10 Fantasy Series and Their Rules for Magic

When I started writing, I expressed to a well-read friend of mine that I was a fan of the fantasy genre. She told me that if I ever hoped to write fantasy, one of the most important things to do was to develop the rules for my world and then stick to them. She cited Terry Pratchett’s prolific Discworld series, saying that while the series follows a wide cast, Pratchett follows a consistent set of rules.

“The world is flat and rests on the back of four elephants standing on a giant turtle floating through space,” she said. “It may be strange, but it is part of Pratchett’s rules.”

Today, we’ll take a look at 10 Fantasy Series and Their Rules for Magic.

The Harry Potter Series by J. K. Rowling

“I don’t believe in the kind of magic in my books. But I do believe something very magical can happen when you read a good book.”
J.K. Rowling

In the magical world of Harry Potter, people are either magical or Muggles (non-magical). They are born this way. One cannot become a witch or wizard any more than one could become a cat. Of course, Animagi, or witches and wizards who have an aptitude to transfiguration, may be able to become cats. Magic is performed by spoken word (in most cases) and requires a wand (in most cases).

The Lord of the Rings by J. R. R. Tolkien

“I have not used ‘magic’ consistently, and indeed the Elven-queen Galadriel is obliged to remonstrate with the Hobbits on their confused use of the word both for the devices and operations of the Enemy, and for those of the Elves. I have not, because there is not a word for the latter (since all human stories have suffered the same confusion). Their ‘magic’ is Art, delivered from many of its human limitations: more effortless, more quick, more complete (product, and vision in unflawed correspondence). And its object is Art not Power, sub-creation not domination and tyrannous re-forming of Creation. The ‘Elves’ are ‘immortal’, at least as far as this world goes: and hence are concerned rather with the griefs and burdens of deathlessness in time and change, than with death. The Enemy in successive forms is always ‘naturally’ concerned with sheer Domination, and so the Lord of magic and machines; but the problem: that this frightful evil can and does arise from an apparently good root, the desire to benefit the world and others*—speedily and according to the benefactor’s own plans—is a recurrent motive.”
J.R.R. Tolkien

There are precious few wizards in the Lord of the Rings series and you have to read The Silmarillion in order to understand the rules of magic in Middle Earth. The world was created through song by Eru (the One), also called Ilúvatar (Father of All), who first created the Ainur, similar in power and function to the Greek pantheon, with specific Ainur in control of the air, water, earth, and afterlife. The greater Ainur were called the Valar, the lesser were called the Maiar. Together, they helped create (and re-create) the world before the coming of elves (the first folk), dwarves, and men. The wizards of Middle Earth are members of the Maiar, as are Balrogs (makes the fight scene where Gandalf falls through fire and death a little more meaningful, doesn’t it?), and in fact, so is Sauron. Magic, then, is performed by beings that are closer to gods than men.

The Chronicles of Narnia by C. S. Lewis

“‘But what does it all mean?’ asked Susan when they were somewhat calmer.
“It means,’ said Aslan, ‘that though the Witch knew the Deep Magic, there is a magic deeper still which she did not know. Her knowledge goes back only to the dawn of Time. But if she could have looked a little further back, into the stillness and the darkness before Time dawned, she would have read there a different incantation. She would have known that when a willing victim who had committed no treachery was killed in a traitor’s stead, the Table would crack and Death itself would start working backwards.'”
C.S. Lewis, The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe

Evil is loosed upon Narnia when a pair of hapless children bring a witch from Charn through Earth and to the dawn of Narnia’s time. The magic that happens here seems to be of a mostly innocuous kind, and there are few who seem able to work it. The witch has the power to turn living creatures into stone. Aslan, the lion/creator of Narnia, can bring stone creatures back to life. And there is a wizard along the voyage of the Dawn Treader who has a book of magic and is able to render creatures invisible. Oh, and a magical bracelet transforms a boy into a dragon. The magic of Narnia is used sparingly and is not the main plot driver of the series, as it seems that only a few with an inherent ability use it.

