Types of "Themed" magic for sorcerers
December 8, 2017 11:21 AM   Subscribe

In some fantasy stories, wizards/witches can employ all sorts of different magic (telepathy, necromancy, transformation, etc) but in other stories, their magic is limited by a theme. (For example, Elsa in "Frozen" can just manipulate cold.) What are some more examples of one character's limited, "themed" magic? (Bonus points if it is an unusual, non-generic theme.)

I realize the number of answers to this question is potentially vast, so I will limit it to just human witches/wizards/warlocks/sorcerers - not superheroes or aliens or Xanth characters or average joes who end up with a magic rock that lets them control, um, rocks. But if the character is a Sorcerer and their inherent magic happens to be have a specific theme - it counts. Thanks!
posted by egeanin to Media & Arts (31 answers total) 12 users marked this as a favorite
Best answer: In China Mieville's Iron Council, one of the main characters, Judah, has the specific power to make golems. He starts off with standard stuff -- water, earth -- but later moves onto gases and even crazier media.
posted by miltthetank at 11:26 AM on December 8, 2017 [2 favorites]

In Tamora Pierce’s Circle of Magic series, each of the kids has magic within a certain element/domain (thread, metal, weather, and plants).
posted by coppermoss at 11:41 AM on December 8, 2017 [2 favorites]

Best answer: The anime series and manga Fairy Tail is alsmost exclusively about themed wizards. Fire, ice, iron, summoning zodiac figures... other, weirder stuff, like equipment changing.
posted by SaltySalticid at 11:45 AM on December 8, 2017

In the So You Want to Be a Wizard series, wizards develop specializations - one of the main characters has an affinity for trees and living beings, the other for machines and stone/metal. Other specializations include alien communication, seeing the future, and spell-writing.

There's specialization in The Magicians series as well - people have Disciplines: Physical, Natural, Illusion, Knowledge, Healing, Psychic.
posted by quadrilaterals at 11:45 AM on December 8, 2017 [4 favorites]

Would the various air benders, fire benders, water benders, and earth benders of Avatar: The Air Bender count for this?
posted by ejs at 11:47 AM on December 8, 2017

I'm sure that many examples can be found that date much earlier, but I think that the idea of specialization within magic was given a boost in mainstream fantasy fiction by the 80s novel "Master of the Five Magics", where magical endeavors are divided into several different disciplines, e.g.: Thaumaturgy, Alchemy, Magic, Sorcery, and Wizardry
posted by Nerd of the North at 11:57 AM on December 8, 2017 [2 favorites]

In the Valdemar books by Mercedes Lackey, characters have specialized magical abilities. These include things like empathy, the ability to see at a distance, the ability to fetch things from a distance, and healing. It's been a while since I read the books, so I can provide more specifics than that.
posted by Winnie the Proust at 11:58 AM on December 8, 2017

There's also the book "Master of Five Magics" by Lyndon Hardy in which one guy break down the barriers between specilities and learns all five systems in his world.

I haven't read it in like 30 years, though the cover art was immediately familiar.
posted by wenestvedt at 11:59 AM on December 8, 2017 [1 favorite]

Dammit, Nerd of the North -- jinx!
posted by wenestvedt at 11:59 AM on December 8, 2017

In Julian May's "Many-Colored Land" series, there are several different mental powers, and few people who have more than one. Guilds have been formed around the abilities, and this extends into the larger society in other ways, as well.
posted by wenestvedt at 12:01 PM on December 8, 2017 [1 favorite]

Best answer: I keep getting Kindle recommendations for a series by Charlie Holmberg including the Paper Magician, the Glass Magician, and the Plastic Magician.
posted by sevenyearlurk at 12:11 PM on December 8, 2017 [2 favorites]

Best answer: (slightly too late to be first with this, but) The Paper Magician is a book series where students of magic dabble in several disciplines, and then choose one. The main character's choice is paper, so she animates origami, paper chains, and the like. Similarly, Yomiko Readman from Read or Die can manipulate paper.
posted by tautological at 12:13 PM on December 8, 2017 [5 favorites]

Flex has characters with specific magics; the main character having power over bureaucratic paperwork.
posted by metasarah at 12:15 PM on December 8, 2017 [2 favorites]

There's also the book "Master of Five Magics" by Lyndon Hardy in which one guy break down the barriers between specilities and learns all five systems in his world.

Hardy was a Caltech dropout, as I recall; I wonder whether he had trouble choosing a major.

All the magicians in L E Modesitt's Recluce series were divided first into order or chaos categories, and then within that category they had idiosyncratic but sharply defined modes of operation.
posted by jamjam at 12:21 PM on December 8, 2017 [2 favorites]

Brandon Sanderson's "The Stormlight Archive" series has people called Surgebinders with specific magical abilities. There's a handy chart on this page.
posted by Mouse Army at 12:26 PM on December 8, 2017

Best answer: It's more about the naming convention than the actual phenomenon, but the TVTropes page on Whatevermancy has some examples.

