Light and dark magic: how I used the concept in the Aligare worldPosted: December 8, 2012 | |
About a decade ago, a teenaged Heidi C. Vlach began writing her first fantasy novel.
What I wrote was a clumsy precursor to the Aligare world, where the high gods Light and Dark had a terrible, eons-long feud ending with Dark being imprisoned in the earth. It caused Dark to go berserk and inadvertently transmit its madness to all other darkcasting creatures. The main characters knew that Dark wasn’t inherently evil, but that the world had been critically unbalanced somehow. So the story was a Ragtag Fantasy Quest against a Powerful Dark Lord, except that this particular Dark Lord didn’t need to be defeated so much as snapped out of a really vicious panic attack.
Even in that early stage of my writing career, I knew I wanted magic elements that opposed each other. Light and dark, obviously enough. But I didn’t want to use the classical fantasy versions of light versus dark. You know, where light represents all things good, pure and truthful, while darkness means evil corrupted lies and lust. That’s an incredibly simplistic way of viewing the world, and it doesn’t hold up to questioning. Murder is okay when a good person does it? Not because of the murder’s circumstances, but because the person doing the deed has an innately good soul or something? Good luck making that premise morally coherent.
There is some logical basis for the idea that light is good. This Earth needs light to feed all our food plants. Humans need sunlight for our basic physical and mental health, and we also rely heavily on our eyesight, so we’re vulnerable when it’s dark. We’re just generally more comfortable in a well-lit area. Light even makes a good dramatic device, since we can wield a light-shedding object to drive the shadows away. Why not assign light to our heros and warriors? Why not assign darkness to everything we consider an enemy?
But the dark isn’t all bad. I mean, we sleep in the dark, and sleep is usually a time of peace and restoration. If anything, darkness isn’t evil so much as a lack of information — but ignorance leads to fear, and fear leads to hate. Light versus dark has the same troubling undertones as saying that all orcs are born evil. And too much light can be harmful — like when it causes sunburn or blindness.
So for the Aligare world, I tried to make light and dark oppose each other without being cliched or preachy. Light magic became brightcasting and the god Light was renamed Bright– a minor semantic difference, but I still think it’s a step away from any hoary Warriors Of Light ideas. And darkcasting opposes brightcasting, but not because it’s bad. The elements are more like positive and negative blood types. (Speaking of good-and-bad nomenclature, why are half of all blood types implied to be somehow bad?)
And Aligare brightcasting and darkcasting both have the capacity to heal. Since sunlight can nurture growth and darkness can aid rest, it made sense to me that both elements can help a creature recover. In Remedy, villages receiving medical supplies need to be given bright and dark healing stones. Going back to the blood type analogy, healers need to be aware of all the casting types their patient uses; using brightcasting healing on someone who knows darkcasting — or vice versa — can do more harm than good.
But it’s overall better that people can learn bright or dark, whichever element works for them. Folk who spend a lot of time in, say, shadowy dense forests would have a much easier time using darkcasting than brightcasting. Even in simple light stones used to illuminate the surroundings, darkcasting stones are sometimes favoured because the light is less harsh. Yes, for the sake of balance, I thought dark light should be an actual possible concept. It looks sort of like ultraviolet/”black light”, just without the effect of making stuff glow.
But the most important point is that Aligare folk don’t see darkness or shadow as innately bad things. Like anything in life, darkness can be good or bad depending on the situation. I need to be careful of this while writing — and in rough drafts, I catch myself accidentally describing ominous situations as “dark” or “black”. Nope, I think. That’s human perception, not aemet or korvi or ferrin.
This is just one of the concepts I write about because I want to see it more often. Dark powers are sometimes used for good in our fantasy media, but they’re not often portrayed as a genuinely neutral force. So it’s something I’m still working on.