Nothing kills a story faster than a flimsy conflict, and in a universe where magic exists, the biggest mistake a writer can fall into is to make magic too easy. It seems paradoxical: after all, the whole point of magic is that it makes the impossible possible, but if magic solves every problem with little or no cost, the story loses its emotional significance. Like all things, magic must have limits, and those limits must be clear and identifiable.
I have become deeply frustrated with a favorite series of mine recently for precisely this reason. R.A. Salvatore’s The Legend of Drizzt is a high fantasy series following in the footsteps of The Lord of the Rings, but incorporating elements of the popular Dungeons & Dragons tabletop game. The first book of the series was originally published in 1988 and the series is ongoing, with more than twenty novels and a dizzying number of spinoffs. The main character, Drizzt, does not use magic all that much, so the very fuzzy and ill-defined limits of magic in this universe started off as a non-issue. Typically, a powerful magical antagonist would appear and Drizzt and his pals would have to defeat the baddie with the power of cleverness and friendship and whatnot. Also, swords.
As the series went on, however, main characters gained magical items, sympathetic magic-users joined the party, and problems started. Continue reading