Tuesday, November 28, 2006

Magic and Society

As a general rule, magic is considered something that belongs to the common people, to tradesmen and servants, and not to be practiced by the gentry or peerage. It's much like how you won't usually find a gentleman spending time working at a forge. Art, learning, sport, and the dalliances of high society are proper pursuits of the gentry, while the peerage is more likely to take part in politics. Both may of course fund business endeavors, but they're not encouraged to go take a direct hand in it unless it involves some kind of "exploration" or "adventure," and then it's only acceptable to go abroad maybe once or twice.

Anyway, magic used by the gentry is... Well, it's not the "done thing." Still, it's most likely to get one snubbed when it comes to invitations to dinner parties and such, not actually get in serious trouble. Though some will invite one specifically to have a party attraction -- a bit of "disreputableness" is always an interest.

That said, there are a handful of taboos that will really get you avoided if not possibly prosecuted. The worst is performing necromancy -- specifically, the binding of a soul into a corpse, creating a zombie.

The dominant religions of the day require the body to return to nature in its own course, to be buried and decay naturally, and one faces quite harsh punishments from the secular authorities for the unlawful defilement of a corpse. The raising of a zombie is punishable by death. If that was not enough, necromancy carries excessive social stigma, so that even the rumor of it upon a person is enough to harm his reputation immeasurably.

Some of the wealthy (and no known commoners) have won trials against them for necromancy, but not a one has been accepted back by polite society. Many leave the land for some far stretch of the empire after this, much impoverished from the cost of the lengthy trials and ostracized from former friends.

Not truly illegal but still rather unaccepted is the use of binds directly upon people. Those who lay claim to "reason" declare that the presence of a bind tattooed upon one is ugly, little better than markings made by savages to denote a tribal membership, and such things are beneath the modern, civilized person. Others will say how impractical it is, for a cut on the flesh could break a bind, and a scar would make it almost impossible to restore the bind. But the real reasons behind this prohibition are rooted deeply in superstition.

Look at it this way. Nobody knows why and how magic works, precisely, just what does work. Someone may know that doing this may do that, but the precise workings down to the smallest bits, as if magic was a machine to be tinkered with? Completely unknown. It's like how most medicines, natural and derived, are to most people -- you may know the precise amounts of laudanum to use to achieve a desired level of intoxication and pain relief, but have no clue how it works on the molecular level. All you know is that it works.

So, to continue, the superstitions... At its most basic, it is a fear that to accept a foreign spirit into one's own body, no matter the kind, will lead to loss of control and eventual possession by that spirit.

For example, a common bind worked into wineglasses is one that protects against substances severely poisonous to humans. If one was to pour poisoned wine into such a glass, the poison would seperate out of the solution and slough off onto the table, while the wine itself went straight into the glass. If such a bind was worked around a person's neck, so that poison would never go down their throat, it would still collect in their throat and they would have to cough it out. But they would also have a spirit bound into their body for the bind to work, centered close to where one's voice seems to issue forth.

The superstitious fear is thus: how will we know for certain whether the words spoken by the person are his own, or those of the spirit in his throat? If a bind was worked over a person's heart or on his forehead, would his body necessarily remain his own? Users of magic cannot say much either way -- they claim that the spirits are not intelligent, but how much do they really know? How wrong could they be?

Also connected into this prohibition is the fear that the use of binds on people is dangerously close to necromancy. If one is unwilling to have some magic done on their body while dead, what of while they are alive? Indeed, a bind worked upon a person while alive may end up trapping the soul within the body upon death, a greatly-feared torment from whence many believe comes incredible damage to their mortal soul. The risk, it is deemed, is not worth it. And any willing to take that risk upon themselves are fools at best. Those who would put others to that risk are quite near to monstrous.


In case this blog never gets updated again, it's because I cracked completely, started arguing with the machine elves, and proceeded to repress all memory of trying to do this. Because I am just that frightened of Friday, December 1, now.

Monday, November 20, 2006

Time Range

The story starts in the year 1041, in the Imperial Calendar, of the nation it's set in. The empire in question hasn't actually been around that long -- only about 400 years -- but the calendar was created about 50 years into the empire and used the reign of a famous, possibly mythical, king in the nation's past to act as the origin date. The idea is that this legendary king's reign marked the beginning of the nation's ascension that has culminated into the modern empire.

