So far, I’ve critiqued various books, movies, and TV shows, discussed a little of the “how tos” of writing a good fantasy novel, and rambled all over the place. But I haven’t said much about my own work.
Well, now that I have finished the manuscript of my first novel, Proper Magic*, I’m ready to talk about it. And Drakehall Thaumaturgical Academy, namesake of my blog, is a good place to start.
The magic school is an old staple of the fantasy genre. Credit is usually given to Ursula K. Le Guin for inventing the modern literary concept of the wizard school in her Earthsea novels, but wizards have long represented the power gained through hard study in Western mythology — a tradition that goes all the way back to King Solomon.
Traditionally, it was study that made wizards “good”, and the lack thereof (combined with a partnership with Old Scratch) that made witches “bad”. And this dichotomy remains in fantasy, although without the overtly religious overtones. “Trained” magic is usually seen as superior to “wild” magic, whether the student follows one master or enters an appropriate institution. Magic users across the genre require training before they take full control over their own powers, and that training (and the ways it may go awry) is the bedrock for many, many novels.
In A Wizard of Earthsea, young Ged is nearly killed when he attempts more advanced magic than he is prepared for, and spends years dealing with the consequences. Much of Dragonlance centers around just how badly The Test at the Tower of High Sorcery screwed up Raistlin Majere. Brakebills College for Magical Pedagogy is a more inviting place, but the school ultimately fails the protagonist of The Magicians by doing nothing to help him deal with his inner dissatisfaction.
Can you see the pattern? Knowledge is power, but too much power too quickly is dangerous and corrupting. If a school does not impart good character to its students, its lessons are wasted, or worse than wasted.
Hogwarts, that pinnacle of wizard schooling, gets that. Dumbledore and his professors ready Harry Potter for the dangers he will face. The conflict lies where Harry is kept ignorant, or where Hogwarts itself is harboring the danger.
So what does Drakehall bring to the genre?
To start, I dispense with the tradition that the headmaster of such an institution be serene, kindly, and nigh all-powerful. Drakehall’s headmaster, Felix Grizweld, is no Albus Dumbledore. Grizweld drinks, he swears, he’s abrasive, and he’s not above taking his frustrations with the temples out on his staff. He’s not all bad — he cares about his school and his students, he maintains a loving (if sometimes absentee) relationship with his wife and son, and he kicks a lot of ass. But he’s not a guy to turn to for comfort.
Drakehall is also a practical place, a part of its world instead of set aside from it. The academy sits smack-dab in the center of the Golden City of Haleidon. The magi who work and study there make themselves useful to their community. They run a teaching hospital, manage a postal service (utilizing drakelings to carry the messages) and a library, and craft potions for common use. The school is an extension of a powerful guild that helps defend Haleidon, chasing off dragons one week and fortifying levees in a storm the next.
Despite all the goodwill they garner with such services, the magi are always wary of losing their popular support. Drakehall itself is built like a castle, with gardens, dovecotes, a well and cistern, and supplies on hand for months in case the magi should find themselves under siege.
The magi themselves are proto-scientific. They are not part of a world standing still, like Middle Earth or Krynn, where technology, fashion sense, and language has stayed more or less the same for a thousand years. They are advancing magic, and with the help of a blue alien who crash-landed on their planet, they will soon be advancing science and manual** technology as well.
The magi of Drakehall might even build themselves a printing press, and start a broadsheet.
Want to learn more about Drakehall Academy, the world of Endrion, and Proper Magic? Keep checking back. I’ll be sharing more as I work on maps and illustrations, and you’ll hear about it here first when I get lucky with an agent or publisher.
* Working title, it hasn’t been published yet after all.
** “Manual” is the word I use for “non-magical” in my novel. As good as “muggle” is, it would have been a bit fourth-wall breaking to steal the term.