Magic is always more interesting when it has serious consequences. In Alison Goodman’s EON: DRAGONEYE REBORN, magic is performed by aid of supernatural dragons–but unity with these dragons drains a character’s life-force and brings on an early death. In Jonathan Stroud’s BARTIMAEUS trilogy, magic is done by way of enslaved demons–but one misstep means you’re demon food. The magic system in each of these books has built-in conflict.
When a character’s ability to perform magic relies on talent and learning alone, the magic becomes a little less believable. For example, in the HARRY POTTER series, characters need only learn to pronounce incantations and wave their wands in certain patterns and–magic! This leaves some holes in the story, like why does Dumbledore wear glasses if he’s such a powerful wizard? Couldn’t he perform some charm to get 20/20 vision?
A more interesting variation of the talent requirement is magic that’s just really, really hard to do, such as in Kathleen Duey’s SKIN HUNGER, in which case a character suffers much while trying to learn how to perform supernatural feats.
What do you think–should magic in stories have serious consequences, or is it enough to have an interesting system in place?
Parker Peevyhouse could use a magic wand. Or a dragon.