In the year 1041 IC, narrator and lead character Gideon Fane is 25 years old. He's considered somewhat old for a bachelor, and will remain one all his life, though he comes close to proposal and marriage once (which may be removed or change to more than just once over the course of writing). His friend Michael Donovan is 26, and has been married to Angela Silverstein (24 years old) for seven years.

Gideon has known something of how to do magic for six years now, but he first learned he had the aptitude when he was 15. He was forbidden to learn it until his father died and could no longer take him out of the will (his mother had been dead since Gideon was 9, and he had no siblings). Gideon went and learned how to do magic immediately, even though it was considered improper for a gentleman to do magic.

The novel is intended to span over about 25 years, though obviously there will be gaps of time. It ends in 1066 IC, when Gideon is about 50 years old. Society will have gone through what Gideon considers a marked decline in that time, which contributes somewhat to his final decision to go through with the transformation.

Saturday, November 18, 2006

Allow me to say that I am absolutely terrified by this project. I'm a somewhat nervous person by nature, when it comes to putting myself forward and putting my work out there to be seen, and I'm far too used to putting things off. I've got less than two weeks before I have to put up the first page and that feels far too close, with me feeling like I've got no idea where this is going to go -- I've got the beginning and end, but the middle seems a large and frightening expanse of nothing. It's just such a massive and intimidating thing.

Friday, November 17, 2006


Magic is fairly limited and runs on a few set rules in this world. Part of the approach I took when figuring it out is that I didn't want magic to be flashy and so devastating that non-mages can't stand up to it. When a person can wipe out armies with his power, he moves beyond the realm of "character" to "deus ex machina," and stops having any real challenges except other people who are just as absurdly powerful.

So, magic involves two parts. The first part is the conjuring of a spirit of some sort. The second part is its binding.

Spirits are tiny entities that reflect certain forces and concepts. Many of them are recognizably "elemental" -- for example, one might conjure a flame spirit, a living point of heat and light. If one reaches a body soon enough after death, the departing soul can also be manipulated. These conjurations are always fairly limited to small things. You'll never find a magic-user who can call a great pillar of fire into existance, whether because no flame spirit so mighty exists or because it's beyond human capability to conjure it. No demons or angels summoned, either. Spirits are not intelligent.

The act of conjuration involves, mainly, a circle drawn or etched on a surface with certain symbols related to the type of spirit it's meant to conjure. The circle itself is in fact a bind of entrapment; binds will be explained shortly. An act of will entices the (normally invisible) spirits to the magic-user, at which point one inevitably crosses through the area of the circle and is caught within. The spirit may be freed by breaking the circle in some fashion -- metal etching is thus common for when one wishes to keep a spirit trapped permanently, while paper is the most common medium for temporary circles. Some who conjure spirits frequently actually have various circles tattooed upon their fingertips, palms, and the backs of their hands. A simple scratch of the flesh with one's own fingernail is enough to break the circle temporarily, undoing a conjuration.

Binds are more elaborate sets of symbols and arcane signs written so they flow into each other, creating a single coherent form. At a bind's center is always the conjuring circle used to trap the spirit. One or more lines connect the circle and the rest of the bind, though never crossing into the circle itself -- that would break the circle and let the spirit free. Binds put the spirit to work at some purpose. A bind holding a winter spirit might be carved into the inside wall of a closed wagon, creating a sort of refridgerated wagon. A bind holding a flame spirit can be made inside a lantern to create a permanent light, and so on. A bind on paper could be rolled up, folded, or crumpled and still work, as long as the bind itself is not torn or smudged out of shape.

Obviously, many of these uses are fairly utilitarian. They belong to home and industrial conveniences, not the stuff of myth and legend. For this very reason, the practice of magic is considered something almost vulgar, suitable more for the working classes than a gentleman or lady. For many within high society, about its only forgiveable use is in works of art, where the bind is skillfully hidden and helps create some effect -- a soft glow in the eyes of a statue, control of shadow no matter how the light otherwise falls upon a piece, the illusion of fluidity in painted water, and so on.

There's also a side to magic that many fear, of course. It is the most "impressive" use of this magic, which involves a conjuration and binding of a spirit to a corpse. One can thus create zombies in such a manner, perhaps even trapping the body's soul if one performs the conjuration swiftly enough. It is considered an absolutely vile thing to do, to use another's body and prevent it from receiving a proper burial, and to trap the soul of the being within and denying it the afterlife, oblivion, or any kind of volition. Many are the stories of ruthless lords and kings of various lands who had this done to hated enemies upon capturing them.

