfect…”

“Now, there ain’t no women around sire,” said Llewyrch. “Let’s get your shirt.”

Soon James was in bath water up to his chin. “Do you object to Elf medicine, Your Majesty?” said Pryderi as he carefully examined James’s head.

“Not in the least. It was Spitemorta who tried to pin the sukere burning on the Elves, not I.”

“Well I have something that’ll put you right quicker than anything I know of, but it’s the bitterest thing you’ll ever have in your mouth. You need to chew it up real fine and swallow every bit,” said Pryderi as he put a black twist of leaves to James’s lips.

“Mercy! I’ll say!” said James after a couple of thoughtful chews. “It makes my tongue and mouth feel like old dry wood.”

“Oh, it’s just got started, sire. Just keep a-chewing. Try not to bite your tongue. It’s called aquilaria. It’s very difficult to come by. My grandfather found out about it from an Elf called Talamh Coille Graham, right before he was murdered by a witch known to the Elves as Bailitheoir Cailli. Ever hear of her?”

“I’m afraid so. She was Spitemorta’s real mother. I had no idea when I married her.”

“My word!” said Pryderi, falling silent for a time before resuming: “Well, the Elves’s name for aquilaria is sláinte ollmhór. How’s it doing?”

“Makes wormwood seem like something sweet. You’re sure that I’m not turning into some kind of stump?”

“You don’t have to worry about that, but I’m going to have to cut your hair. It’s nothing but a filthy mat of snarls and nits. Now before I do, lay your head back here so that I can put a poultice of aquilaria, eyebright, goldenseal root, rue and fennel on your eyes. When I get your hair cut, I’m going to put burdock root and dandelion root on this awful festered sore on your head. If it doesn’t dry up in a few days, someone will have to put a hot iron to it.”

After a while, James found himself dressed in fresh plain wool and linen clothes, and able to partly open one eye as he sat in a chair, pressing a poultice against his face. “Do I smell food?” he said as he took down the sopping wet muslin and tried to use his eyes.

“The board is set for you in the next room,” said Owain as he peered into his face. “Can you see to get there, or do you need help?”

“Let me try,” he said as he stood and slowly shuffled to the next room, navigating with the flaming red slit of one eye. He paused as Llewyrch drew back his chair. “My! This is wonderful!” He took his place at the head of a sumptuous table of plain fare: roast chickens, cabbage and carrots, buttered squash, hot brown bread and heaping saucers of cottage cheese and honey. A dainty old lady whisked up and poured him a cup o’ tea. “My word! Each of you, please, please have a seat and eat with me. And please don’t be so formal. You will always be my friends.” He spread wide his arms and bowed his head.

Never had a meal tasted so heavenly to James. At last he wiped his mouth and sat back. Just as he picked up his poultice to daub his eyes again, in came the little old lady with a steaming hot apple pie. She set it down before him and cut him a big piece. Suddenly he grabbed her by the waist and gave her a squeeze as tears ran down his cheeks. “My wonderful, wonderful friends!” he said.

“We are right honored to serve you, Your Majesty,” said Owain.

“I am indeed grateful beyond anything I’m capable of putting into words,” said James, “but you all are taking an unbelievable risk. The longer I’m here, the more peril you’ll be in. I should be getting away immediately, but I’ve no idea how that would even be possible with Spitemorta and Demonica and their spies everywhere.”

“This be the perfect time, sire,” said Owain as he shared a look with Pryderi. “They’ve got all their attention on the birth of the new babe… Oh my stars! I apologize, sire! We neglected to tell ye that your queen bore a baby girl.”

“Wasn’t there another child?”

“There certainly was,” said Owain with an anxious glance each way, “but he was stillborn, much as I hate bearing you such news. And worse yet, Spitemorta was so blithering furious over it all that she up and killed the midwife and all the attending help cleaning up the birth.”

By now James had both eyes open.

“They keep saying she used some kind of witch’s power to stop all their hearts,” said Llewyrch. “And lots of folks reckon that she did indeed do it from different things people have seen. Do you suppose she actually did, sire?”

“Oh very possibly. Did you hear me tell Pryderi that she is Bailitheor Cailli’s own daughter? Brutelee and Bee secretly adopted her.”

“Well, we’re right sorry we had to be the ones to tell ye, Your Majesty,” said Owain. “But now, that’s a piece of news about Spitemorta’s dam.”

“I appreciate your courage,” said James.

“Thank you, sire,” said Owain. “Anyway, we figure tonight’s the night to get ye out of here. The servants think Spitemorta will be laid up for at least a week, and not only that, Demonica seems to have quite vanished, and no one has the slightest idea where she’s gone off to.”

