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Author Topic: Abracadabra
Merlion-Emrys
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So, the other half of the discussion I mentioned in the "Arghhh!" thread has to do with spells. As many of you know, I write a LOT of spellcasting. Usually there is a verbal component to most of the spells in my work, and I usually present this as "He spoke the words of a binding-spell" or "he began incanting a spell" or something like that.
Sometimes, especially in certain works, I'll get a little more funky with something like "He spoke words that crackled and hummed on the air, and a bolt of lightning leapt forth."

Very, very rarely I will have a "spell" or use of magic that does involve actual written out speech, in english such as "into the light I command thee!" or "in the name of the Lady, begone!" However I don't see these as being the actual words of the spell, rather its something that character says when they perform that particular action.

I have never actually included made-up words for my spells. I decided when I first started writing that since I'm not really qualified to do what Tolkien did and create an actual, working language, I wouldn't substitute with random gibberish. As some of you also know, my magic is very important to me and I feel it would be...not good for me to just tack on random made-up words. I'm not likely to change this view, but recently a couple of people have commented on the lack of dialogued-spells so mostly I am curious as to how others handle the issue and perceive it as readers.

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Robert Nowall
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I think it weakens things if the reader can't grasp some essence of what is being said, rather than "he spoke the words" or "he began incanting." We can't all do what Tolkien did---invent a language and have a wizard do incantations in it---and once we saw Gandalf make fire with a few words in Elvish, we didn't need to have whole other incantations spelled out---but we should be able to come up with something.

I don't know if it'd work for you, not knowing the nature of your Secondary World, but some incantations could be relayed in snatches of Latin or Greek or Arabic or Some Real Language That Is Obscure But Not English.

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Owasm
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I do a lot of mage stories and novels. I have no compunction about using whatever makes sense in the context of the story. In one short, I have the magician having to gesticulate with his hands above his shoulders, in another it's a form of punching braille with eight fingers in a spell code. I just e-pubbed a novel that is set in Egypt and I use 'egyptish' words and poses.

I think anything goes. A lot of what we write is in a peculiar context and most readers can follow along with it.

I look at it like making up names. Same thing.

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LDWriter2
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Personally, I do different techniques. I have links to two or three translation sites for I sometimes use Latin, Ancient Greek, and Hebrew at times. A couple of times I have had my Mage "use words that were so old they didn't sound human." Sometimes I do add hand gestures or in one case they had to do a complicated hand dance each time.

Usually when I use the different languages I Borrow from Jim Butcher and have my Mage say one word only. A couple of times it was the same word but in t three or four languages.

It depends on how I feel at the moment.

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History
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I use actual spells.
So much easier.

Respectfully,
Dr. Bob

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Merlion-Emrys
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Yes, well, you get to cheat Dr. Bob. Somebody already wrote the spells for your stories...

Just as a clarification, although the discussion applies everywhere I am speaking most particularly of totally secondary worlds, more so than fantastic versions of our world, most especially my Universe of the Nine Roads though the subject is relevant everywhere. For instance in my "T&H" stories if I did enough digging I could probably come up with actual Japanese for my onmyoji's spells (although I wouldn't really want to do that either as I dislike transliterated Japanese) but for my totally other worlds it's a bit different.


quote:
I think it weakens things if the reader can't grasp some essence of what is being said, rather than "he spoke the words" or "he began incanting." We can't all do what Tolkien did---invent a language and have a wizard do incantations in it---and once we saw Gandalf make fire with a few words in Elvish, we didn't need to have whole other incantations spelled out---but we should be able to come up with something.
Oh I could come up with something. But it'd be gibberish. Else, I'd have to put my writing on hold for a year or two and try and create, if not an actual language, at least a coherent set of gibberish to maintain consistency.
Interestingly, even though Tolkien did create whole languages, there's so little actual spellcasting that goes on, it does pretty rarely come into play in that respect.
The absolute furthest I'd contemplate going would be to do what Ursula K. LeGuin did and throw in a very small number of words in the magical language...but you notice she almost never spells out what's being said when Ged or whoever is actually casting a spell.

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MartinV
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So far, my spellcasters aren't using any words at all. Everything I tried felt childish; the solution was to have all the incantations happen in the mind of the spellcaster. And my magic system turned into pseudo-science.

[ December 18, 2011, 01:45 PM: Message edited by: MartinV ]

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MartinV
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Double post.
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History
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When I don't use actual spells (reading them aloud makes my lights flicker), I still use the magical foundation of "abracadabra".

One of the believed derivations of the word is from the Aramaic avera kedevra which translates (as a character in my story THE KABBALIST: SACRED GEOMETRY notes) as "I create by speech." For those who recall their Bible, this is how G-d brought (brings) forth the Universe.

[It always bothered me how JK Rowling misrepresents this as a spell of death.]

Thus, in my KABBALIST stories, words (typically appropriate Scriptural verses) focus and manifest the energy of Creation.

Your magic foundation may vary, but it should always be internally consistent and (odd as it is to say) plausible.