The Books of Beginning by John Stephens

“It’s well known in Hollywood that if you want someone to write a conniving, back-biting seventeen-year-old, you get John Stephens on the phone. The only thing that set the Countess apart from others I’ve written was that she had magical powers.”
John Stephens

In The Emerald Atlas, three children are thrust into an adventure through time by the aid of one of three books of magic. Each child is somehow connected to one of these three books, and by them, the children wield a specific type of magic, though they were not born as magical beings. Led by a wizard, and battling against witches and those who would use magic to subjugate normal humans, the main theme of the series is more about equal rights for different people than is about how cool having power is. The magic in the Books of Beginning series is regarded as a power that must be held in check to ensure the safety and happiness of all people.

The Bartimaeus Trilogy by Jonathan Stroud

“Believe me, I know all about bottle acoustics. I spent much of the sixth century in an old sesame oil jar, corked with wax, bobbing about in the Red Sea. No one heard my hollers. In the end an old fisherman set me free, by which time I was desperate enough to grant him several wishes. I erupted in the form of a smoking giant, did a few lightning bolts, and bent to ask him his desire. Poor old boy had dropped dead of a heart attack. There should be a moral there, but for the life of me I can’t see one.”
Jonathan Stroud

Nathaniel is a magician’s apprentice in a world where magicians rule supreme. This dark series focuses on Nathaniel’s adventures with the djinn, Bartimaeus, his servant from the underworld, enemy, and friend. Magic is not performed by wand, but is achieved by summoning greater or lesser demons to do your bidding. If a magician is not careful though, he might find himself at the demon’s mercy (and demons aren’t known for their mercy).

Tiffany Aching: A Story of Discworld by Terry Pratchett

“It’s still magic even if you know how it’s done.”
Terry Pratchett, A Hat Full of Sky

On the Discworld, there are two main approaches to magic. There are the wizards of Unseen University who use magic, largely, as a replacement for technology. And there are the witches, who use magic sparingly (because magic is dangerous, what with the things from the other side always trying to break through the rift). In the Tiffany Aching series, set on Discworld and meant for a younger reader, the main character is a witch coming into her witchhood with help from her mentor Miss Tick (get it?) and the Nac Mac Feegle, tiny blue skinned fighters/drinkers/kilt-wearers. Magic for Tiffany is a means to defend normal people against magical enemies, and is performed by sheer force of will.

The Wingfeather Saga by Andrew Peterson

“There’s just something about the way he sings. It makes me think of when it snows outside, and the fire is warm, and Podo is telling us a story while you’re cooking, and there’s no place I’d rather be–but for some reason I still feel… homesick.”
Andrew Peterson, On the Edge of the Dark Sea of Darkness

In his first children’s fantasy series, musician, Andrew Peterson, writes with equal parts humor and suspense. His series focuses on the three children of the Igiby family and the secrets that make them targets for the evil Fangs of Dang. Magic is a minor part of this series, but the few appearances that it does make are momentous. The most common form of magic usage, appropriately enough, given Peterson’s more famous creative outlet, is through music.

The Inheritance Cycle by Christopher Paolini

“You would be amazed how many magicians have died after being bitten by mad rabbits. It’s far more common than you might think.
-Angela the Herbalist”
Christopher Paolini, Brisingr

When Eragon unwittingly hatches a dragon egg, he is swept into a world a danger, dragons, and magic. There are a few different races in the world of Alagaësia, but aside from a relative few humans, the knowledge of magic resides with the elves. Its use is conducted through an ancient language and exacts a physical toll on the user, thus anything you do by magic would feel as though you had done it without magic. If a user were to cast a spell that required more energy than the user possessed, he would die. Fortunately, dragon riders and others can tap into the life force of those around them to share the burden of using magic. Of course, this also opens the possibility of expending their life force, but magic is a dangerous game.