“Then tonight’s the night,” said James. “But I’ll say this: you need to keep a right sharp eye out for Demonica every single moment, because she reappears just as suddenly as she vanishes.”

“We’ve heard the like,” said Owain with a solemn nod. “We’ll be as careful as we can be. And if ye don’t mind my saying so sire, nobody’s ever seen you with a beard. Maybe you should keep it for a while.”

“Suits me, my dear fellows,” said James as he stretched wide a bushy red-eyed grin.

 ***

On the eve of Queen Spitemorta’s campaign to take over the world, King James is caught by her and her grandmother Demonica, tortured and imprisoned in the fetid blackness of Castle Goll’s dungeon. He and his rescuers flee into the Gollmore countryside to join the Elves in their flight to the Wilderlands in Chapter 19 of The Burgeoning.

Have you ever experienced sudden hope after all was lost? Please tell us about it.

 

Carol Marrs Phipps & Tom Phipps

Lance Communes with Longbark

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“Wait, Lance!” hollered Celeste. “Ther nis no poynt! Hee can nat nowher ga, and hee 08-10-30thingsMedieval2wolden out heere a vexynge distourbaunce ybe. We need with Longbark for to speken, and quyet hit most ybe. Thou needist with us for to sytte.”

Lance jogged right back. “But, Mothers, Longbark has never spoken with me. Wouldn’t it be better for me to keep Abaddon out of mischief while the three of you find out what she has to say?”

“Na,” said Celeste. “Longbark spekith01_Memling to thos who konnen heere. Perchaunce now thou kanst if with us thou sittest and as weo do soo doeth. And if thou trewly to heere hir wysshest, in tyme thou certeynly shal.”

“Truly?” said Lance with wonder in his voice. He had always been awed by their speaking with the trees.

Celeste and Alvita took his hands as Nacea took Celeste’s other hand and all of them stood in silence memling1for a very long spell, facing Longbark’s trunk. Presently, Celeste bowed her head as she rested the palm of her hand on her bark. Lance also rested his hand against her trunk the moment he saw Alvita and Nacea doing likewise. Celeste slowly kneeled, dragging her hand down the trunk, followed by the rest of them. There they stayed for a very long time. Once in a while one of the mothers would rest her forehead against the trunk. “Na i drio ateb eich cwestiwn…” said Painting of a young woman by bartholomaeus bruyn the elderCeleste in Old Niarg, and then fell silent for a very, very long time. Much later, Lance heard her say: “Bydd angen cywiro’r camgymeriadau…”

For a much longer spell all was silent. Lance noticed that his legs, which had fallen asleep long ago, felt that they had somehow taken root into the earth and it felt quite good. Suddenly he was aware that a kindly and comforting presence had been within him for some time. One by one, various perplexing matters that had been taxing him were resolved and set aside at last. Far, far away he could hear Celeste murmuring: “Oes gynnoch chi rywbeth arbennig mewn golwg?” and after a long while: “Oedd y syniad ynun da, neu a fedrwch chi feddwl am un gwell?”

He had felt chilly for quite some time and was suddenly aware of Celeste taking him by the hand and slowly rising with him as he struggled to get onto his feet. Still holding hands, the four of them made their way without a word through the weeds back to the lava tube. Lance had the queer sensation that the sun was in the wrong place. “I swear it seems earlier than when we brought Abby out here,” he said, just before they entered the tunnel.

“Wel, thou canst righte certeyn be that hit trewly lattir than hit was erlyer ybe,” said Nacea.

“Longbark is so profoundly wise and understanding,” he said as he paused to have a last The_Burgeoning_Cover_for_Kindlebewildered look at the sun.

Celeste, Alvita and Nacea each nodded at him.

Ch. 7, The Burgeoning

 

 

Carol Marrs Phipps and Tom Phipps

Arwr the Diatryma Smashes a Smallie

Diatryma_by_ministerart

It took all of Fuzz’s concentration to just hang on and to adjust to the speed at first, but soon he could see that Arwr was far more agile than any unicorn, sprinting between the trees without coming close to a single one of them. Somehow Arwr managed to anticipate imagestheir trunks as they came, so that he and Taflu were not thrown from side to side. Soon he could plainly see that even though he had never traveled through the woods so fast in his life, it was quite safe to not hang on tight anymore. As he relaxed, he saw that he was not being whipped by the twigs and branches of the underbrush, as he would be if he were astride a unicorn. Instead of rocking endlessly above a pounding gallop, Arwr seemed to glide, disconnected from the ground, as he kept up a steady, pat… pat… pat… pat… pat… pat… pat… over the leaves on the forest floor. “For a bird confined to the ground, he sure knows how to fly,” he thought.

