Six Consequences of Poorly Thought-Out Magic Systems

Doctor Strange using magic in Infinity War.

Any story that features magic has a magic system, be it in the form of overtly supernatural sorcery or in the form of technology so advanced it would make Arthur C. Clarke blush. Here at Mythcreants, we have a number of articles that will teach you how to build a magic system, whether it’s rational, eclectic, or even meant for superheroes. That’s not what we’re doing today. Instead, this post is a cautionary tale, taking a look at exactly what can happen if you don’t put in the effort to understand how your magic works and what effects that will have on your story.

Spoiler Notice: Middlegame, Magic For Liars

1. A Bewildered Audience

Jessica grappling an enemy in the 1984 Dune film.

The first problem you’ll run into with poorly thought-out magic is pure and utter confusion. Magic, by definition, isn’t real, so your audience must depend entirely on your explanation and their own trope-savviness to understand how it works. If that understanding doesn’t click, your beta readers will leave countless comments that amount to “huh?” in your manuscript. If by some chance the story makes it to publication, readers will either abandon the inscrutable text or come away with the wrong idea entirely.

Confusing magic systems have been with us for as long as spec fic has existed. In the venerable space fantasy of Dune, Frank Herbert often goes on for paragraphs about supernatural effects that are never properly explained. The Bene Gesserit can somehow see the future, or maybe the past, but only the female half, and it’s all described as being part of something called “race memory” or “race consciousnesses.” I think by “race,” Herbert means all of humanity, but I honestly don’t know because it’s so confusing.

Published just a year later, Samuel R. Delany’s Babel-17 has similar problems. There’s a special language in the book that makes you really good at cryptography and tactics, and also kung fu for some reason. The only downside is that if you learn it, you can’t have a sense of self because it also stops you from understanding first-person pronouns???* While you’re trying to figure that out, you also have to absorb a bizarre spaceflight system where ships are piloted by ghosts and everyone talks about the vacuum like it’s filled with some kind of substance. Sure.

A more recent example is Middlegame by Seanan McGuire. The magic of this urban fantasy novel is called alchemy, but very little of it is recognizable as such. The main plot is about trying to control something called the Doctrine, which is apparently all powerful and contains everything, but can be split into language and math. This is somehow connected to an Improbable Road, which leads to the Impossible City. I say “somehow” because Chris and I both read the book and neither of us could figure out what the connection was supposed to be, or what the Impossible City is, for that matter. Then the book adds in a four-element system and also a system of consensual reality that is demonstrated exclusively through competing children’s books.

If your magic system is that confusing, there’s a good chance that other aspects of the story won’t even matter. The best plotting and deepest characters can’t do their jobs when your audience doesn’t have a clue what’s going on.

2. Unsatisfying Plot Points

Doctor Strange offering the Time Stone.

Assuming your readers can grok your magic system well enough to understand what’s happening, you’ll run into a subtler but still highly damaging problem: magical plot points that lack coherent rules of cause and effect.

Outside of intentionally sanctioned mysteries, fiction works best when the audience can tell what caused each event in the story. When your protagonist gets into a car, their next action will probably be putting on a seatbelt or starting the engine rather than urging their giraffe to a gallop. This is fairly easy to understand when it comes to mundane actions that real humans can perform, but it gets really messy once magic enters the picture.

Since magic comes entirely from our imaginations, there are technically no rules for how it works. You can make a wizard who gets in a car before urging a giraffe to a gallop and no one can say you are factually incorrect. However, readers will still expect a cause-and-effect relationship that they can follow, so unless you’ve specifically set up a world where cars are perched on top of mighty transport giraffes, you’re going to have a problem.

A fun and also somewhat gross example of this problem can be found in Sarah Gailey’s Magic for Liars. In this magic school mystery, our hero is investigating the rogue use of a complex and difficult surgery spell, which she believes is responsible for a murder. Toward the end, one of the suspects is put in a stressful situation, which causes her to instinctively use this surgery spell to disassemble her classmate into a floating cloud of tissue globs. Don’t worry, they put him back together later, but that’s not important for this post.

