World Defining Magic: Six Favourite Spells That Make A Story

Credit astromoali.

I seem to have found a groove. The Wyrd & Wonder staff give us prompts, I do book rec lists based on them, and as it’s the sixth Wyrd & Wonder I do six books.


Today’s prompt is favourite spells. The notes includes “stories shaped by spells” so that’s where I went. Stories shaped irrevocably by magic. Six of the best coming up!

The Lord of the Rings by JRR Tolkien

Let’s take a nice easy one to start us. The Professor’s masterwork revolves entirely around the long ago decision by Sauron to make the One Ring, and the subsequent scenario that thrusts on Frodo et al. Lose it, and Sauron’s power is total. Destroy it, and his defeat is even more so. Without the Ring, without Sauron’s decision to sacrifice a part of himself in order to be even more powerful, that all or nothing struggle doesn’t exist. Neither does a great deal of the book’s emotional and thematic depth on the subject of wisdom, humility, and healing. There is a reason this remains a gold standard in fantasy.

The Mage Storms Trilogy by Mercedes Lackey

Lackey’s Mage Storms trilogy is probably my favourite work by her and while a lot of it comes from the characters, the characters are suited to the scenario. The enemy in this book is a potentially cataclysmic magical environmental disaster and the heroes’ task in this book is research and building consensus as much as it is raw courage. The source of these storms are an ancient series of spells from deep inside Valdemar’s history – I will say no more for spoilers, but this one digs deep into the world’s lore and is richer for it.

A Wizard of Earthsea by Ursula Le Guin

Of course, a spell doesn’t have to change the whole world to make a good story. Sparrowhawk’s journey in A Wizard of Earthsea comes down to one spell attempted in hubris and anger, one spell that damages him seemingly beyond repair. Without that spell there is no journey, no book, and no amazing narrative of self-discovery, healing, and peace.

The Darkest Part of the Forest by Holly Black

There’s really two spells powering this contemporary tale of the good folk, but one is a giant spoiler so let’s talk about the first one. That’s the spell that’s bound a faerie prince into a crystal tomb in the woods outside Fairfold. It’s made the town a tourist attraction, given the kids a place to go and party… but nobody knows why. At least, nobody knows why until one day the tomb is empty, and things get very dark indeed.

The Golem and the Jinni by Helene Wecker

The pivotal spells in this book are the one that brings Chava – a golem – to life, and the one that binds Ahmed – a djinn – into his prison. One is too free, the other not free enough. Both end up in late 19th century New York and as they struggle with their nature, both find someone who can – not always, but can – understand what they are going through. A beautiful example of the way fantasy can use magic to talk about reality in that offhand way.

Tigana by Guy Gavriel Kay

Death, taxes, and me talking up Tigana.

The central fact of this novel is that the sorcerer Brandin has, in his grief and anger, woven a spell to strip away the very name of the country of Tigana. To take a proud culture and obliterate it entirely. This novel tracks a number of characters but mostly Devin, a young singer who finds out about his unexpected heritage and throws himself into the struggle to restore his country’s memory. It’s a noble cause, but one that that involves ignoble and risky means, and a lot of pain. How much memory is it right to have?

Thoughtful, moving, high-spirited and melancholic by turn, Tigana is my eternal platinum standard on how spells can make a fantasy narrative.

Read any of those books? What would you have picked? Let me know below…


15 thoughts on “World Defining Magic: Six Favourite Spells That Make A Story

  1. I read Wizard of Earthsea as required reading in school at age 14. I don’t know if it was that it was required reading, or how it compared to other books I was reading at the time (Feist, Wurts, Jordan, Eddings), but I didn’t feel the need to carry on, and I don’t remember anything about it. Perhaps I should give it another chance. How you describe it above definitely sounds good

    Liked by 1 person

  2. Ok, I’ll bite – you’ve talked long enough about Tigana 😀
    Given what you know about my tastes, do you think I’d like it?

    Liked by 1 person

    1. I’m not entirely certain. I think I’d advise you to open it up in a book shop and have a little read of the prose first. His prose can be very marmite.


      1. Hmm yes, the problem is that none of the bookshops near (and not so near) have got it in stock.
        I might wait until I find one then… Thanks.
        I was in London last weekend but I didn’t go round shops

        Liked by 1 person

  3. I hear you on LOTR – wondering if you’ve seen Rings of Power series? I am looking forward to how that “spell” builds up. And agree, Golem and Jinni is a great example, still have chills from remembering that scene.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. That’s the way it works! I write it for you, it is written.

      I considered putting in Carey but feel like, drawing a rather fine line, that angels mucking around muddles the boundaries between magic and divine intervention. Mercy would be a very fine addition though.

      edit: Although I suppose that’s not very consistent given I’ve got LotR in there.


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