M is for Magic: How I Handle it in My Books

“A Magic Circle” by J. W. Waterhouse

When we get into the realm of historical fantasy, and especially Arthurian legend, magic can mean many different things. So, without spoiling the plot, I wanted to give you a little insight on how I’ve chosen to use magic in my series of books.

I’ve never been a big fan of the really high fantasy sword and sorcery stuff where people conjure blue flame out of thin air and play magical dodgeball, so you won’t be seeing that in my work. I decided to go with a more natural approach, one that felt true to the beliefs of the Celts. We don’t know exactly what magic they used, but we know they believed in it from Roman accounts of the battle of Mona where the priestesses were said to keen and cast spells upon the wind as the Roman army advanced and slaughtered them. We also know that they were very in tune with nature. So, I chose to combine the two and make their magic very elemental.

What you will see (mainly from the Druids and priestesses of Avalon):

  • Use of the Sight and divination to see into the past, present and future
  • Invocation of the goddesses/gods and prophecy
  • Weather magic (calling the rain, fog, clouds, etc.)
  • Rituals based in Celtic religious belief
  • Herbalism and healing/poisonous potions
  • Mentions of nature spirits
  • Use of geasa (taboos) to place restrictions on someone

What you won’t see:

  • Smiting with lightning bolts or fireballs
  • Spell casting
  • Mythical creatures as characters (sorry, no dragons or faeries)
  • Shape-shifting

You’ll notice that I don’t use magic as a form of control (spell casting). That’s because I find it far more intriguing to explore the very human ways we manipulate one another through power (political, familial, religious, etc.), emotion (love, lust, hatred, fear) and our own personal beliefs/biases/bigotry.

Royal Mail’s Magical Realm Stamps

I realize that not everyone is as willing to believe in magic as I am, so I’ve also tried to give you a slight hint at possible rational explanations for some of the magic. For example, mystics the world over have found ways to touch hot coals without being burned or walk on glass without being harmed through sheer mental control. If you want to believe that’s what the priestess’ training really is rather than ascribe it to magical ability, you can. What about making it rain? If you want to believe its sheer coincidence, that’s up to you, but my characters most certainly believe in the power of magic.

My characters have certain natural talents, just like you or I, but none of them could perform their magic without serious training. It’s not something they take lightly or do for fun. For them, magic is a gift to be respected and honored, not abused. And if one does abuse it, the consequences are high.

How do you feel about magic in historical fantasy? Do you prefer more or less? What are some books/movies/etc. that you think handled magic well? Which ones didn’t you like? Do you believe in magic?