The reason Gailey has the suspect use this spell is that it’s the one she’s spent a bunch of time building up as important, so she wants it to play a major role in this tense scene. Unfortunately, it’s really hard to imagine that in a moment of panicked stress, this suspect would reach for a complicated and difficult surgery spell to defend herself. You’d expect something simpler, like a bolt of lightning or possibly a charm spell, as the character in question is established to be good at those. This leaves the reader wondering about spell choices when they should be concerned about the floating cloud of tissue globs that used to be a student.

If you want a more visual example, check out Doctor Strange in the MCU film Infinity War. Before the big battle with Thanos, he scans through over fourteen million possible futures, and only sees one where the heroes win. That sounds tense and menacing, but also, what? Just in that next battle, our heroes are on the very edge of defeating Thanos, but then Starlord messes things up by attacking Thanos too early. In fourteen million timelines, is there not a single scenario in which they stop Starlord from ruining the plan? I’m no Starlord fan, but even I don’t think he’s that incompetent.

The purpose of this exchange is to justify why Doctor Strange later saves Tony Stark’s life by giving Thanos the Time Stone. Tony needs to be alive so he can sacrifice himself in the next movie, you see. That’s what we in the biz call a plot contrivance. The writers were so devoted to the specific result they wanted, they didn’t stop to consider if their magic system would support it, which robs the moment of satisfaction. Or maybe they did consider it, but then didn’t care.

3. Inconsistency

Obi-Wan and Qui-Gon using super speed in The Phantom Menace

If a setting element works one way the first time it’s introduced, your audience will expect it to work the same way the next time unless you clearly show why it’s different. This can be a real problem with magic, since the authors themselves often don’t seem to know how a given spell, ability, or device works. The longer a series goes on, the more of a risk this becomes.

Do you remember that odd-looking superspeed that Qui-Gon and Obi-Wan use in The Phantom Menace to escape from some droids? Weird that they never use such a powerful ability again, especially later in the movie when Qui-Gon dies because Obi-Wan couldn’t run through a set of closing force fields fast enough. And speaking of that scene, isn’t it strange how Obi-Wan seems to use his anger to kill Darth Maul, and everyone lauds him as a hero for it? In Return of the Jedi, killing an enemy in anger was a path to the dark side. Granted, it had been a while since Return of the Jedi was released, but I bet George Lucas could have found someone to lend him a copy.

A more long-running example is on Buffy the Vampire Slayer, which is so inconsistent that I could spend the rest of the post focused on it and not run out of examples. Instead, let’s look at just one inconsistent aspect: whether magic is addictive. For most of the show, the answer is obviously no. Several characters perform magic spells with no sign of negative effects. Willow and Tara even perform some pretty dramatic effects like throwing a vending machine with their minds, and everything’s fine.

At the end of season five, Willow learns a few attack spells that the show insists are “dark,” though it’s not clear why throwing a lightning bolt would change your spot on the alignment chart. But still, she shows no signs of addiction. Then, in season six, all the magic Willow does is addictive because this is the drug metaphor season. Tara is fine, so I guess she’s a functional drug user or something. Then, in the season finale, Giles shows up loaded with magic, but no one seems concerned that he might get hooked. By the end of season seven, this problem has completely disappeared. Willow even does a huge spell to awaken all the potential slayers at once, and it’s like no one remembers the previous season at all.*

If the audience can’t trust that your magic or technology will work consistently, they have no reason to invest in your conflicts. Any problem can be solved at any time when magic doesn’t follow any kind of pattern. Likewise, the hero’s plans can also fail for any reason, so it’s hard to get excited when they do something.

4. Overpowered Abilities

Rand wielding Callandor from WoT cover art.

Overpowered characters come in all shapes and sizes, but poorly thought-out magic is one of the most common reasons for it. When you don’t consider how strong a given magical effect is or the different applications it might have, you end up with a character who’s way stronger than they should be. This means either the character’s challenges are way too easy or you have to come up with a contrived reason that this super powerful ability can’t save the day.

