Sword OR Sorcery

In most imaginative fiction, magic is a necessary device. I don’t think I’m wrong if I say that usually the main purpose of magic is to convey wonder; many times, though, it can be a vehicle for further meaning. What I want to focus on here, though, is not magic in itself, but the people who are able to use it.

A further push to write this article comes from Jesse White‘s tweet, I thank him for this.

There were some mentions at the end of the tweet which I removed for the sake of privacy and whatnot.

Jesse’s thesis brought to my mind a letter written by Tolkien to Milton Waldman in 1951. Here’s an excerpt:

 By the last [Note: Magic], I intend all use of external plans or devices (apparatus) instead of development of the inherent inner powers or talents — or even the use of these talents with the corrupted motive of dominating: bulldozing the real world, or coercing other wills.

J.R.R. Tolkien, Letter 131 to Milton Waldman (1951)

If you look at The Lord of the Rings you can see this theme unfolding in the story, as the temptation of the Ring is the temptation to use demonic power and bend God’s creation to your will. The Ring wants you to become a sorcerer.

When I was old enough to think critically about what I was reading, one thing that struck me about the story was that many characters made their situation worse BECAUSE they had used magic. The only people in the book who exert power rightfully are Aragorn (who is endowed with a divine right) and Gandalf when he returns as Gandalf the White.

What I want to add is that sorcerers’ power is not only infernal and unrightful, but destined to fail because it goes against the will of the Creator. Being the maker of the world, He is the only one who can set and control its rules. The artist decides what goes on his work, and such is God. The sorcerer is satanic because he is a rebel to the natural, divine order, and everytime he enacts his rebellion he digs his own grave, since he has no chance to win.

To most people he is dangerous and harmful, nonetheless. The only character able to properly fight him is the one who develops his talents in full by sacrifice, training and exercise of virtue. I think that by doing so he submits to the divine will who gave him those inner qualities in the first place. He then becomes able to partake in the history of his world, which leads to Evil’s defeat.

The warrior (you’ll see why I don’t mention directly the king) is the perfect example of such a person. Being a warrior requires your full commitment and development. It’s more than just waving your sword against an enemy, you must be in control of your body, your mind and your soul. In mythic stories, the warrior who reaches the highest peak of development, is gifted with holiness and becomes king. This maturity, in a story based on action rather than on psychological description, is sanctioned by the triumphant battle against the sorcerer: the warrior proves that the inner gifts granted by God are superior to the unrightful exert of power and Gods rewards him with the things which the sorcerer tried to seize by resorting to unnatural means.

I think you can find evidence of this by looking at many different stories. You can often find a fight between the sword and the sorcery, which is the rightful and natural on one side and the wrong and infernal on the other. The way of the sword against the way of demons. And either if the supreme arbiter is the Christian kind of God or a more generic fate or order of things, the final victory is granted to the sword, the path of earned perfection.

Mythology is very wise.

P.S.: I know that everyone who reads the title will be upset that there is no explicit reference to Conan. Of course, I think that my thesis is valid for his stories, too, even if not always. The title was too cool to be changed.

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