On the Nature of Magic

What is magic?

I’ve been struggling with this question for the past few weeks. Or months.

I don’t particularly like to think of it as a particle (unless I start going toward photons). I considered making it a force of some sort, but I don’t know enough about physics point blank to just make that decision.

In a way, I’m tempted to call it something ethereal, to say we don’t really know what it is, but if I do that, how am I supposed to decide on its properties? On the laws that govern it? How can I be consistent with its functions?

Part of me wants to say that magic is like life (or perhaps even not completely distinguishable from life)—not an essence or a thing, but a quality of something that is difficult to define on its own. I mean, many people say that plants are alive as well as humans, but we have different qualities that seem to define that—except cells are a thing. Is life defined by the ability to grow and divide and reproduce?

Scientifically, it might be. In my mind, and in this world, magic does not have the ability to create more magic.

Google itself doesn’t appear to be entirely certain, either:

the power of apparently influencing the course of events by using mysterious or supernatural forces

Apparently influencing the course of events.

I see magic as a tool. It is generally something almost everyone—or everyone—or only some people have the ability to manipulate. It is something that has no alignment of its own—it is neither dark nor light nor good nor evil—it all depends on what the user intends and does. But some magics are inherently wrong—unnatural? That doesn’t work if magic itself is natural—like bringing back the dead.

I’ve been chasing myself in circles like these for so long that, even though I want to define magic for logical purposes following, I don’t quite know how.

For now, I call it an essence—the essence of nature.


Thanks for reading!
What is magic to you?
Do you try to define it in your worldbuilding?
DO you mind when it isn’t clearly explain in your reading?


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6 thoughts on “On the Nature of Magic

  1. After reading books like, well, everything by Brandon Sanderson, I greatly appreciate a magical system that answers all the questions, turning the magic into a science of its own, but I’m okay with magic that is a little more vague, too. As long as the magic isn’t used to skip over a problem that can’t easily be solved. It shouldn’t be relied upon too easily and it should always have consequences for its usage. Responsible magicing!

    Liked by 1 person

      • I started with Warbreaker. The cover was beautiful, and then the idea of using colour as a source of magic is what sold me. His Mistborn series goes more deeply into the specifics of metal-based magic. Elantris, I hear, is also a good place to start. Steelheart doesn’t use magic. In fact, it’s the only book of his I’ve read where the concept is “no one knows how they do what they do” but, based on my experience with Sanderson, I’m confident that Sanderson has worked it out in his head.

        Liked by 1 person

  2. Nice post! I think what you’re looking for is, magic (if we don’t stick to the official meaning) is a kind of creative force at least on some of the books I read. In Discworld, this is the case. Susanna Clarke’s Jonathan Strange and Mr Norrell, magic comes from nature and how you command nature to do your bidding. Even in Middle Earth. I remember a part where the elves are perplexed with the hobbit calling it magic when they call it art. 🙂

    Liked by 1 person

    • I’ve been planning to read both Discworld and Jonathan Strange and Mr. Norrell (and have both on my shelf actually), so it’s good to know they might be helpful in this endeavor. I really like the idea of the “creative force” especially because of the different ways in which “creative” can be understood.

      Liked by 1 person

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