This type of problem is most common in high action adventure stories. Circling back to Dune, Paul has the vaguely described “weirding way” that lets him win every fight with ease, even though it’s not clear what the weirding way actually does.* But this issue isn’t limited to physical conflicts, oh no. He and his Bene Gesserit mother can also tell what other characters are thinking with their supernatural cold-reading. However, when Herbert doesn’t want them to know, they can’t.

The Wheel of Time has a similar situation, though with much flashier magic. At the end of book three, protagonist Rand gets his hands on Callandor, an artifact that greatly amplifies his magical powers. Rand was already pretty powerful, and with Callandor he can vanquish most of the villains with ease, or even destroy entire armies. That’s a problem, considering the series goes on for 11 more books. So how does author Robert Jordan keep Rand from running roughshod over the bad guys? In book four, Rand decides to leave Callandor in his fortress, which he claims is a reminder that he’ll be back so that everyone will stay loyal. Yeah, sure. Hey, Rand, you know what would make everyone stay loyal? If you had a magic artifact that gave you godlike powers!

I expect overpowered magic in action-heavy epic fantasy, but it shows up in all types of stories. My absolute favorite example has to be the writing magic from Alex Harrow’s The Ten Thousand Doors of January. In this story, January has the ability to make anything happen by writing it down and then willing it into existence. If there is any limit to what she can do, the book never establishes it. The only cost is that she feels tired after altering the very fabric of the universe with her magic. Meanwhile, January’s enemies in this story are a group of racist old men, most of whom depend on hired goons. A few have comparatively minor magical powers, all of which depend on being in the same room as their target.

You can imagine how this creates a power imbalance. At first, Harrow tries to paper over the problem by claiming that January doesn’t know about her powers. This immediately fails as January uses her powers multiple times and then supposedly forgets about them. Yeah, being a master of creation sounds like the sort of thing you forget in a hurry. Later on, the book occasionally relies on contrived reasons that January can’t get hold of a pen, but in the last third or so Harrow seemingly gives up and just has January not use her powers for no reason at all. She could easily solve her problems, but she doesn’t. She even refuses to solve her friends’ problems. Then, in the falling action, January is back to using her powers as if nothing happened.

Whether your story is full of exciting battles or contemplative philosophy, overpowered magic creates the same problem: it trivializes conflict. If your hero can solve their issues too easily, the story will be boring. If they could do that but then don’t, the story will be contrived. This is why you need to think through the implications of what your magic can do rather than just slapping on every power that sounds neat.

5. Theming Clashes

Thor, Iron Man, and Captain America standing in the woods.

Theming your setting is a critical stage of worldbuilding. A well-themed world feels cohesive and whole, while a poorly themed one feels like a mess of ideas cobbled together at the last minute. Since magic and tech are major aspects of most spec fic settings, they have a big influence on the theming. But when storytellers are overeager to give their heroes exciting new powers, theming gets left by the wayside.

The Marvel Cinematic Universe is the most intense example of this problem I have ever seen. As a superhero world, there’s an assumption that each hero will have a power or suite of powers that’s unique to them. That’s enough of a problem when dealing with inborn powers like Thor’s lightning magic, Spider-Man’s enhanced senses, or Captain America’s super strength.* Those powers are self-contained, even if they come from radically different sources. So, with just those three, this is a setting with Norse gods, radioactive mutations, and ’40s pulp super science. Most novels would already have been laughed out the door by this point.

Then you get into more transferable powers like Doctor Strange’s magic. This doesn’t seem to require any inherent talent, and while it might be a pain to learn, the benefits are so extreme that there’d be no shortage of volunteers. There’s a flimsy masquerade in place, but even that crumbles once Doctor Strange joins the Avengers. At the very least, you’d think some of the other superheroes would want to learn magic so they have more options for protecting Earth from the seemingly endless threats to its existence. But Marvel can’t have that, because each hero has to do their own thing. Spider-Man can’t go to wizard school – how would the branding department handle it?

But all of that pales in comparison to characters who get their power from easily replicable sources. Tech heroes are the obvious problem here. Iron Man in particular could be outfitting the entire MCU team with super powerful tech, but he doesn’t because… he’s stingy? That must be why he left Spider-Man an entire fleet of high-tech assassin drones. Black Panther has a similar issue. His power comes from the heart-shaped herb,* of which there are many. Unlike the other heroes, Black Panther has a country to lead, so it’s understandable that he wouldn’t want to hand out those herbs like candy, but when Wakanda’s existence is at stake, you figure he might at least offer them to his close allies. Give Shuri some herb powers, is what I’m saying.

