Tough Traveling: Awesome Displays of Magic


Tough Traveling is an interesting and thought-provoking meme started by Nathan @ Fantasy Review Barn: each week Nathan chooses a topic from The Tough Guide to Fantasyland, by Diana Wynn Jones, and challenges everyone to come up with a list of books featuring that trope.

Come join the fun!

This week we look at AWESOME DISPLAYS OF MAGIC

Sometimes magic can be subtle. Who wants that? Big explosions or acts of creation, death and destruction or acts of awe inspiring wonder. If your world has magic then why not show it off?

One of the most amazing and unusual magical concepts I encountered until now belongs to Daniel Abraham’s LONG PRICE QUARTET: in the fantasy world he created, magic is literally embodied by the andats.  They are concepts, thoughts, ideas, that have been given substance and humanoid form by specially trained “poets” who undergo a rigorous training (rigorous and more often than not brutal) to be able to forge these creatures out of ideas – one might say out of thin air, really –  and bind them to their will.

The problem with andats is that like the concepts they represent they should not be held in thrall, and therefore these creatures are constantly trying to escape their bonds, to find a loophole in the poet’s lexicon – or a momentary distraction in the concentration that must be always maintained to keep the andat confined – that will allow them to terminate what amounts to slavery. A slavery that could go on forever, since a poet can hand over his andat to another poet.

Andats are not just resentful – they are dangerous: for example Seedless, that was created to separate precious cotton from the rest of the plant, is also able to effect miscarriages; or Stone-Made-Soft, that can make a miner’s work so much easier, but can cause the collapse of a tunnel and kill everyone. This is what a poet must always fight against in what amounts to a life-long struggle to control one’s own creation, and the failures are nothing short of catastrophic, as some of the stories related in the novel show with chilling certainty.

JAH42 on Deviant ArtIn Peter Brett’s DEMON CYCLE people are plagued by demons, called corelings, that rise out of the planet’s core at night leaving a trail of death and destruction behind them: each demon is tied to a specific element – like fire, air, rock or wood – and all of them seem to have no other purpose than to feast on humans and spread terror.  The only protection against the corelings are wards, special signs painted or carved on the dwellings where people shut themselves in at night, or drawn on the ground when someone is caught in the open at the fall of darkness.  If one is still alive at the return of morning light, they can still survive for another day…

One day though, a lone traveler discovers that painting wards on his skin gives him protection against the demons, and etching them on his weapons allows him to destroy them, so he tattoos those wards all over his skin, becoming the Painted Man (or the Warded Man) and he becomes something of a legend because he can travel at night without fear of the corelings and can bring the fight to them instead of huddling in fear behind four walls.

chari_san on Deviant Art

A word about the images: on Peter Brett’s site I chose two among many wonderful images inspired by his books, and since it’s only proper to give talented artists their dues, the image of the Warded man comes from JAH42 on Deviant Art and the weirdly compelling image of the demon comes from chari-san again on Deviant Art.  Once more I am amazed at the amount of talent I find on that site. And that’s another awesome display of magic, for me.


15 thoughts on “Tough Traveling: Awesome Displays of Magic

  1. Great call on Peter Brett’s Demon Cycle. It is a very creative take on magic in general and book one (The only one I’ve read so far.) had some pretty intense demon action.


  2. Brett is a pretty good one. I remember when Arlen started tattooing himself and researching into all these wards, and then there was that scene before in the maze when the one-armed demon was coming after him and what they ended up doing to it, that was pretty amazing. I wish I’d thought of it 🙂


  3. Great call with both of these picks! I think this is the only list I’ve seen Brett mentioned on. I loved the first two Demon Cycle books, but didn’t really enjoy the third one (too much romantic drama, not enough bloody demons). I’ve heard good things about the new one, though.

    And I really must try the Long Price quartet, seeing that it’s on both yours and Nathan’s lists this week. It sounds great, and I really like Abraham’s other work. 🙂


    1. One of the best features of the Long Price is the setting, because it’s different from the usual fare: the far-eastern flavor of it, the detail about the language that relies on hand gestures to add shades of meaning, the different cultures… I hope you find it as fascinating as I did 🙂


  4. Those corelings sound creepy. Is that what they look like? *shudder* That painted man would do well to share his wards with others, no? 🙂


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