Web comic Erfworld comes to mind, with a bunch of dumb schools of magic that casters specialize in and (for the most part) are limited to. Though that could reasonably be considered out of bounds, under a broader reading of the "not Xanth characters" clause of the question.
posted by aubilenon at 12:53 PM on December 8, 2017 [1 favorite]

Alex Verus, first book is Fated, has precognitive abilities. Other characters control fire, ice, living matter, etc.
posted by Botanizer at 1:07 PM on December 8, 2017

Best answer: I can't remember the title, but there's a charming book set in Renaissance Europe in which the bakers have their magic, bread-based, and the main character is trying to become a professional fine artist making medals (low-relief sculpture) using bread skills...
posted by clew at 1:30 PM on December 8, 2017 [2 favorites]

I'm surprised nobody has mentioned the Heat Miser and Snow Miser.
posted by jon1270 at 1:39 PM on December 8, 2017 [1 favorite]

I don't want to spoil anything because it's too fun, but Adventure Time has many princesses (and the Ice King) who typify this: powers of Slime, Candy, Ice, Fire...
posted by fiercecupcake at 2:56 PM on December 8, 2017

The students in The Magicians series by Lev Grossman can all do magic, but each has a specialty. Some are mundane (Minor Mendings), some are more impressive (Interdimensional Travel).
posted by bgrebs at 3:00 PM on December 8, 2017 [1 favorite]

I know they are terribly problematic but this was one of the details that hooked me on Piers Anthony's Xanth series as a kid. Everyone is born with a unique magic "talent" and unlike most magic systems that's all they get, they can't learn to do something different though they can learn to use it more effectively.

Some are very narrow and or silly, like the ability to conjure a perfect cup of tea once a day (actually I can't remember if that's in the books or I made it up in my memory). Others are very wide ranging and powerful, the one I remember most clearly was a girl who could grow plants super fast and control them to move like a puppet. Those people end up as nobility/royalty, especially since the strength and general theme tends to be hereditary even though the specifics are unique. People born without a talent are cast out of society , though I remember that usually it's revealed that they just have such a subtle talent that no one could figure it out for a long time.

Even as I began to clue into the fetishization of adolescent girls and the seriously creepy author's notes at the end, I kept on reading them as they came out for a few more years mostly to see what new talents would be found.
posted by buildmyworld at 4:56 PM on December 8, 2017 [1 favorite]

There's a Lawrence Watt-Evans short story called "The Frog Wizard", about a wizard who quickly and easily masters the difficult spell to turn people into frogs, but fails at learning any other form of magic.
posted by fings at 5:08 PM on December 8, 2017

Go Quest, Young Man by K B Bogan.

Humorous fantasy. From the back cover:
Between battles of magic and wit with the evil soceress Sharilan and complicated rescues of damsels in distress, Erwyn learns where his
true magical talents lie: sand castles.

Large or small, coarse-grained or fine, he conjures sand castles out of thin air. Or does he? He needs to know for certain. Soon.

The author's first published novel, 'Go Quest, Young Man' is a marvelous look at the use of sand castles as an offensive weapon.

posted by Homer42 at 5:24 PM on December 8, 2017

Druids in the Iron Druid series can only bind or unbind things. This turns out to be fairly powerful and wide ranging but, as stated by the main character on several occasions, is quite limiting when compared to the wide ranging powers other styles of magic user have in the world (specifically witches).
posted by Mitheral at 7:43 PM on December 8, 2017

Kristin Cashore's Graceling Realm series has people with "Graces", or extreme and sometimes magical skill in one specific area. It varies from fighting, mind-reading, and healing to things like a guy who can open his mouth as wide as his head, or a librarian who remembers everything he reads perfectly.
posted by colorblock sock at 8:44 PM on December 8, 2017 [1 favorite]

I can't remember the title, but there's a charming book set in Renaissance Europe

The Stars Dispose by Michaela Roessner?
posted by azalea_chant at 9:58 PM on December 8, 2017 [1 favorite]

More Sanderson, but a different universe: his Mistborn book involve the use of metal. In the first book of the first trilogy, you learn about Alloymancy, in which certain people are born with the ability to "burn" metal internally (powdered and swallowed in solution), and that gives them one power for each metal they can burn. There are 8 metals, and the majority of magical people can burn one of them, but a few rare ones are Mistborn, and they can burn them all. Some metals let you push or pull objects telekinetically, while another lets you persuade people, and so on.

Later you learn about Ferulchemy, people who can enhance themselves by wearing metal, which can be charged with attributes or information, and discharged back into themselves when needed. One character charges up some metal jewelry with good eyesight. When he draws on it he can see with superhuman clarity, but when he's charging it up, he has to wear glasses because his eyesight becomes poor.

And then there's Hemalurgy, which is a generally malevolent magic that lets someone transfer Allomantic or Ferulchemical powers from one person to another.

Charts and descriptions here on wikipedia. (Spoilers like crazy.)
posted by Sunburnt at 12:23 AM on December 9, 2017 [4 favorites]

Each of these descriptions contains spoilers for the series described, just a heads up.

In Orson Scott Card's Mither Mages series, each mage can project a slightly different type of outself: a fairy, ghost, golem, troll, werewolf, etc. They also each have inborn magical specialties—they can naturally control stone well and be a stonefather, or be metal mages, or control weather. Some people can project an outself that is an invisible gate (gatemages) and/or manipulate and internalize others' gates. Gatemages are hunted down and killed.

Also, in Deborah Harkness' All Souls trilogy, each witch also has inborn specialties for certain elements, such as affinity for wind, water, fire, earth, potions/cooking, trees, etc. Some are timewalkers and can travel through time by walking a path. They can also be weavers, who can manipulate the threads of the universe to create new spells that work for others; most witches can only use previously created spells, which are passed down as family secrets. Weavers are hunted down and killed.
posted by limeonaire at 6:19 AM on December 9, 2017

In Greg Bear’s excellent Songs of Earth & Power, the character Lin Piao had magical abilities to create architecture. He was later cursed and had his powers limited to only manipulating materials that were yellow, brown, or black.
posted by ananci at 11:31 AM on December 9, 2017

In the Grisha trilogy magicians are divided into three orders, and then have specific things they're good at within those areas. It's detailed here.
posted by grapesaresour at 11:32 PM on December 10, 2017

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