I haven’t been able to find a novel with theming problems even half as bad as the MCU. A big reason is that Marvel’s film juggernauts didn’t start as cohesive stories, but as separate comics that eventually joined together into a giant tangle of crossovers. Another reason is that Marvel has hundreds of millions of dollars to spend on the most charismatic actors and the latest special effects. Audiences will forgive a lot under those circumstances.

If you try something like that in a novel, you’ll quickly discover the downside of not having a huge pile of money to throw at your creative project. Fortunately, planning your magic system so it doesn’t conflict with your story’s theming doesn’t cost any money at all. It does cost time and effort, but so does every other aspect of storytelling.

6. Babble Instead of Turning Points

Torres pointing a tool at a robot on Voyager.

The turning point is a critical yet often overlooked aspect of storytelling. It’s the part in a conflict where the hero goes from losing to winning, or winning to losing if you’re writing a tragedy. Without a turning point, the conflict has no satisfaction. The hero just walks away triumphant because they’re the hero. There are numerous types of turning points, but the one we’re concerned with today is the clever deduction. This is when a character puts the pieces together at just the right moment, allowing them to see some path to victory that they didn’t see before.

A clever deduction requires proper setup. The audience has to be aware of the various pieces before they click into place; otherwise it feels like the author just pulled a solution out of thin air. If your hero wins the day by cleverly deducing a weakness in the big bad’s fighting style, then the audience has to understand how that fighting style works in order for the victory to be satisfying. This is where poorly thought-out magic systems become a problem. If you don’t understand how your magic works, how are you going to explain it to the audience?

Star Trek is infamous for this in the form of technobabble. When the ship is in danger, the solution is all too often a string of meaningless jargon that has nothing to do with the story. Words like “tachyon” and “depolarize” are common. This is a problem in every Trek show, but it’s especially bad on Voyager, where things get really out of hand. My favorite is the infamous episode Threshold, where the characters technobabble their way into creating a ship that travels at infinite speed, then have a technobabble problem where two of them transform into giant newts, then create a technobabble solution to turn them back. That’s an extreme example, but it’s a problem throughout the entire series. The more recent Trek shows haven’t escaped it either, though on Discovery they tend toward fungus-related technobabble, which is a new wrinkle.

Don’t worry, this can happen with fantasy as well as scifi. Remember Middlegame and how confusing it was? Well, that gets even worse once the characters have to start solving major problems in the last fourth or so of the book. In one sequence, they have to find a special magical location in order to perform an important ritual, which is pitched as a major problem. This location could be anywhere, so how will they find it? By spouting magic babble, of course! This happens largely in the form of one character doing magical math formulas until they arrive at the answer: the Sutro Baths. What’s that, you haven’t heard of the Sutro Baths?* Neither had I, but the book still acted like it was supposed to mean something.

Not only had the Baths not been established previously in the book, but the criteria they claim to use in finding it could apply to hundreds, possibly thousands of sites in just the United States. They say the location has to be somewhere with a connection to both fire and water, which the Sutro Baths does have, but I can think of half a dozen places with similar connections just here in Seattle. With criteria that useless, we just have to trust that the magical math formulas somehow found the right place. Since we have no idea how these formulas work, there’s no satisfaction in the result, just like there isn’t when the Enterprise crew solves their problem by shunting reverse polarity tachyons through the main deflector dish.*

The hard truth of worldbuilding is that even a well-thought-out magic system doesn’t make you immune to these problems. Brandon Sanderson clearly put lots of work in the magic of his Mistborn books, and yet there are serious theming issues with which metals grant which magical powers.* The Broken Earth has incredibly detailed magic, and yet the main character is still way overpowered.* But if you don’t put serious thought into how the supernatural works in your story, these issues go from possibilities to guarantees. You might even get consequence combos, like a spell that summons invincible ghost knights, which are way too powerful and also don’t fit in your 1920s cosmic horror setting. Don’t let this happen to you. Start thinking about your magic system today!