Bounding along creeks and ridges and over hogbacks, the woods flew quickly by. They were not far into the afternoon when Fuzz realized to his astonishment that they were passing through Mary’s part of the woods. He wondered if she were still in her cavern with Myrtlebell and Edward, or if they had already started for the Dragon Caves. He was quite tempted to stop and see, but the need to reach the Heart before the Gobblers or Demonica’s spies found it would have to come first. He said nothing as he studied the trees, watching the countryside pass by. Suddenly he recognized that they had entered the Chokewoods. “The change isn’t so sudden anymore,” he thought. “In fact, there’s hardly any change at all. This is Chokewood, because I know the lay of the land. I didn’t even notice when we ran out of peppermint trees.” He gave a huge sigh, thinking of the changes taking place in the Peppermint. He doubted if there would be any difference at all between the Peppermint and Chokewood by the end of the year. In spite of all his years of despair from being held prisoner there, he felt a profound sadness.

Scan30001Without warning, they were ringed by a chattering carpet of vermilion, pouring round them from the feet of the trees. Taflu took flight. “Smallies!” cried Fuzz at the very moment that Arwr came to a rigid halt.

“Ooo…ooo…oob!” boomed Arwr as he suddenly flashed the brilliant red and yellow which had been hidden in the flight feathers of his wings and tail. The smallies froze. “Oooooooff…vooov…vooob!” he boomed, snatching up the nearest smallie with his beak. With a furious swing, he dashed out its brains against the root of a choke oak, and with three violent gulps swallowed it whole as every one of his feathers stood out straight. With the sound of windy popping sheets, he flashed his fiery crimson wings as he lowered his head and glowered, snapping his beak.

For a moment, the smallies drew back and stood transfixed in utter silence. In short order, a rustling wave spread out through their numbers and the entire hoard surged toward them. “Fates!” cried Fuzz. “This is it!”

Ch. 12, Stone Heart  (Click on Title or Book Image to Download from Amazon)Stone_Heart_Cover_for_Kindle

Carol Marrs Phipps and Tom Phipps

Who is Minuet?

Queen Minuet

Minuet is born to the good wizard Razzmorten and his first wife Blodeuwedd who dies giving birth to her. Blodeuwedd, who was the most beautiful woman Razzmorten had ever seen in all his 329 years before he married her, was known to all as the maiden of flowers.

Millais_John_Everett_A_Souvenir_of_VelasquezRazzmorten is most taken with his new wee Minuet and quickly sees that she could well exceed his own powers someday. He hires a magically endowed woman called Demonica to be her nanny. Demonica is also beautiful and is an engaging companion, so he marries her. Soon she is pregnant. When she bears the child Ugleeuh, she vanishes with the crystal Heart of the Staff from Niarg’s royal treasury, leaving him to care for Minuet and Ugleeuh.

Minuet spends her childhood being a nurturing Good_Sister,_Bad_Sis_Cover_for_Kindleand precociously responsible older sister. For years she is Ugleuh’s staunch defender and champion, but after a time Ugleeuh’s play becomes a string of increasingly reprehensible pranks, forcing Minuet to endlessly undo her mischief. In Good Sister, Bad Sister, Ugleeuh plots to have Hebraun, the prince of Niarg for herself.

The plague comes to Niarg and Razzmorten finds the cure. When Minuet goes to tend plague victims at Fates’ Hospital for the Sick, she is nearly beaten to death by a superstitious crowd. Whilst recuperating, The_Collector_Witch_Cover_for_Kindleshe finds out that Hebraun wants to marry her. Ugleeuh vanishes from sight.

Minuet does indeed marry Hebraun in time for him to become king of Niarg. When their firstborn Rose is three, Ugleeuh appears and tries to murder Minuet and Hebraun.

In The Collector Witch, Rose hears a damning rumor at her sixteenth birthday party that has her running away to far off lands with her younger brother Lukus to find answers. When word reaches Niarg that Ugleeuh is holding them captive, Minuet prepares to Stone_Heart_Cover_for_Kindledeal with Ugleeuh accordingly.

In Stone Heart, word comes to Niarg that Demonica and Queen Spitemorta of Goll are now in possession of the Great Staff and the much more potent Crystal Heart and plan to use them to conquer the entire world. Demonica declares that their first step should be to destroy all Elfkind. Minuet knits, waiting for the Elf Soraya, Lukus’s wife, to give birth. She comforts Hebraun who feels old and tired after finding Niarg’s The_Burgeoning_Cover_for_Kindlegrain ruined by a curse. Fuzz asks for Rose’s hand in marriage. Minuet fits her old wedding gown to Rose and helps her prepare for her wedding. She sees Hebraun off to fight the Golls when they burn Ash Fork to the ground.

