Friday, 22 January 2010

Looking at the Workings- Witches and Psychics

I've decided to treat these two together, since I suspect that they play an essentially similar role, even in worlds, such as mine, that treat them as slightly separate things. They've been a staple of fantasy, horror, and urban fantasy, and are in some senses my favourite type of character. Some thoughts then:

  • They're human. That is in some senses the most appealing aspect of them. They are in all senses bar the obvious one perfectly normal. Even with someone like Kim Harrison, who treats them as an entirely separate species with a longer lifespan and a connection to demonkind, there is still something basically normal about them.
  • They're fragile. In most cases, you don't need silver bullets, or stakes, or cold iron, or anything else particularly special to kill them. They aren't super strong, or fast, or tough. That means that you can have enough risk to make things exciting, while still having a character with the potential for power.
  • I mentioned above the question of the division between various magic users and those with psychic powers. Interestingly, although they do broadly the same thing in story terms, there is almost always a division of sorts between them. Usually it's the division between learned skill and natural talent, perhaps to create the possibility of people who are different even in fictional worlds accepting of magic.
  • Of course, this creates questions over the magic system in use, and the differences affect this type of character more than almost any other. A coherent magic system is essential, even though mine is deliberately quite chaotic to reflect the thought that in a world where the supernatural is hidden, people might not actually know that much about the detail of what they're doing. The source of that power tells us a lot about the flavour of the magic user in question. Is it an inborn talent, a connection to some supernatural being, or simply greater knowledge?
  • Usually, there's also a concern for the morality of magic, though positions vary. It might be that all magic use is seen as inherently evil (particularly if it is only gained through connections to the supernatural), or certain classes of spells might be forbidden, or it might just be a question of what you do with it. The latter creates a more human option, while the second implies the existence of a group doing the forbidding, and requires a more formal setting.

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