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  1. JGrey

    For the Buffy example, I think the reason certain spells and magic are considered dark is BECAUSE those particular spells are addictive (or involve creating monsters). Those particular spells have a component that gives the user a high, and gets them addicted to that rush.

    • Matt

      It could be that magic is like alcohol–you can use/ consume it without necessarily becoming addicted to it, but it is potentially dangerous and addictive.

      One of the things that most impressed me about the Buffy the Vampire Slayer RPG was that they took the absolutely inconsistent depiction of magic in the show and actually produced a coherent magical system that made sense, explained almost every use of magic in the show, was relatively easy to use rules-wise, and was actually a cool, well thought out magic system. This, of course, does not excuse the show’s original creators from not doing more consistent world-building.

  2. Cay Reet

    I think the longer a series is running, the harder it is to keep the magic system working – after all, your characters grow, that includes the mages in most cases. Everyone gets stronger, their magic gets stronger, and after a while, the magic is simply too powerful and breaks the story.

    I’m mostly winging it with my two necromancers (meaning I have no ‘hard magic’ system), but they quite often find it’s not their power which helps them out of a situation, but their intelligence and abilitiy to improvise.

    • GeniusLemur

      That’s one of a number of difficulties with long series.

  3. Elda King

    “Granted, it had been a while since Return of the Jedi was released, but I bet George Lucas could have found someone to lend him a copy.”

    Maybe not. I would be afraid of lending my copy to Lucas, in particular while he was writing Episode 1. I’m sure he would find a way to edit the old movies to put some Jar Jar scenes, make Jabba and Luke compete in a pod race or change Chewbacca into a Ewok.

  4. Elda King

    Regarding Callandor, it was supposed to be some prophecy thing, but it was so hard to justify it was later partially retconned to create a few better reasons.

    But in general Wheel of Time is relatively coherent with its magic system and how it works (excluding the man/woman thing, of course). Which is impressive, considering how long it is and that the characters are constantly learning new rules and spells (of course, “relatively” is the key word here). The villains do use their godly powers regularly, the scenario does change meaningfully as a result of the newly discovered powerful magic, and as more elements are included the previous uses of magic start making more sense, not less. Looks like it took some major planning. The biggest issue is his habit of making every single one of the countless main characters stupidly overpowered, which of course requires too many excuses to limit their power (besides just feeling silly on its own). Rand is of course the worst case, and it never starts making any sense; he is either unable/unwilling to do anything or completely unbothered by any limits. Other spellcasters are usually much better, but sometimes it gets awkward.

  5. Ace of Hearts

    #2 is particularly infuriating when applying to villains.

    The bad guy opens a portal to another dimension, because entering it physically will give him godlike powers. That’s a fun premise, except that the story never tells you what that even means, or what those powers are.

    And opening this portal requires a powerful blood sacrifice, until it’s closed and he opens it again at the end without a sacrifice. Oh, and why did we get a plot about his plan B if he could just open the thing again? Oh, and the protagonist enters that dimension physically and does not come off with godlike powers. Oh, and…

    Yes, this was a rant about Dragon Age: Inquisition.

    #3 also requires that you explore the full implications of anything you put into the story. Brandon Sanderson did this incredibly well in Mistborn, theming his entire world around the magic system and coming up with many unconventional uses for his powers. In comparison, he failed spectacularly with this in Elantris, where the magic system is actually so overpowered in combat that the final battle devolves into a meaningless action scene.

    Excellent points, Oren – I’ll be sure to keep them in mind when writing my own system.

    • Geovonnie Welch

      My little pony friendship is magic is a prime example of a inconsistent magic system

  6. Jtmoka

    In defense to Phantom Menace, Obi-wan loses when he attacks out of anger. He only wins after coming down.

    I went through the anter book thinking the weirding way refused to using their cold reading techniques to perfectly counter an opponent. I never would have thought that it was superspeed.

