Magic in Dragon Lady

I’ve already written about the dangers of using magic in fiction. This week, I’m going to write about the magic that I do use in my fiction, particularly in The Dragon Lady of Stockbridge, which is going up, chapter by chapter, every week.

My long-ago inspiration for using magic was a 1953 novel by Fritz Leiber entitled Conjure Wife. Unlike many writers, Leiber spelled out the basics of magic in his story. He showed how magic might function as an orderly system. Leiber’s use of magic is structured around three principles. First, every woman on the planet practices magic, but no men do. Second, despite this prevalence of magic, the world still looks very much like our own. Third, the magic itself operated by rules. In the novel, Leiber actually has one of the characters analyze a collection of related spells using symbolic logic to establish the fundamental magical spell underlying all the variations.

Two of these principles I carried over into Dragon Lady: that the world would seem normal, and that magic operates by rules. So in Dragon Lady there are folk stories about witches and magic, but educated people by and large do not believe in them. This places constraints on the magic in Dragon Lady. For example, magicians are not going around threatening to destroy the universe or turning the Washington Monument into gold. There’s a limit to their power. That’s one of the rules. One of the other rules is that performing magic requires energy and has consequences. If you’ve read the story, you’ll have noticed that Rebecca finds it easier to use magic on people to get them to do things they were inclined to do, anyhow, and that major magical operations tire her out. Finally, there can’t be that many magicians in the world, or their existence would be common knowledge. Some people know about them. In fact, some people in government definitely know about them, or there would be no United States Secret Service, Office of Occult Affairs to which Abigail Lane belongs. (Why is the Office of Occult Affairs in the Secret Service, whose main job is busting counterfeiters? Well, why is Presidential protection a duty of the Secret Service? It has to do with history.)

One of the rules I did not carry over from Conjure Wife is the idea that only women engage in magic. Why not? Leiber was writing specifically about gender relations in his day, 1953. My purpose in writing Dragon Lady is different. To me, it seemed unrealistic that men, who hold so much power in the world, could be completely shut out from a system of power. In the world of Dragon Lady, men and women both practice magic, and there is no clear domination by one or the other, except insofar as men tend to hold the reins of power generally. Abigail’s boss, the head of the Office of Occult Affairs, is a man, and no one would even consider appointing a woman to that post in 1886.

There’s one other rule about magic, or at least about magicians, that applies to the world of Dragon Lady. People learn. Magicians learn. They try out new things. They test the limits of their powers. Admittedly, they may make mistakes and be killed by hostile magical entities, or fall victim to other hazards unique to their profession. But over time, magicians get better at magic. Magic is no static institution in the world of Dragon Lady, but an evolving set of practices magicians use to control their world. And just as men and women have developed theories about how the physical world works, which we call science, so, too, someday may magicians develop a theory about how the magical world works. And we’ll call that science, too.

What are the spiritual implications of this? If magic becomes scientific, are we ruling out religion or values? No, no more than science does so already. The great spiritual questions are about our relationship to ourselves, to other sentient beings, and to the cosmos. Science has clarified those questions in certain ways, not answered them. A science of magic would do much the same. Indeed, because it would expose a new realm in the world, and provide a new perspective and new knowledge of ourselves, it would enrich our ability to address those questions.

The alchemists used physical instruments and spiritual exercises to try to realize the Philosopher’s Stone. They saw no firm dividing line between the two. In the world of Dragon Lady, that dividing line does not exist, either. Scientists and magicians are both trying to manipulate the world using their respective skills, but both are trying to answer the great questions. Who are we? Why are we here? And what should we aspire to become?

The Alchemist in Search of the Philosopher’s Stone (Joseph Wright, 1771)


About Brian Bixby

I enjoy history because it helps me understand people. I'm writing fiction for much the same reason.
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7 Responses to Magic in Dragon Lady

  1. crimsonprose says:

    Hi! Finally got time for a good look around. On the subject of magic, have you discovered into Orphic magic yet? I haven’t the link, but google orphicamagica.pdf should find it, or as one the sites cited on wikipedia’s entry on Orpheus religion. It’s amazing stuff – helps to know a little Greek! But the pdf gives formulas for raising demons, who then will put you in touch with the gods. The way it’s described, it’s like dialing a phone number. I came across it while researching the Mithraic cult. You might also try They have an interesting manuscript under heading of Gnostics. These were the sources used by the medieval writers. Happy research, though you’ll probably tell me you’ve already been there. And by the way, I really rate your work.