In The Burgeoning, she rides forth leading her army, determined to cut out Spitemorta’s black heart and feed it to the hogs. And her tale continues in The The Reaper Witch 01 copyReaper Witch Doom.Pageflex Persona [document: PRS0000031_00028]

 

 

 

 

 

 

Carol Marrs Phipps & Tom Phipps

Ugleeuh’s Mad Peppermint World

 Ugleeuh is a beautiful raven haired young woman who is the half sister of Queen Minuet of the kingdom of Niarg. She is raised by the good wizard Razzmorten Dewin, and throughout her life is thought to be his daughter by a brief marriage to the evil sorceress Demonica. In Good Sister, Bad Sister, she falls under the influence of her wicked uncle Razzorbauch, who makes her a partner of sorts in his sukere enterprise.

Razzorbauch appropriates the Forest Primeval, a vast virgin oak wilderness and burns off a substantial part of the middle of it to establish a great plantation in order to produce the seriously addicting sweetener, sukere. He allows the un-burnt forest surrounding his plantation to remain standing, but he magically alters all of the oak (Quercus) trees, turning them into deadly choke oaks (Pseudoquercus horridus R.) to discourage visitors.

 

Ugleeuh becomes hopelessly addicted to sukere, and though she remains an active sukere peddler to promote their enterprise, she tires of Razzorbauch’s overbearing influence and takes to living by herself in a cottage in her own part of the forest. When she tries to poison Queen Minuet and her husband King Hebraun, the crown banishes her to her cottage and has Razzmorten keep her there by putting up magical barriers.

Ugleeuh spends the rest of her life alone, turning into a sallow hag from the ravages of her sukere 

addiction. To keep from going mad from loneliness, she begins magically altering her surroundings at once. She turns all of the choke oaks into peppermint trees (Mentha lignumpiperita R.), with ludicrous red and white barber pole striped trunks. And by the time that Rose and Lukus find her in The Collector Witch, she is more dangerous than ever, living with a bloated crow, too obese to fly and a palsied cow with colored teats which give flavored milk, and she has managed to turn most of the remaining animals of the woods into talking enchantments, all addicted to sukere. 

 Carol Marrs Phipps &Tom Phipps

The White Witch Rides a Diatryma

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Diatryma – Diatryma gigantia R., ten foot tall, flightless birds, members of the Thunderbird (Adar Taranus) Dynasty which originally escaped extinction by the Mwyaf Fawr Llosg ordiatryma Greatest Burning, when the rest of the Dynasty was exterminated, only to mysteriously become extinct a few million years later. They were accidentally revived from fine Eocene shales by the wizard Razzorbauch when he penetrated the Earth’s crust while forming the magma chamber for the Fudge Volcano. They are omnivorous, opportunistic feeders that are capable of downing and dismembering small ungulates. They are covered with deep iridescent green plumage. Their tail feathers and imagesprimary flight feathers have brilliant red and yellow patches on each feather’s trailing blade that remain completely hidden unless the bird is displaying. Their bony tails are not entirely fused into a pygostyle as in modern birds, but rather consist of a pygostylic terminus at the end of ten un-fused vertebrae, giving the birds a fan of feathers that can be waved about on the end of a flexible tail. There is nearly no sexual dimorphism, though males tend to be a few percent heavier and have deeper voices than the females. They are exceptionally intelligent, having a brain cavity of about 650cc, or roughly half the volume of modern humans. However, being far less fatty than a mammalian brain, this is a very respectable computer. Possibly due to natural selection pressures favoring the keeping track of stashes of food morsels, diatrymas seem to have little or no barrier between the conscious and subconscious minds and have instantaneous recall of all the details that they once observed during any previous experience.Diatryma_by_ministerart

The_Burgeoning_Cover_for_KindleMary the White Witch’s mounts and closest friends are Ceidwad the female diatryma, whoStone_Heart_Cover_for_Kindle is the wife of Lladdwr and the mother of Arwr, their cockerel. Razzmorten describes these three as the most intelligent beings he has ever been in the presence of, and they become key characters in the tale of The Heart of the Staff, (books three through six, Stone Heart, The Burgeoning, Reaper Witch and Doom). Ceidwad and Lladder were brought back to life by accident by the evil Wizard Razzorbauch and were raised by the Fairy sisters in The Reaper Witch 01 copyPageflex Persona [document: PRS0000031_00028]Mount Bed before their association with Mary. Perhaps their most stunning talent is being able to listen to a language for a short while and then suddenly start speaking it fluently.

What sorts of birds tower in your imagination? Do they play a role in your dreams?

Carol Marrs Phipps & Tom Phipps