Five Incredibly Common Types of Magic in Fantasy Books [Elements of Fantasy]

April 28, 2017     Michelle     Elements of Fantasy

Elements of Fantasy is a feature I host here at FaerieFits. Periodically, there’s a book that puts the spotlight on a particularly interesting element of fantasy, and I like to explore it more in-depth. Sometimes I’ll pull on some history, other times I’ll explore variations on a similar theme. These will all be different!

Fantasy books come in all sorts of shapes and sizes. And there’s a wide variety of elements that really make a fantasy book a fantasy book: mythical creatures, fantastic worlds, and supernatural abilities are just a few. But some of the most stereotypical (or even traditional) fantasy books focus on one thing: magic.

And because fantasy books have evolved SO much over the years, and the only limit to the possible is based on the author’s own imagination, magic can come in many shapes and sizes too. Here are just a few common types of magic that show up in fantasy books, but I’m confident this is nowhere near a complete list!

Elemental magic

One of the most common types of magic (and, admittedly, one of the easiest to work with as a writer) is elemental magic. This is magic that takes the form of the elements (typically fire, earth, water, air — sometimes light or shadow or something too), or is in some way fueled by the earth.

Iron Druid Chronicles

In the Iron Druid Chronicles, the magic that Atticus performs is directly drawn from the Earth. In fact, most of the time he has to be touching the Earth directly to be able to do much. While the results of his magic aren’t necessarily elemental, the nature of his magic definitely is.

Blood magic

This is another insanely common type of magic. The basic idea is that the cost of conducting magic is some form of sacrifice — in this case, blood. It’s not uncommon for fantasy worlds to have blood magic as some sort of taboo form of magic and a less bloody form of magic as more frequently used. Another very typical idea is that blood magic is somehow stronger than regular magic: you can do special spells that don’t work without blood, and normal spells are stronger when blood is used. There’s a WIDE variety to this one though.

Shades of Magic Trilogy

In the Shades of Magic books, blood magic is a supplemental form of magic, and very few people seem to use it. The rest of the magic in that world is largely elemental in nature, but the antarai in particular use blood magic to heal, bind, shield, travel between worlds, and all sorts of other things that the elements themselves can’t (or won’t) do.

Religious/Mythological magic

Some worlds treat magic as some sort of divine right. Magic comes from the gods themselves, or the only magic users are demi-gods of some sort. This is very common in books featuring angels (and sometimes demons) and other mythological creatures.

Percy Jackson and the Olympians

In this series, the magic is entirely mythological. The main characters are all demi-gods, and the other supernatural elements of the world are monsters, titans, and other creatures from Greek mythology.

Light and dark magic (and everything in between)

It’s not at all uncommon to portray some types of magic as “light” magic, and others as “dark” magic. Usually the distinction has to do with either how the spell is cast or what the spell does. And sometimes these two types have properties from some of the other categories on this list.

The Hollows

Rachel Mariana Morgan is a witch. And at the beginning of this series, she is a “white witch” or an Earth witch. But throughout the series, she starts exploring other spells and types of magic that are considered dark or taboo in some way. In this case, it’s because they’re demon spells, and they come with a price of “smut” on your aura. An interesting theme that’s explored is that there are some white spells that are incredibly dangerous/deadly, and some demonic spells that are completely innocuous, so one begins to wonder at the need for a distinction.

“Internalized” magic

For lack of a better word, I’m calling this last category “internalized” magic. Basically, this is when magicians (or witches or warlocks or wizards or anything else) use magic that is fueled by their own strength. Stronger people can cast stronger spells, and the magic comes from within them, rather than some other external source.

Harry Potter

Harry Potter is a very typical example of this. The wizard’s spells are drawn from the wizard directly (using the wand as a conduit), and very strong spells can have a noticable effect on the wizard who conducts them. How many times has Harry been exhausted because he just did something impossible?

What other kinds of magic can you think of? Do you have any better examples of any of the ones above? What do you most enjoy reading?

Addendum:

My husband read this post and had some thoughts to add. It’s also worth considering some of the even darker aspects of magic: “blood magic” wherein you control blood; death magic (both necromancy and sacrificial forms of magci), and so on. He also insisted I add Slayer magic like that in Fairy Tail, because dragon slayer and god slayer magic is cool. (Although I did argue that I wouldn’t really consider that common in fantasy books since he could only provide the one example.)

  • Melissa Gravitis

    Great post! When reading fantasy I always find it very interesting to discover what kind of magic the author includes. You’ve definitely identified the most common types, especially elemental magic; it tends to show up A LOT! There’s so many variations on these types of magic that as a writer, creating an original system can be very tricky at times! 🙂

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