Practical Research into Magic

Posted on July 13, 2011 by


I’m a cynic. Not a believer, not a hater. I don’t think my personal beliefs really belong in my fiction except in subtle ways I can’t help (they leak into my characterisation, I imagine), so let’s just leave it at that.

A fossil twig (the plant kingdom)

An ammonite (the animal kingdom)

A piece of hourglass selenite (time). Held up against my backyard so you can see the sand embedded in the rock.

A meteorite (astronomical and planetwide matters)

“Maybe” is a trilogy of books [N.B.: this is no longer true]. I dislike having to read from book one to understand a series, so it’s a trilogy in the loosest sense of the word possible. I hope I succeed in writing books that can stand alone or stand together.

The setting of this trilogy is a place that has a very complex set of natural laws, much more so than ours. The civilisations most familiar with our world are likewise somewhat familiar with our science, and it’s kids’ stuff, apparently — the snobs. At any rate, different civilisations in their world understand that world in different ways. One civilisation in particular is loosely similar to ancient Scandanavia.

Long story short, I went to the rock shop to get some supplies. I want to develop the house magic my characters must perform every day:

i) It can’t be too involved, or else they’d spend too much time doing it.
ii) It can’t use materials they can’t buy, find, or make themselves.
iii) I should be able to believe it developed naturally from the environment around them. However, because magic in that world is real and has striking, immediate results, it does make sense that elements from a far-off place might work better than local ingredients — the use of mirrors instead of ice, for example.

Along with an assortment of interesting and pretty minerals, glass jars, and glass beads, I bought some totem items.

I couldn’t get a good picture of the twig’s cross-section, which is a very pretty lattice of white and black. I like it very much, in the same way I like plastic fruit. Things made of things you don’t expect them to be made of.

The ammonite is an ancient cephalopod. They looked a bit like the Nautilus, although they’re more closely related to squid and octopi. You can see where its shell has flaked off a little, revealing fernlike attachments where the animal secured itself. They’re bright amber in colour — really beautiful.

Hourglass selenite is a fantasy writer’s dream come true. Selenite is a beautiful mineral to look at; it forms in fibre-optic like filaments. If you polish it with the grain it shines like a comet tail. If you polish it against the grain, it transmits the image of whatever’s underneath to the top of the stone.

Hourglass selenite (let’s see if I get this right) pulls in debris as it’s formed, but the fibres are formed along a diagonal axis in a circular fashion, like spaghetti that’s put into a narrow-necked, wide bottom jar, or a bunch of flowers with long stems in a vase. The result is a natural hourglass with sand in the middle.

The meteorite is apparently a mixture of metals. I’m absolutely thrilled by it. It’s from outer space.

Whilst I was at the rock shop, I met a very lovely rock person who’s doing his masters in rocks. He’s more excited about my books than I thought a stranger could ever be. He’s the one who led me to the hourglass selenite, and a few more of his ideas could very well show up in book two.

Which means that, friends, oh my lord, I have a proper consultant. It’s amazing! I’m chuffed beyond belief.

To finish my collection of magic supplies, I’ve ordered a bowl made of rock salt, a cinnabar crystal, and am planning field trips to gather river water and grave soil. I’ll post more pictures when I have everything sorted and pretty.