adventures in dysthymia

Thursday, June 28, 2018

Magic and Madness

One of the recurrent themes in my fantasy tales is that magic can lead to insanity. This is a direct result of how sorcery works — it is an innate gift that allows some to see and hear across the boundaries between the infinite universes. For the untrained, unable to block out those voices and visions of other worlds, madness can result.

But even for those who are trained to wield magic, the danger remains. The other worlds are always there in the background, the vastness of the infiniverse mocking those who seek through it. It is no wonder some wizards choose to serve the Void, hoping to escape into nothingness.

The great sorcerer Radal of the Donzalo’s Destiny novels was my first and perhaps most thorough example of this. His daughter Fachalana will share in that when I get around to writing the sequel (it will come!), but it will not simply be a repeat of Radal’s doom. Her struggle against his legacy will be a central element.

This not to say that all magicians flirt with madness. Some are better able to handle their gift than others. Some receive better (and earlier) training. The wizard Im of ‘The Ways of Wizardry’ manages to deal with all this quite well, partly due to his exceptional talent, partly due to being trained by a god, and perhaps partly by his bonding with the mystic jewels knows as the Eyes of the Wind (which appear in other novels, including one by that name) and the young woman who shares that bond.

Yet there are those who never know they have an ability. Some die by their own hand. Some lash out at the world, thinking themselves divine or at least divinely guided, misunderstanding the voices in their heads — real voices in those worlds where sorcery comes more easily than here.

That magic has a ‘price’ is very much a fantasy cliché. I see this not as a price but as a built-in danger. Many vocations have such dangers. Call them prices if you must, but not everyone pays. The soldier may live or die on the battlefield, come home maimed or lauded. The sorcerer is the same, yet different. It is part not only of his craft but of his being — magic and madness ever walk together.

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