Thursday, April 16, 2009

Inspirational Passages: Magic

Like many role-playing enthusiasts, I am also a reader; possessing an appetite for books that is both voracious and omnivorous. The “Current Inspirational Reading” title displayed to the right of this page is usually only a single example of what I’m devouring at any given time.

Unlike a lot of readers though, I read accompanied by my commonplace books at my side. As I make my way through the pages of a new book, I regularly take the time to make notes in my commonplace books of any interesting fact, bit of trivia, or seeds for adventure ideas that I might come across. In most cases, these are abbreviated notations that will serve as a simple reminder or provide a germ from which to grow grander things.

Still, I sometimes come across entire passages in books that I find too evocative to be ignored but too lengthy to be included in my commonplace books. When such an event occurs, I’ll make a notation of the page and later copy that passage into a Word file for later consultation. Since I find these passages inspirational, I thought that others may benefit from exposure to them as well. As a new and occasional feature of this blog, I’ll post such passages from time-to-time to allow others to glean some wisdom or creative inspiration from them. In order to whet your appetites for the upcoming “Magic-User’s Week” here at the Society of Torch, Pole and Rope, I’ve posted a passage concerning magic and the powers of the gods. I hope you find it as much to your own liking as I did.
Wednesday said nothing for long enough that Shadow started to wonder if he had heard the question, or if he had, possibly, fallen asleep with his eyes open. Then he said, staring ahead of him as he talked, “I know a charm that can cure pain and sickness, and lift the grief from the heart of the grieving.

“I know a charm that will heal with a touch.

“I know a charm that will turn aside the weapons of an enemy.

“I know another charm to free myself from all bonds and locks.

“A fifth charm: I can catch an arrow in flight and take no harm from it.”

His words were quiet, urgent. Gone was the hectoring tone, gone was the grin. Wednesday spoke as if he were reciting the words of a religious ritual, or remembering something dark and painful.

“A sixth: spells sent to hurt me will hurt only the sender.

“A seventh charm I know: I can quench fire simply by looking at it.

“An eighth: if any man hates me, I can win his friendship.

“A ninth: I can sing the wind to sleep and calm a storm for long enough to bring a ship to shore.

“Those were the first nine charms I learned. Nine nights I hung on the bare tree, my side pierced with a spear’s point. I swayed and blew in the cold winds and the hot winds, without food, without water, a sacrifice of myself to myself, and the worlds opened to me.

“For a tenth charm, I learned to dispel witches, to spin them around in the skies so that they will never find their way back to their own doors again.

“An eleventh: if I sing it when a battle rages it can take warriors through the tumult unscathed and unhurt, and bring them safely back to their hearths and their homes.

“A twelfth charm I know: if I see a hanged man I can bring him down from the gallows to whisper to us all he remembers.

“A thirteenth: if I sprinkle water on a child’s head, that child will not fall in battle.

“A fourteenth. I know the names of all the gods. Every damned one of them.

“A fifteenth: I have a dream of power, of glory, and of wisdom, and I can make people believe my dreams.”

His voice was so low now that Shadow had to strain to hear it over the plane’s engine noise.

“A sixteenth charm I know: if I need love I can turn the mind and heart of any woman.

“A seventeenth, that no woman I want will ever want another.

“And I know an eighteenth charm, and that charm is the greatest of all, and that charm I can tell no man, for a secret that no man knows but you is the most powerful secret there can ever be.”

He sighed and stopped talking.

Shadow could feel his skin crawl. It was as if he had just seen a door open to another place, somewhere worlds away where hanged men blew in the wind at every crossroads, where witches shrieked overhead in the night. - Neil Gaiman, American Gods
I like that passage for several reasons but foremost is because so many of Wednesday's charms are duplicated in the spells available in D&D. One would be hardheaded indeed to believe that Gary and Dave were making up those spells out of wholecloth.


Hamlet said...

I love American Gods and still read it from time to time.

But you should (and probably do actually) know that most of that passage was lifted neatly from the Havamal from the Poetic Edda. If you haven't read that, then you should.

Joseph said...

What Hamlet said (although there are a few interesting, if minor, differences in the original Havamal and the list from American Gods).

Michael Curtis said...

Your both correct of course. One of the advantages of growing up in a Norwegian-American household was an early introduction to the Norse myth cycles. This is the reason why this passge speaks so profoundly to me - and why I enjoy the novel so much.

I went with the American Gods passage since it's probably more accessable to casual readers while still being representative of the charms of Odin, which had an influence of the spell lists of D&D.

Mr. Scratch said...

Gaiman is great for these. There is a passage from "The Books of Magic" that goes something like:

"When I was in the service of The Seven I ventured to the Palace of Madness and there I learned nine times nine names. I learned the names of plants and of animals and of people and of you, Baba Yaga. Would you like to find out how loud I can yell? So that every passing pixie and sprite and boggart would know your name? It would be as common as field grass. Would you?"

I am mangling it horribly but you get the idea.

AndreasDavour said...

Interesting that you should post that part. I don't remember much from that book, since I think it was too long and bored me, but this stirs a memory.

It packs a lot of punch. The Allfather have mythic resonances. ;)