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Why do fantasy creatures generally get associated with magical properties in fiction. Generally, fantasy stories have normal animals ( bears, wolves, deer, etc) and fantasy animals like unicorns, griffins, etc, that have magical properties attributed to certain parts like a unicorns horn, or they are simply known as magical. Why would the inhabitants of the world consider it as magical, or in any way more extraordinary, than say a rhino.

We have stories of our own animals with magical properties, such as a lions heart can give courage, Ox liver can give strength and so on, yet the animal is not considered magic.

So this question is not so much about why would (Eg.) a unicorns horn have a magical property, but more why would some creatures be seen as magical, and others not, when they all inhabit the same world.

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  • $\begingroup$ Didn't you just answer your own question ? $\endgroup$
    – Kaloyan
    Nov 22, 2019 at 13:15
  • $\begingroup$ @Kaloyan No, I am wanting to find out a way to justifiably way to distinguish between a normal, non-magical animal and a magical one, further than simply saying it is magic if it doesn't exist in our world. $\endgroup$
    – Umbra
    Nov 22, 2019 at 14:03
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    $\begingroup$ Some worlds (e.g. the Witcher) say that magical animals are ones that didn't evolve in the world naturally but came from some other origin (e.g. entering the world from a parallel universe) $\endgroup$ Nov 22, 2019 at 14:30
  • $\begingroup$ @Umbra I'm still not sure what your question is. IRL we have myths of some creatures being magical while others aren't. A white stag, a black (or white) cat for example are considered special. Those are normal animals that have extra properties. You also have supernatural members of some species - black dogs (e.g. barghests) don't just have a black coat of fur, they are ghosts or spirits in some fashion and out of this world. $\endgroup$
    – VLAZ
    Nov 22, 2019 at 15:00

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In our world, magical beings generally fall into one (or more) of four types in stories:

  • Entities that are a combination of two or more mundane beings, such as a hippogriff, griffin, or centaur
  • Entities that are mostly to purely mundane but have a supernatural significance to them through myth and legend, such as a unicorn or certain coloured animals
  • Entities that are purely mundane but made supernatural by training or an event, such as wizards, ghosts, familiar animals
  • Entities that are completely made up by their creator and may or may not have inspiration in real world things, such as Lovecraftian things and D&D Beholders

Given the question, the assumption will be a world where magic is a known thing. It might not be widespread and super-common, but it will be a thing.

Therefore, my premise is that for a world with magic as a way of life, a living thing could be seen as magical if :

  • Magic is an integral part of its existence, either in its original creation or in its life cycle
  • A part of an entity displays an inherent and overtly magical property on its own, such as horns or eyes
  • The entity needs to live in a magically rich environment in order to survive

If the first griffin was a creation of wizards, then it will be seen as a magical creature because it was first created by magic. If they breed true after their initial creation, their descendants might be mundane but the fact that magic created them will not be forgotten. But if they naturally evolved somehow, then they may not be known as a magical creature.

For the unicorn, it's not that they have a horn -- that could just be a random mutation that was not selected out and proved non-harmful to the horse. It is the fact that the horn seems to possess outright healing magic on its own that makes the horned equine a magical creature. If the horn is only purported to have healing properties then it might just be a horned horse and an interesting, if mundane, animal.

The lion and bear remains mundane animals because even though they can be used for rituals involving courage (lion's heart) and strength/endurance (bear), that requires the intervention of magic external to the animal. The animals themselves do not require magic in any way to live and thrive.

Basically, if the only way to explain a creature in the world is "Because Magic", then it is a magical creature.

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Because magic creatures have unique and unexplainable properties.

Let's take unicorns, for instance. Here's one of the fun things about unicorns - they kill non-virgins only, which means that they radically shift their behavior when dealing with virgins for no reason at all. Their hair cannot be cut by normal weapons, yet somehow something edged with silver can do it with ease, despite iron being hard. And their horn, when powdered and used as medicine can cure any illness, no matter what the illness is. And these properties happen 100% of the time.

Dragons can breath fire without it cooking their innards. A siren's song makes you hallucinate vivid images. Fairies are small humanoids which are clever and mischievous and can somehow fly, despite weighing too much for their thin wings. These are magical creatures. A lion can split you in two with a single claw swipe, but it makes sense, because you can see its giant muscles, which makes sense. A basilisk turning a man to stone with a glare does not.

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"why would some creatures be seen as magical, and others not, when they all inhabit the same world"

Umbra:
It depends on the definition of "normal" and "magical" in that particular world. Talking about fantasy stories here on Earth, for example, the "normal" horse (at least in our world) has 4 legs and walks and runs. Standard horses have no wings and can´t fly. So, if you find a horse with wings that can actually fly, it is "magical" because defies the laws of "normality" of the world. BUT it depends on the design of the world. I can design a world of black flying horses that can walk but not run (the wings won´t let them run fast) and that will be "normal", and I can create a magical white horse with no wings that can magically run faster than any other horse in that world.

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The distinction isn't clearcut. Some animals like a Rhino are seen as magical by some cultures. The Rhino's horn in Asia might be seen to have medicinal potential.

But for outright magic it's usually bound up in the mythological origins of the animal. For instance was the Unicorn a survivor of cross breeding between animals and The Gods?

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  • $\begingroup$ Thanks, but that's why I mentioned the stories of eating a lions heart for courage. Rhino horn is also seen as medicinal, not magical. $\endgroup$
    – Umbra
    Nov 22, 2019 at 14:05

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