  7. Silverware

    Some time ago I’ve read a book with a character that had writing magic, like, writing stuff makes things happen. Though he had several drawbacks, like he has to usea special pen which nib was made out of his own bone, and this pen writes in his own blood, and using the pen is extremely painful, and if he does that too often he’ll die and possibly get possessed by the evil magic that lives in the pen. There’s also magic police that watches him, because blood magic like that is forbidden. And he has to use this forbidden magic because he doesn’t know anything else, and he has to protect himself and his lover from a supernatural serial murder.

    The book is also from a sexy romance genre, and has a whole lot of gay saucy scenes, so needless to say i liked it a lot.

  8. Dinwar

    I know folks on this site hate Dune, but that shouldn’t stop the authors from presenting the universe properly. The Weirding Way is not “super-speed”, it’s extremely precise bodily control. The series specifically talks about the ability to adjust internal body chemistry (one of the major plot points of the first book), the ability to control perceptions (discussed in the opening scene), and the ability to control individual muscles (discussed vaguely throughout the series but specifically stated in later books). The training is called prana-bindu training; the martial art derived from this is the Weirding Way. It’s shown multiple times that this training allows Reverend Mothers to achieve astonishing levels of martial prowess, but most certainly NOT invincibility. They are on par with the most elite soldiers in the Empire.

    The Bene Gesserit training (NOT the spice agony; those who haven’t achieved Reverend Mother status can do this, to a lesser degree) heightens senses and reaction times, which makes it appear that one has super-speed, but there’s nothing supernatural about that; modern sword fighters use their opponent’s perception and heightened reaction speed (due to long training) to appear to teleport. I’ve seen it, even pulled it off a few times. My point is, it’s a development in fiction of something that is known to occur and be effective now. So hardly something that strains credibility or violates the suspension of disbelief.

    Paul provides this training to the Fremen to augment their already-considerable martial prowess (the issue of why the have that isn’t relevant to this discussion). This allows them to hope to hold their own against the Saudukar, the Emperor’s personal elite soldiers. Note that to win they still had to rely on surprise, nuking a mountain range out of existence, AND threatening to destroy the economic foundation of the entire Empire.

    The super-speed discussed comes much, much later in the books–the penultimate book–and that was nothing to do with the Weirding Way. It had to do with the prescient capacity of the Atreides family. Why prescience would turn someone into the Flash is never explained and makes no sense, but again, that’s irrelevant–super-speed IS NOT part of the Weirding Way.

    I’m not saying that Dune is perfect. I’m not even saying it’s good. What I am saying is that the text says what it says, and to wildly and flagrantly misrepresent that text mars the credibility of these writers. Nothing I’ve said requires an in-depth reading of the books; Herbert openly states these things, so that even a casual reader would know them! And if the authors on this site are misrepresenting this, what ELSE are they misrepresenting?

    • Oren Ashkenazi

      Editor’s note: this comment contains a number of clearly incorrect statements, to the point it is likely on purpose. That isn’t strictly deletion-worthy according to our comments rules, but we don’t recommend interacting with it.

      • Tifa

        Misrepresent all the books…or die!

        …Sorry. I couldn’t resist.

        Joking aside, I have another ‘Lessons from…’ recommendation: The Dangerous Days of Daniel X series. The main character basically has god-level powers plus an entire truck’s worth of candy, and it gets more and more ridiculous with each book.

      • Loopa

        Oren, you are mistaken, and Dinwar’s comment is correct. The “weirding way” is not super speed, it merely refers to the superior fighting skills that Paul and Jessica exhibit, based on Bene Gesserit muscle/nerve control and ability to read and anticipate their opponents. The term itself is just Fremen for “amazing/uncanny way [of fighting].”

        The term is introduced after Jessica overpowers Stilgar on their first meeting, and it’s clear from the exposition that it’s not superhuman speed that allows her to defeat him (though she moves fast), but a calculated feint that catches him off-guard. Similarly, the term is used to describe how Paul defeats Jamis in duel, and again it’s not through superhuman speed—in fact, there are numerous comments about how Paul tends to move too slowly because he has been trained to shield-fighting, which deflect fast blows—but by his ability to spot a mistake Jamis makes.