Fablehaven by Brandon Mull

“I was vanquished by a deer!’
A giant magical flying deer with fangs,’ Seth said, parroting a description Gavin had shared earlier.
That sounds a little better,’ Warren conceded. ‘Seth is in charge of my tombstone.”
Brandon Mull, Secrets of the Dragon Sanctuary

Meet Seth and Kendra Sorenson, children pulled into a world of magic sanctuaries. In this series, magical creatures have been confined to reserves spread across the continents. Along the way, Kendra develops a special relationship with the fairies of the world, while her brother Seth develops his own relationship with demons. Magic here is woven into the nature of each creature, and in rare circumstances, certain attributes can be transferred to normal humans.

The Old Kingdom Trilogy by Garth Nix

“‎”It always seemed somehow less real here… a really detailed dream, but sort of washed out, like a thin watercolor. Softer, somehow, even with their electric light and engines and everything. I guess it was because there was hardly any magic.”
Garth Nix, Lirael

In the world that Nix creates, the line between magic and non-magic follows the boundary between the Old Kingdom and the New. In the Old Kingdom, there are three main families of magic, the Abhorsens, the Clayr, and the Wallmakers. Sabriel follows the title character in her journey to become the Abhorsen, a person who crosses over into Death to perform her magic. In Lirael, the title character shows the world of the Clayr, largest of the magical families whose job it is to look into the future. And in the final book, Abhorsen, we learn more about the Wallmakers, as well as the royal family, which is where the “kingdom” part comes in. In his trilogy, Nix has his characters perform magic with the aide of bells and pipes, but there are some free magic creatures as well, to whom the normal rules of magic do not necessarily apply.

Hopefully, this has been some help in showing you the different types of magic one can find across the fantasy genre. Certainly, there are more options than just these for how magic might work, but these are the ones that I one or have read.

What is your favorite series with magic? How is the magic controlled?


Book Release Party at Baker Book House for Jessie Clemence!

Clemence There's a Green Plastic Monkey in My Purse 3D ImageSo, I’m pretty excited for this coming Saturday. I’ll be working, but that isn’t the exciting part. The exciting part is that I’ll be getting paid to hang out at Baker Book House with my friend and fellow blogger, Jessie Clemence.

Jessie is the first-time-published author of There’s a Green Plastic Monkey in My Purse, a sure-fire bestseller about life as a parent. If you missed it, I just re-blogged a post from Jessie’s site where you can enter to win a free copy of the book.

I first met Jessie and her husband, Eric, during my freshmen year at college. Back then, neither of us were writing. But I am so glad that such is not the case anymore. If you haven’t read Jessie’s blog, I know that you’ll get a kick out of her style, honesty, and genuine voice.

And if you are in the West Michigan area, please come out to Baker Book House this Saturday from 10am to 11:30ish to get your book signed.

100 Word Challenge | Key to the Lost Door

The following is my entry to Julia’s Place 100 Word Challenge. If you are into flash fiction, hop over to her page and submit your own!

* * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * *

After years of searching, they were finally here. The toll of the search forgotten,  Anders and Micah stood before the lost door to the Room of Cycles.

It all started when the key was discovered among the ruins of a Mayan temple. According to legend, the Room of Cycles controlled the world’s weather systems. Reliefs depicting the seasons were cut into the stone door, and in the center was a keyhole.

“Shall we?” said Anders.

“After you,” replied Micah.

“But you have the key,” said Anders.

Micah shook his head. “You do. Did you drop it?”

“Did I… Oh shoot.”


I am a wizard (also, a book snob).

First, the wizard part.

wizard_browsLook at these eyebrows and tell me that they don’t look like wizard eyebrows. I wake up to these crazy things every morning. I like to think that they give me character.

Speaking of wizards, I am reminded of the first time that I read the Harry Potter series. DeAnne and I had been dating for maybe a month when she asked if I had ever read Harry Potter. I told her that I had not, that I had no interest in doing so. I was reading books by Kurt Vonnegut, J. R. R. Tolkien, and high-brow (not eyebrow) stuff like that.

“Oh,” said DeAnne. “I’ve read them all multiple times. I really enjoy them.”