This form of magic is also what is adapted by Gideon in his attempts to become a lich. The obvious problems crop up with the rumors that Gideon is experimenting with necromancy, and provide some of the conflict of the story, in addition to Gideon's own internal conflicts over whether to go through with it.

Dramatis Personae

Far, far from complete cast of characters. I'll either edit this post to add more as I name them and define their precise role, or write another such post. Editing this one is most likely, as new characters can easily crop up during the writing, and others fade out. Note that the information presented so far is the characters as of the beginning of it all, for it is supposed to stretch over some time. Certain goals will be achieved, opinions may change, people may move up or down in society. But there's nothing for generating sideplots like working out one's cast of characters.

Gideon Fane, narrator, gentleman, infamous for his study of magic and with many scandalous rumors surrounding such practices and his social life (inspired most directly by Dorian Gray and Oscar Wilde, a touch by Jonathan Strange, and also a different character of mine from previous amateur works)

Michael Donovan, friend to Gideon, gentleman and aspiring lord-mayor of The City, who struggles in his political aspirations due to his long association with Gideon (the friendship between Gideon and Michael, with its problems, is based off of a previous brief exploration of the same idea)

Angela Donovan née Silverstein, Michael's wife, popular society lady, dislikes Gideon but for no reason she can place since she doesn't believe the rumors about him, and despite her mild dislike she still often finds herself acting as mediator between her husband and Gideon whenever they start to argue (no particular inspirations I can place except maybe, very indirectly, Arabella Strange) -- ADDED TO December 13th, 2006

Anthony Park, Michael's primary foe in the local political arena, something of an opportunist, glad to have Gideon to use against Michael (think of any mud-slinging politician you know of, but without the vehemence and overt viciousness of major elections in the United States these days, but plenty of subtle insults and insinuations, who only comes out directly against something if he can use it to cast some guilt-by-association aspersions upon someone)

Daniel Donovan, Michael's brother, impoverished by a sizable debt he owed to Park, which was called in at the worst possible moment, when much of his money was tied up in various endeavors; very proud, wouldn't let Michael help with his debt; he went overseas after losing almost all his property over the debt when Park proceeded to sue him for not paying -- ADDED December 11th, 2006

More to come, eventually.

Friday, November 03, 2006

Naming Conventions

I've been having problems devising a name for my lead character. I looked finally to the type of name I want it to be, the names that just strike me immediately as being, so to speak, "too perfect." And, having taken those names apart, I've managed to come up with a short set of rules I think I'll try to abide by for certain types of characters -- those close to the fantastic and mystical, while also being buried in mortal, material concerns. People who aren't meant to be imposing from the outset.

Here's the (very) short list of names I want to imitate:
Dorian Gray (from "The Picture of..." by Oscar Wilde)
Morgan la Fey (from some of the Arthurian romances)
Jonathan Strange (from "Jonathan Strange & Mr Norrell" by Susanna Clarke)

First, the first and last names together must be four syllables long. The last name should be, for preference, only one syllable. But even if it can't be, the last one should be a word that could otherwise stand on its own -- gray is a color, the fey are the fairies, and strange is a quality that someone has or is.

Second, there should be as few hard consonants as possible. Nothing really sharp like a K sound, or a solitary hard T. D is about as hard as the consonants should get. The sharp consonants are forgiveable in obeying the last-name portion of the first rule, in borrowing another word for the name.

Third, vowels should be predominantly Os, As, and Es. I don't know enough about linguistics and the jargon of describing phonetic sounds to say anything worthwhile about their phonemic "length" or anything like that. All I can say is that the vowels should sound like those in the names listed.

Fourth, and finally, the accent of the first name should be on the first syllable.

Obviously, there are exceptions that sound really good. One that breaks several of these rules while holding to others is "Mordecai Toth," which is an impressive name in both writing and speech. This name, incidentally, comes from a computer game: "Warhammer 40,000: Dawn of War." He's also an inquisitor, which means his name must be immediately impressive and intimidating, calling for a number of hard consonants.

A few examples of the rules set out so far.

Darren Arcane (slightly too fantastic for my desires)
Harrison Cane (reusing "cane" for the last syllable)
Gideon Fane (yes, rhyming, but I like the word)
Erasmus Gage

Victorian first names work fairly well for this sort of thing, really.