        I think you got the idea that it has anything to do with super speed from a Dune Wiki, which in turn most likely got it from the 2000 miniseries (where it’s used as a visual shorthand, probably inspired by The Matrix), but it’s a misconception in regards to the books.

        As Dinwar also correctly points out, super speed is introduced later in the series, most notably with Miles Teg in ‘Heretics of Dune,’ but that is never referred to as the Weirding Way.

  9. Nik

    Not that Shuri isn’t important and effective already, but maybe if you’re giving out free samples of super go-go plant, spare a piece for the Dora Milaje? At least for Okoye!

    • Oren Ashkenazi

      All the Wakanda ladies deserve it for sure.

      • Sinjin Reed

        It seems the Heart-Shaped Herb is magical in nature, which automatically makes it exceedingly dangerous to use, and since only those directly descended from the monarchy are allowed to go through the process we can only assume the consequences would be dire. Remember, the Herb only lets you connect with Bast as he is the one that gives the Black Panthers their power, and gods can be fickle. We’ve never seen a failed attempt at using it, and that’s probably for the best.
        So it would probably be a bad idea for the royal guard to take it, but Shuri can. It’s just that she clearly doesn’t want to and isn’t interested.

  10. Nowan

    All I can think while reading this article is the atrocity that Ant-Man was. Not that it was a terrible movie (it was, in fact, quite entertaining, even though I like the second one better), but the “magic” system was rigged to fail from the second it is presented.

    It starts with Pym telling us that the suit shrinks Scott by diminishing the distance between the various particles of his atoms. That’s impossible, scientifically speaking, but let’s ignore that. There will be no movie if we don’t.

    This atom babble is actually very important, because it’s used as a justification for Ant-Man’s strength. He can punch hard while small because he has the same number of atoms on his person, and therefore the same mass. That, once again, completely ignores physics, because his punches cannot possibly have the same speed by simple virtue of travelling a much shorter distance.

    But the real problem starts when Scott starts climbing on top of people. Doesn’t he weight the same while small? How can he be just chilling on someone’s shoulder/hand/weapon? How can he ride ants, now that I think about it?

    Not content with this paradox, the movie then has the gall to put its climax inside the “quantum world”, with Ant-Man becoming so small he can fit between atoms.

    …So you’re telling me Scott’s atoms shrank so much they ended up smaller than themselves? How does taht even work? He is still a person made by trillions of atoms, but they’re squished so close together they can fit in spaces smaller than a single atom?

    Then we get to the sequel and things get even more wacky, because Scott can grow big and somehow GAIN strength, even though ostensibly HE STILL HAS THE SAME MASS.

    • Elda King

      You might appreciate this comic strip about that very subject:

    • Erynus

      In Marvel comics they have 3 ways for someone to change their size, that are explored on Fantastic Four comics.
      – First they can “crunch” their atoms together like in the movie, but with that method you can’t be smaller than an atom.
      – The second way is to lose an amount of atoms, that goes to a pocket dimension and can be retrieved from there to regain the original size (or even bring out more mass to make you grow), the downside is that as you have less mass, you’ll have less inertia and strenght, also a limit on how small you can be, given that you only can lose so much atoms prior to lose useful atoms, i.e. structural damage.
      – The third way is even more bizarre, you actualy shrink your own atoms, which prevents them to interact with other atoms, but allow you to go smaller than them. It is the way to access to the Microverse. The downside is that oxigen atoms will be the same size, you’ll need a shrinked oxigen suply and you’ll be limited to the time it last.

      • SunlessNick

        The last seems to be what they’re using in Ant-Man even if they don’t describe it that way – everyone needs an airtight suit to shrink below human size, and Scott does run out of air at one point in Ant Man and the Wasp.

        • Erynus

          I think they use a mix of all of them in the movies, the third method would involve make the actual atoms bigger, and it is hard to predict how a bigger atom would interact with a normal one on a punch, for example.
          The weight/strenght think is not covered in the comics also, so he can be heavy or light and punch someone in the face while piloting an ant, as the plot needs.

