On Urban Fantasy Worlds

I guess my latest writing project is urban fantasy. It doesn’t contain any vampires, werewolves or other common supernatural creatures. It does feature magic, servitors, egregores and rituals. The magic is of the human kind. That is to say it’s based around feelings and how these, when considered en masse, affect the world. So I have egregores, these vast, barely-sentient entities created through force of feeling, intent and memory. They sit behind humanity, nudging, assisting, guiding, blocking. In the case of my story, a human performs a ritual that corrupts of one them.

The ritual is the problem. Does the person know if it will work?

If they do then magic really needs to be a known factor in the world. I think it’s unlikely that a group of mages/wizards/cabalists/whatever could operate all throughout the ages, without the public getting the slightest hint as to their existence. Mostly though, I just don’t like that idea. Not just because a lot of writers take that route, but because I have no interest in my heroes being part of a group that denies mankind that kind of knowledge and power.

If not then why have none of the other rituals, that people perform every single day, worked? What makes this one special? It’s highly unlikely that, assuming magic exists, no one has ever carried out a ritual that works, especially considering the ridiculously world-changing stuff people have a tendency to pray for.

Why do authors restrict how many people know about magic? Because it allows them to limit their world. A world with magic as a known quantity is not our world and as such would require far more detailed construction. The logic of their world is, mostly, that of the real world, so right off the bat they’ve removed a large chunk of complexity from their novel (and likely added a chunk of people to their potential readership).

So I find myself left with two choices:

I can attempt to create a world where magic works and exists in the public eye. This could be fun, but is most likely to result in an inconsistent mess.

Or I can back the hell off and have my ritual, somehow, be the first ritual to succeed and have significant consequences. This would feel like cheating.

Thoughts?

2 thoughts on “On Urban Fantasy Worlds

  1. EJD says:

    Option one takes you into the possible realms of alternate history. Have you read Strange & Norrell? Susanna Clarke has her magicians attempt to revive a lost art that exists only in theoretical terms. Magic has faded from the world since the Raven King chose to leave the North of England. Under those circumstances people know of magic, but the details and methods have been lost over time.

    Alternately there’s the ‘gifted individual’ approach of Star Wars – a few rare Jedi are possessed of magical powers, but a dark force has killed off most of those with talent, and as a result the powers of the force exist only in legend.

    A third option is a sort of Prometheus story, where a class of protective magicians do exist, but your heroes come from outside of that class and effectively steal the knowledge, and through their innovation and ignorance perform the ritual in an ‘incorrect’ way.

    There’s no reason you shouldn’t compromise and have a world where the public have some knowledge of magic, but it’s shrouded in confusion and darkness, with many so-called magicians performing as quacks because they don’t know what they’re doing.

    I would link the success of the ritual to several arcane factors – characteristics of the individuals involved such as heritage or their combined heritage, specific knowledge they possess, trick questions or anti-intuitive aspects to the ritual that others would fail on – so a whole combination of unlikely factors come together in an almost farcical way to unleash chaos. There can be an added level of fun in that the heroes aren’t quite sure how they’ve done what they’ve done, and they need to figure out how they’ve done it to set things right.

  2. Dave says:

    I think you could be missing a trick here, pardon the pun. Magic is done in the open, in public and the entire world knows about it. Derren Brown, Penn and Teller, Paul Daniels!

    We are all comfortable with it because we know its all done with tricks and that there is no true magic happening but no one knows how these tricks work except for the magicians themselves. As far as the general public knows real magic could be happening right there in front of us, on stage, all the time. We’d never know.

    Perhaps option number 3 is the expose the truth about what the magicians do in private, there are no tricks there is real magic in the world, they just want to keep it for themselves.

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