“Oh,” I said.

“I think you’d like them if you gave them a chance.”

“Well,” I said, thinking how pretty she was and how stupid I would be if I made her stop liking me because I was unwilling to read the books that she enjoyed simply because I thought that they were below me, “okay.”

And so I read them. And I loved them. And I had to admit to DeAnne that she was right and that I was wrong (the first of many times).

You see, I am a book snob. If a book is popular, I have a tendency to believe that it is probably popular for bad reasons. Either it is poorly-written but pulls at some teenage emotional need (ahem, Twilight), or the media has created a frenzy (ahem, Fifty Shades of Grey), or I simply think it is below me. But there are times when my reflex to discount certain successes in the book world leads me astray. Such was the case with Harry Potter.

I am so glad that my wife introduced me to the world of Hogwarts if for no other reason than it started me on the path of recovery for my book-snobbish ways. (Though I am still not going to read Twilight.)

Ask Josh | How Do I Find a Writing Agent?


Welcome to a new segment on my blog! If you have questions, I will try to answer them.

I was recently asked about how an author goes about finding representation. The question came from someone who was unable to come to my writers group’s recent event, Jot: The GR Writers Mini-Conference. This was the question:

Hi Josh,  I had all intentions of attending your last seminar but was unable to make it at  the last minute…bummer! :(

My young daughter and I have written a children’s book based on a true story  from her childhood.� I am looking for a literary agent….any ideas? Blessings, Kim McClimans :)

agentquery_screenshotKim, there’s one main resource that I think will help: AgentQuery.com I learned about AgentQuery from my friend and fellow Weakling, Bob Evenhouse, on his blog.

AgentQuery is a searchable database of publishing industry agents. And within a few clicks, I was able to identify a list of 38 agents who deal in children’s books, accept email queries, are members of the Association of Authors’ Representatives, and are actively looking for more clients. The site features links to each agency, so you can take a look at which authors they represent and how you might fit in.

Thanks for your question Kim!

If you have a question, feel free to leave it in the comments below!

Likeability and Transformation

I recently finished the third book in George R. R. Martin’s A Song of Ice and Fire series (just over 1,000 pages long) and was looking forward to reading the next in the series, but my wife had just finished reading The Fire Chronicle by John Stephens and couldn’t wait to discuss it with me, so I put Martin on hold. The Fire Chronicle is the follow-up to The Emerald Atlas and is just as exciting and well-written. I read when I was able (my wife read it aloud to me while I was unable) and within a couple of days, the book was done (so our discussion could begin).

9781441261021I’m looking forward to getting back to A Song of Ice and Fire, but since I’m already on a break (and the next installment is another 1,000 pages or so), I decided to try an author that I’ve never read before. The author is Patrick W. Carr, and I’m reading A Cast of Stones, the first in The Staff & The Sword series from Bethany House, a division of Baker Publishing Group (which owns Baker Book House (where I work)). I got the book free as one of my perks for working at the bookstore, and I really want it to be good, both because it will help the company who pays me and because it lends credibility to the genre in which I hope to publish.

Reading a new author is a lot like going on a blind date. You have no idea if you are going to be compatible or not, whether you will enjoy their stories, their voice, or how detail-oriented they might be. But if you love reading and are willing to put yourself out there every now and again, you might just find someone who you really like.

Of course, sometimes it takes a bit of time to get to know them. That’s how I feel right now. If reading were speed-dating, Patrick’s book and I would not be leaving together. The first chapter didn’t thrill me. I’m going to finish the book since I want to give it a real chance, but I want to focus on why we got off on the wrong foot.

In the first chapter, the main character is introduced by being thrown out of a bar. He is drunk before 10am. He a jealous man with internal problems. And that is fine. But he doesn’t start as a likeable guy. He seems more sad than anything. And as in dating, if your first impression of your blind date is that they are sad, jealous, and haunted by some horrible baggage, you probably looking for an excuse to leave early. But what do you do if the plot of your novel requires the reader to see the character before their redemptive transformation?