        • Nowan

          I wouldn’t say so, because of the bit about not interacting with other atoms that Erynus mentioned. That would make sense in the quantum world scenes, but in all other scenes where shrunken and enlarged people/things interact constantly with normal sized thing (punching, kicking, carrying, even flying). There’s also a scene in the first movie in which an ant is enlarged without breathing apparatus.

          I don’t thing there’s any reasonable explanation, if we’re being honest. Being extremely generous, Ant-Man’s power could be that he can choose his mass by drawing and storing atoms in the pocket dimension Erynus mentions. The millisecond a hit connects, he makes his hand super heavy and can hit with as much power as he would have while in normal size. But that still doesn’t cover the quantum world and I’m not sure how it would work with Giant-Man.

          Either way, that’s kind of a moot point. Even if we do find a system that explains everything Ant-Man does, it will still be different from the system explicitly presented in the first movie.

  11. Max

    Lots of good points here. And yet, many of the examples are from some of the most popular and successful story franchises of all time.

    Makes you then think that maybe – while again lots of good points made here – in the end it’s not nearly as big a deal as other aspects of the storytelling.

  12. Sinjin Reed

    The reason why the mystical order are so choosy about who they teach magic to is because magic is JUST. THAT. DANGEROUS. Even they don’t have a perfect grasp on it as half of the knowledge inside Karma Taj could have disastrous consequences on the caster. Doctor Strange only excels because he just has a natural talent for it, like perfect pitch.
    And while I’m on the subject of Strange, the implication of the failed 14 million timeline is that no matter what Thanos would always get the gauntlet back. Even without the Infinity Stones he’s damn-near unbeatable, as evidenced by him beating the Hulk to a pulp and matching Cap, Iron Man, and Thor blow-for-blow in the next movie.
    As for Tony not giving the rest of the Avengers any of his super-tech, well, why would he? Thor is god, Hulk is an unstoppable mountain of muscle, all Cap needs is his shield, Black Widow and Hawkeye don’t even need his gadgets because they get their own. The Iron Man suit needs the right kind of training in order to use properly, and the Avengers just don’t need them. Only Rhodey ever used a suit and that’s because he already had training as a pilot.

  13. William

    Callandor is most useful to Rand as a symbol. The real significance of Callandor is that it is the Sword in the Stone, and by wielding it, Rand proves he is the prophesied leader who has been reincarnated to fight the ultimate evil at the forthcoming Armageddon or Ragnarok. When he obtains Callandor in book 3, the ruling oligarchy of the nation that had taken up the job of guarding Callandor submitted to him as their ruler, and the barbarian warriors invading that nation and the fortress which held Callandor, looking for the leader promised by their own prophesies, also accepted Rand as their pro tem leader. In book four, the nobles have started jockeying for power and scheming against Rand, who is woefully unprepared to engage them in political machinations (and which really is not his job, anyway, see above re: leading the fight at Armageddon/Ragnarok). So he deploys the leading nobles and their armies on a humanitarian aid mission, to end a civil war and feed the starving population of a neighboring country, while he goes off to fulfill the prophecies of the barbarians, to cement his leadership over them. The barbarians have already demonstrated a fatalistic attitude toward death and a willingness to fight magic hand to hand if necessary, so carrying around a device that amplifies his magic powers will not impress them very much, since, as noted in the article, he already has plenty of power. Also, they have a near-religious taboo against swords, so Callandor is just not good optics when you are campaigning to become their leader.

    So Rand drives Callandor into the stone floor in the same room of the fortress where it was kept behind magic wards for 3000 years before he took it up. He’s reminding the rulers of the fortress and country about their failure to stop him from taking up Callandor and their own inability to duplicate his feat. This is to keep them too afraid to betray or rebel against him when he leaves. They can’t hold their solemn ceremonies to declare themselves the supreme power in the nation, without having to see Callandor sticking out of the stone floor, reminding them that Rand is out there, and will be coming back for his sword, and they maybe don’t want to do anything that will require explanations when he returns to take up his “god-like powers” once more.

    Oren’s insistence on boiling Wheel of Time down to its power mechanics is very disappointing on a website that makes so much effort to understand characters and their motivations and ideas, with suggestions for world-building good politics and social conflicts.

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