Just my two shekels.

Respectfully,
Dr. Bob

[ December 18, 2011, 11:04 PM: Message edited by: History ]

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Merlion-Emrys
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quote:
[It always bothered me how JK Rowling misrepresents this as a spell of death.]
Isn't there supposedly some sort of further-eastern, like Sanskrit or something basis for that?


quote:
Your magic foundation may vary, but it should always be internally consistent and (odd as it is to say) plausible.
I actually have several but I think especially my main one, the Nine Roads you're somewhat familiar with, is these things. Goodness knows I rack my brain trying to keep it that way. But my question here isn't as much about the magic system in the story, but rather the writing of it. Twice in the last few months I've had folks tell me they think I should actually present the spell dialogue. It's not something I'm comfortable doing, but I'm curious as to people's opinions on the subject as readers, and their different approaches as writers.
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History
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Hi, Merilon.

The claimed association between JK Rowling's "Avada Kadavra" and Sanskrit is interesting. The words are never translated in her books. However, in my research of Sanskrit (and admittedly I am no Sanskrit scholar), the closest associations I can find are अवड (avadha)which is a root for "to speak" and oddly कद्वर (kadvara)which means whey or buttermilk. [Smile]

Anyway, JK Rowling allegedly herself claimed Aramaic as her source (see http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/List_of_spells_in_Harry_Potter#cite_note-4): During an audience interview at the Edinburgh Book Festival (15 April 2004) Rowling said: "Does anyone know where avada kedavra came from? It is an ancient spell in Aramaic, and it is the original of abracadabra, which means 'let the thing be destroyed.' Originally, it was used to cure illness and the 'thing' was the illness, but I decided to make it the 'thing' as in the person standing in front of me. I take a lot of liberties with things like that. I twist them round and make them mine."[5] Rowling's use of this name may have been influenced by Latin cadaver = "corpse".

Thus the alleged Sanskrit derivation of the spell in the Harry Potter books is not supported.
I am uncertain where she decided the phrase had anything to do with destruction etymologically when it has quite the opposite meaning (i.e "I create by speech"). The suggestion of her being influenced by a more familiar Latin word "cadaver" is a good hypothesis--merely wrong. Thus, my disappointment in her corruption of the word (and spell).

Unfortunately I have had only the merest taste of your Nine Roads stories, but look forward to seeing them in print and reading them one day. Spell dialog must have purpose or it is nonsensical. A being with INHERENT POWER(e.g. Superman) does not need to recite spells to fly or use heat vision or x-ray vision. A being with knowledge of WORDS OF POWER (e.g Michael Moorcock's Elric, or James Stoddard's Carter Anderson in THE HIGH HOUSE) must recite the spellwords for the power is in them. FInally there is an EXTERNAL SOURCE OF POWER (that can be channeled by the magic user either directly (Niven's mana in his Warlock stories), or through devices (amulets, wands, etc) and/or through words (as in my own KABBALIST stories where Scriptural verse serves to focus the power/emanations of Creation). Again, whatever you choose make sure it is consistent and plausible for your worlds.

Respectfully,
Dr. Bob

[ December 20, 2011, 01:30 PM: Message edited by: History ]

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Merlion-Emrys
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Ohh I believe you Dr. Bob...and I didn't know Rowling had actually cited the Aramaic. I just read something somewhere once about, it seems, some further-Eastern language and a meaning to do with "I kill as I speak."
Out of curiosity, do you actually speak Aramaic? That would just be totally over the top :-)

About Abracadbra, I'd also read something somewhere about a link to some statement made by the Roman soldier who came to the Mary's and told them "the body is gone" or something like that...however, that's probably related to the "cadaver" Latin association you mention. I didn't know about the Aramaic (or had forgotten) and that gives me a new respect for the term.

Now as to my Roads, it's funny you mention that...I DO actually have one in print now, in an anthology which, despite this sounding like a shameless plug, I think you might be interested in as it's a collection of fairy tale adaptations. It's called "Twisted Fairytales, Volume 2." Produced by Wicked East Press. I think it's on Amazon now too. My contribution is an adaptation into the Universe of the Nine Roads of the old German story Jorinda and Joringel.

My Road magic actually uses...well sometimes just about all the "power sources" you mention. Sometimes necessarily, sometimes optionally. And I think there is actually a magical language...or several...but I'm not really inclined to try and actually create it in text...

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History
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Hi, Merilyn.

My knowledge of Aramaic is limited, mostly from studying Talmud in English and trying to follow along in the Aramaic. Even here, however, there are diffrences between western Aramaic and that of Babylonia.

The Book of Daniel, if you did not know, was also written in Aramaic, being a late addition and almost not included in the Hebrew biblical canon because of this.

Finally there is the pseudo-Aramaic invented by the Spanish Kabbalists of the 13th century which they used in writing their mystical works, particularly Moses de Leon's THE ZOHAR (Book of Radiance).

I "read" Aramaic like I type (pick and poke), that's about the extent of it.