  2. Brian Bixby says:

    As it turns out, I am not familiar with either, though I know enough Greek mythology to recall Orpheus. (My Ancient Greek is very, very rusty.) So I thank you for the pointers, as well as the praise for my work. I’ve visited your blog, but have yet to make time to give it a good look over. I’ll make the time.

    • crimsonprose says:

      Please do, if you’ve not already. Though amongst the rhymes and silliness you’ll find little that relates to the above comment. I intend to add some more poems, a couple of short stories, an excerpt. Crimsonprose is my training ground, learning the gears, so to speak. I’ve two other sites under construction: one the aforementioned blogged book, Feast Fables; the other a kind of history paperchase. They’ll be the real ones. In that I’m interested in how you structure and manage this site – as well as liking your writing

      • Brian Bixby says:

        Leave a pointer to the other sites. Better yet, leave a pointer to them in your “About” sections, so others can find them as well.

        This site grew more than it was planned. As my “About” states, it was originally to publish “Dragon Lady,” and related materials, with a new chapter every week. Picked Friday because that meant people could have a new chapter for the weekend. Along the way, I wanted to keep my readers interested, and knew that even those who liked “Dragon Lady” would get tired of seeing only it, so I decided to regularly publish a second post where I’ve granted myself more latitude. Next up: a book review, but from a prospective writer’s perspective, not a reader’s perspective. And even the posts announcing new chapters have expanded to include other material, though THAT was not my original intention at all!

        I’ve got two unresolved issues I’m actively considering. 1) I can see the end of “Dragon Lady.” What comes next? And can I begin immediately, or do I need to pause for my own benefit? 2) At some point I have to remove some of the older posts to archive status. I suspect that will involve rethinking my categories.

  3. crimsonprose says:

    Wondering what to do next . . . I think that’s a long way ahead for me. But you’ve given me several points here to ponder on.

    I’ve already thought of the links to the other 2 blogs; to add them onto crimson’s gravatar as well as from crimsonprose itself.

    I admit I hadn’t thought of posts on FF beyond a weekly alert for each new chapter, much as you do with Dragon Lady. But certainly I could post on “subjects arising”, which will be mythology mostly, and maybe archaeology – in effect to explain or expand upon this aspect or that of the milieu setting and/or plot.

    In reference to FF, physically the blog is there but with the setting to “private” while I do final edits, lay down at least the first few pages (aka chapters) and generally make sure the links to each are in place. I’m not sure when I’ll go public with it. When I do, it will certainly be announced on crimsonprose.

    The other blog (crimsons history) I’m not yet pushing. It has 1 post and the About page. It’s ambitious in content, non-fiction, requires lots of research, and is generally in answer to those authors, of fiction and otherwise, who can’t be bothered to get historial details right. Crimson’s tub-thumping again.

    Anyway, I thank you for your interest, and keep an eye for it!

  4. Brian Bixby says:

    I will keep my eye out for them both.
    I do second the idea of additional posts on related topics to FF, obviously based on my own experience. Only a minority of the people who read my blog actually read “Dragon Lady.” But they like this or that I say in my posts, often enough to follow. And being “Freshly Pressed” brought in a veritable flood of viewers for a post I thought would gain no more attention than its related predecessor of the week before. Some, not many but some are becoming “Dragon Lady” readers.

  5. crimsonprose says:

    I now have a link to crimsons history vua my gravatar, though not yet on crimsonprose. The posts there take a lot of work, I might have stuff in my head, but I want to include links to the original sources, online.

    I’m working on that additional material for FF. I’m thinking to explain the reasons for specific settings and periods, all relating to theme of feast fables i.e. a story that is told at feasts, e.g. Father Christmas, the Nativity, only taking it way-way back. So there’ll also be the original myths – as reconstructed by me. I envision the additional material as a mixed bag of mythology, anthropology, climatology, you-name-it-tolgy, with links at least to wikipedia. See, since a child I’ve felt compelled to share anything and everything I’ve learned – mostly trivial facts.

    But I’m still amazed at how many hits to crimsonprose, when it was only intended as a training ground – and I am learning.

    And “Freshly Pressed”. Wow, that would be something, though I’m not sure what I could write to qualify for that! But keep up the work. Success is sexy.

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