Having just come off the heels of George R. R. Martin and John Stephens, two authors who write incredibly likeable characters, I have some thoughts.

Likeability has little to do with good vs. evil

Martin handles this with ease. When first introduced, most of his characters are either starkly good or bad, but they are all intriguing. We like the good characters because they are innocent, upright, and inspiring. And we like the bad characters because they are mysterious, mischievous, and ultimately relatable. Often, we are curious where they went bad, because very few are wholly evil, just a bit twisted.

Transformation requires a shift in the reader’s perspective, not necessarily a shift in the character’s actions.

In The Fire Chronicle, Stephens re-introduces a character from the first in the series, but in a completely new light. We are given insight into the motivations of the character, rather than a change in any of the character’s actions. As readers, we better understand the “why” without changing the “who”.

Consider a different starting point.

If I’m not going to like the “before”, do you really want to lead with that? An unlikeable main character doesn’t make a good hook and the only people who are going to continue are either optimistic or stubborn. Maybe you should ask yourself if you can reveal your likeable character’s unlikeable past in another way. Perhaps a flashback, or a tale around a campfire, or anything other than a bad first impression.

These are only three ideas. If you have others, I’d love to hear them below. Now, off to give my own characters and stories the gimlet eye to make sure that I don’t make the same mistakes.

100 Word Challenge | What does it taste like?

The initiation required a lack of parental supervision. In the moonlight, the boys could just make out the slow rise and fall of Scott’s dad’s chest, a much better indicator of sleep than his fake snoring.

By the light of the refrigerator, the boys made the concoction. Milk, cola, grape juice, and more. Never the same twice, all but one of the sleepover boys had drunk their own elixir.

“One more thing,” said Scott, walking over to his father’s liquor cabinet.

The new boy held the glass aloft before tilting it in.

“What does it taste like?” asked Scott.

“Like…” said the boy, “like acceptance.”


Common Errors in English Usage


Consider this paying it forward. My coworker and friend, Louis McBride, shared the following link with me a while back, and it was one of the kindest things he could have done for me as a fellow writer. Here’s the link:

Common Errors in English Usage

But you don’t have to be a writer to appreciate the value of the link I’ve just shared. If you use the English language at all, bookmark it and visit often. By doing so, you can save yourself from my wrathful stare the next time you are tempted to use “loose” in place of “lose.”

This confusion can easily be avoided if you pronounce the word intended aloud. If it has a voiced Z sound, then it’s “lose.” If it has a hissy S sound, then it’s “loose.” Here are examples of correct usage: “He tends to lose his keys.” “She lets her dog run loose.” Note that when “lose” turns into “losing” it loses its “E.”

Or say “Once and a while.”

The expression is “once in a while.”

Or perhaps you are unduly afraid to use the phrase, “Piss and Vinegar.”

To say that people are “full of piss and vinegar” is to say that they are brimming with energy. Although many speakers assume the phrase must have a negative connotation, this expression is more often used as a compliment, “vinegar” being an old slang term for enthusiastic energy.

Some try to make this expression more polite by substituting “pith” for “piss,” but this change robs it of the imagery of acrid, energetically boiling fluids and conjures up instead a sodden, vinegar-soaked mass of pith. Many people who use the “polite” version are unaware of the original.

In any case, there is a good chance that you’ll learn something (and probably have to correct something you’ve been saying wrong for years).

I am one-cheeking this post.

Here’s the deal. I’m taking today off to spend with my beautiful wife. We have a fun day planned with lunch out at the Hibachi place that we like and an hour soak at Oasis Hot Tubs. So I’m taking the day off from my blog as well.

To tide you over until tomorrow, here are some things you can check out:

– If you are into flash fiction, here’s a contest to enter.


If you are into fun web-comics, try My Cardboard Life.

If you are still sad that I am not posting my usual brilliance, just start re-reading my posts from the beginning.

my blog model

Come back tomorrow for something amazing! I don’t know what it is yet, but it has to beat today’s.