The small man had tightened the slipknot around the pommel of his rapier and let the wire trail behind him, flexible as a whip. “I’ve grounded my sword,” he said. “Now any death-spell launched against me, striking my drawn sword first, will be discharged into the ground.“
- Fritz Leiber
I learned—even before my waking self had studied the parallel cases or the old myths from which the dreams doubtless sprang—that the entities around me were of the world’s greatest race, which had conquered time and had sent exploring minds into every age. I knew, too, that I had been snatched from my age while another used my body in that age, and that a few of the other strange forms housed similarly captured minds.Magic as super-science: it would seem that super-science would be most compatible with science as a magical system. That is true only if the culture at large grasps the principles behind your super-science. If instead you have a fallen culture, or a culture that has stumbled across the artifacts of super-science but doesn't really understand how they work, science and super-science can clash horribly. History is full of sound scientific principles that were just plain wrong. In the age of steam, it was assumed that the human body could not withstand speeds greater than 40 mph. Concepts that we today take for granted (the existence of germs, the principles of magnetism and the flow of electrons, the mechanics of combustion) were all at one point anathema to the cutting-edge science of previous days. The greatest wizards in such a setting would be those with the most rigid of minds, slaves to dogma and ritual which would yield predictable and consistent results.
- H.P. Lovecraft
“And he that breaks a thing to find out what it is has left the path of wisdom.”
- J.R.R. Tolkien
Magic as language: in Tolkien's middle earth the key to wizardly power is knowing how to speak the languages of the elements. Gandalf and Sauroman cajole mountains and rivers, beasts and insects to do their bidding. In this world, power is based on relationships and the natural world is not a thing to manipulate but an entity. As such, science must be practiced with delicate care and respect. Too close an inspection of any natural phenomenon risks invasive rudeness, and the last thing you want to do is cause offense to something as potent as the West Wind or Mount Doom.
”Sir Gareth, do not sound your challenge yet. Until noon the Red Knight’s strength increases, after then it wanes, so if you will wait for a little the advantage will be yours.”
fairy-tale logic: simple, declarative statements that are true. I love this sort of thing, because it gives players all sorts of hand-holds to fiddle with, as well as interesting challenges to overcome. The troll cannot be killed unless you stab him in the heart, and he keeps his heart locked in a chest hidden inside his tower. The prince will remain a frog until kissed by a beautiful maiden. The ring can only be destroyed by the fires of the volcano in which it was forged. While such magic is internally consistent, as Zak points out, it’s inherently unscientific. There is no why; the rules simply are. The best wizards have a bard’s ability to recall detail and a lawyer’s instinct for finding the loopholes. There’s some overlap with engineers in these skills, but it lacks the universal underpinnings of science entirely.
And Ouphaloc, seeing the great craft and evil in the starveling boy, gave succor to Narthos and sheltered him. He dwelt for years with Ouphaloc, becoming the wizard's pupil and the heir of his demon-wrested lore. Strange things he learned in that hermitage, being fed on fruits and grain that had sprung not from the watered earth, and wine that was not the juice of terrene grapes. And like Ouphaloc, he became a master in devildom and drove his own bond with the archfiend Thasaidon. When Ouphaloc died, he took the name of Namirrha, and went forth as a mighty sorcerer among the wandering peoples and the deep-buried mummies of Tasuun.
-Clark Ashton Smith
Art by Gerbrand van den Eeckhout, Anthony Frederick Sandys, and Francisco de Goya.