Good luck on nailing down your Road magic. And congratulations on being in the TWISTED FAIRYTALES anthology. And please provide me a link. Is it anything like what used to be on Rocky and Bullwinkle (I loved those!). [Smile]

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=hAAkauRR-y4

Respectfully,
Dr. Bob

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Merlion-Emrys
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I didn't know either of those things about the Book of Daniel, though it doesn't surprise me. Although the Hebrew Bible/Old Testament probably has a more stable history than the New Testament (a subject about which I have occasional heated discussions with my mother.)

Twisted Fairy Tales, Volume 2


So far none of them are especially similar to the Fractured Fairy Tales of Rocky and Bullwinkle...I'm not really sure why they choose that title. Probably because many of the stories take an "unusual" approach to the basic story. For instance there is a Snow White version concerned almost entirely with the Wicked Queen's huntsman and a Red Riding Hood from the perspective of the Big Bad Wolf.

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History
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I was just teasing about "Fractured Fairy Tales."

Tanith Lee has a couple great collections of TALES FROM THE SISTERS GRIMMER I can recommend:
RED AS BLOOD and WHITE AS SNOW.

But Jane Yolen's BRIAR ROSE, a retelling of Sleeping Beauty set in Nazi Germany is a favorite off mine in this genre.

Thanks, Merilon.

I just completed a fable of my own, though completely of my own devising. The narrative voice is "classical" fairy tale (in part) and it was a nice change of pace.

Respectfully,
Dr. Bob

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Kathleen Dalton Woodbury
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And here I thought Rowling was having the spell say "I create a cadaver."

[Wink]

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History
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[Big Grin] Yes and antipasto means "opposed to pasta."

There are so many things we assume we know and accept without thinking. There is a certain arrogance and laziness in this--something which I have striven against (personally) for decades. This, in part, explains why I spend a great amount of time researching everything that appears in my stories, from geography, science, religion, folklore, culture, dress, language, ethics, and (eponymously) history. [Smile]

I'm of the old school that believes storytelling is both entertainment and education. I like to leave a story learning, experiencing, and.or considering something new.

Respectfully,
Dr. Bob

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Kathleen Dalton Woodbury
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Can I excuse myself by saying that I have what might be called an "unholy" love for puns, and words like antipasto just beg to be used that way?
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Ken S
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Let me toss in my two cents: I think that, unless your character is reading from a scroll, you've got a bit of leeway. The verbal components of any spell are really meant to do one thing and that's create a link. That link can be between your character and the power/being that they're depending on to complete the spell (In the name of the Lady, I order you to begone)or the words are a kind of focus for your character to create a mental link with the desired effect. For example: Jim Butcher, in his Dresden Files series, borrowed a bit from Latin for some of the verbal components of his spells. An example of the Leeway you've got would be Harry struggling with the actual Latin in the spell to produce a small flame. What worked for him was to take a phrase that represented creating a small flame (The actual phrase was "Flick your Bic") and he "Latinized" it into "Flickum Bicus".
So, when you're working with a magical system you can either develop hard and fast rules where the spells must be spoken the same way every time or you can get into your character's head a bit and find out what words, in their minds, would constitute the strongest link between desire and manifestation of that desire.

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LDWriter2
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I think Ken has a point except that in some universes they are strict rules to magic so you not only have to say the words correctly , you have to do hand motions exactly right.

"Kingdom For Sale/ Sold" is one of these.

In your world though you can do it like Butcher.

I will say though I don't recall that phrase by Dresden. Which doesn't mean it's untrue. I could very easily have forgotten or if it was short I could have missed it. But there is another word he uses which is Latin for fire or flame but at the same time it doesn't have to be stated exactly as I recall. It seems to be more what the person needs for his belief to work.

I think it was in another universe where the MC theorized that latin worked better for magic because it might have been invented by the Fae.

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Merlion-Emrys
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Thanks for your input Ken S, but like I said I'm not looking for advice on how to create words for my spells. I don't spell out the words of my spells and I don't really intend to. What I am wondering is if as readers people feel like something is missing if the speaking of spells is described rather than spelled out, or if they even notice one way or the other, and how they handle it in their own work.
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Ken S
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I haven't tackled that question yet as a writer. Speaking as a reader, it works for me if used sparingly. Going back to Jim Butcher, the phrase that LDW was trying to recall earlier is "Fuego" and it's used for much higher volumes of fire (think yer basic fireball or cone of fire spell).

When I read that word, as a long time reader of the series, I know whats coming before I read anything else. It adds a bit of spice for me, especially in very tense situations. I don't know whether or not the tactic of using fire is going to work, but I know it's coming and it's going to be big.

Like spices, however, if you use too much, it'll ruin the dish for me. JB doesn't spell out all of Harry's spells, just a few; what I would call his "Signature" spells.

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LDWriter2
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Merlion

As to your question... I don't know. I think it would depend on how many times you do it and how well done the rest of the story is.

I would think most readers probably wouldn't mind especially if they get into the story.

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