4
$\begingroup$

I've been thinking about this since I read Lev Grossman's "The Magicians". I've been kicking around a story idea where a society exists where magic is real but uncommon in modern society. Instead of being revered or powerful, having powerful magic is considered to be a curse because of the associated almost-immortality and apathy that goes along with it.

How far can you drive this concept? Would it be realistically believable that almost without fail people who have the natural ability to alter reality basically almost at will would consider that ability to be a curse and get severely depressed because of it?

Magic would be completely overpowered in this universe, e.g a natural mage, of which there are few but not very few, could bend reality to mostly their whims only impeded by other, stronger mages. I'd like to develop a scenario where the downsides of essentially playing god are reflected in society.

$\endgroup$
8
  • 1
    $\begingroup$ Does the apathy develop as a result of magician's life experience, or this is an inseparable symptom of the condition, like fever is a symptom of a flu? $\endgroup$
    – Alexander
    Aug 3 at 15:58
  • 1
    $\begingroup$ Three votes to close and no comments explaining why. This is not helpful and makes it impossible to improve the query. $\endgroup$
    – Otkin
    Aug 3 at 18:26
  • 1
    $\begingroup$ This question is just generally unclear and uses vague, opinion-based and poorly defined phrases. Even after multiple reads, it's not clear what the question is even asking. $\endgroup$
    – March Ho
    Aug 4 at 0:15
  • 1
    $\begingroup$ @magisch and yet that isn't what this site is for. questions that don't follow the format end up making the site "worse". We aren't a forum or a discussion board. $\endgroup$
    – IT Alex
    Aug 4 at 12:18
  • 1
    $\begingroup$ @magisch your answer got closed. it has already been deemed inappropriate for the site. I recommend taking the Tour and visiting the Help Center. There is a section on What types of questions should I avoid asking?. TL;DR Your question was closed because all opinions were equally valid and a "best answer" in SE's "One Specific Question, One Specific Answer"-model is a requirement. $\endgroup$
    – IT Alex
    Aug 4 at 13:49
6
$\begingroup$

Their powers get very old very quickly

We already have some examples of this in fiction, like CC from Code Geass who got tired of everyone around her loving her. This is also typically exploited in vampire / immortal characters who get over losing everyone else around them and seeing the world marching on while they long for things that no longer exist (loved ones, traditions, customs, etc.)

On the same vein, the saying "Money can't buy happiness" can also rear its ugly head. Your mages are reality warpers. They can do whatever they want with a snap of their fingers. They have everything they'll ever want. What will they strive for? What is their purpose in life? If they don't have a very clear objective or goal, they'll grow apathic, unmotivated and depressed, just going through their endless days without anything that gives them a sense of internal satisfaction

Power is nothing without control

That trope is old as dirt (e.g. King Midas) and is present in various magic / superpower works for a reason - add a psychological factor to have your character not abusing their powers and becoming a story-breaker. While the character can eventually learn to control their powers, they'll still be forever scarred by the initial "mishaps"

They tried to change the world and know it is pointless

The first Matrix was a paradise and it backfired. Your mage already tried to change the world in some way and the world refused to change. The same problems rose again and again and at some point, even the most persistent mage will give up.

$\endgroup$
2
  • $\begingroup$ Interesting ideas and interesting further reading. Do you have any other examples of similar themes I might research? $\endgroup$
    – magisch
    Aug 3 at 12:31
  • $\begingroup$ @magisch I tried to provide examples that don't rely on society / peer pressure, but you can also try good old ethics / accountability to peers (many know that interfering with someone else's life / autonomy / etc. is wrong so they don't do it, and some of those will also actively curb down the "unethical" ones that try to do so) $\endgroup$ Aug 3 at 14:07
5
$\begingroup$

We all tell ourselves it's awful, because it's less awful than accepting that we're missing out...

I have noticed that many people are attached to the idea that immortality would actually be kind of awful. Though these same people may, to varying degrees, dread death, deplore the depredations of aging, and wish for more time to do the things they want to, yet they insist to themselves (and anyone else who will listen) that living forever, in the flower of youth, wouldn't be that great. In fact, it would definitely be worse than growing old and dying. I mean, you wouldn't appreciate life, if you had more of it. Maybe you wouldn't be motivated, because you'd have too much time to actually buckle down and accomplish anything.

Right? Right!?

Pizza is fine every other week - but if you lived forever you'd definitely get sick of it. I swear.

Now, all of this is said in a world where it's fully plausible to believe that nobody lives forever. Imagine how much more emphatic we short-lived creatures would be about not regretting our mortality if there were other people living alongside us, who were youthful and vigorous for hundreds or thousands of years - or forever! In exactly the same way you might watch with longing and envy as someone else eats a perfectly ripe peach - before you declare to yourself it was probably mushy and flavorless - we might easily look on to the longer lives of our neighbors and insist their lives are not as sweet as ours.

Then add to that the further injury that these neighbors are not only immortal, but also able to make their perfect peach out of cardboard and a wave of the hand. They are able to call up mansions (a different mansion every day, if the whim takes them) out of air and dirt.

Surely, surely, such good fortune has its own kind of poison and disappointment, somehow buried deep inside. I'll bet they struggle with apathy. It's not me who is bitter and apathetic as I watch the magic I can never have, the eternity I will never enjoy. I'm not at all envious that I must content myself with my daily labor and ordinary meal.

And we would urgently try to convince not only our ordinary neighbors, but also our magically gifted neighbors, that the magically gifted are the ones truly missing out on something.

$\endgroup$
4
$\begingroup$

Depending on how you go about it, you could do a lot with this concept! In this instance, in order to make it believable you just need to make sure your audience understands and are able to relate to your characters.

The world could benefit from having magic users being somewhat shunned or looked down upon by society. The characters have to be relatable to an audience, and having magic be viewed as a curse simply because it makes them 'too powerful' risks them coming across as whiny and annoying. Think of a billionaire looking for sympathy because they are 'too rich'. If mages are generally hated or shunned by the people, your audience can better understand their pain and will much better understand why one would not desire such powers.

Another good way to go about it would perhaps have a short "honeymoon period" where magic users first get their powers and are excited about it, not understanding why the people around them call it a curse, only for them to quickly realise the horrible implications. This sudden change of perception is an experience many people can relate to, even if it's not magical powers. Think of kids who are really excited for adulthood before they realise how difficult life really is.

A history of magic within your world would also be important! Perhaps a horrible catastrophic event caused a shift in the perception of magic, or maybe corrupt mages in the past have created a bad name for magic as a whole. There's a lot of things you could work with here, so get creative with it!

The concept can definitely work well! I believe the main thing to be careful of is making sure your characters stay relatable to a general audience, make sure you can effectively convey why these magic users feel cursed and burdened by their abilities. You're audience needs to understand and really feel their struggles in order to have sympathy for and remain interested in them and the world.

Try to find some more good works of fiction (or even non-fiction) that use a similar concept and try to work out how they go about telling the story and keeping it engaging. I'd recommend also doing some more research on psychology and philosophy as it'll really help in keeping your characters likeable and engaging!

$\endgroup$
2
  • $\begingroup$ I was hoping to not overly rely on societal shaming as a reason for why people think higher magic is a curse. In that case the viewer's sympathy would simply shift towards the downtrodden magic users. I'd like to construct a world where nobody really disputes that having access to magic is a terrible thing that warps and damages those with it, without having any direct (or first order) side effects. You're probably right that I need to do more research in psychology to pull that off. $\endgroup$
    – magisch
    Aug 3 at 11:49
  • $\begingroup$ Ah I see, that is fair. In that case I'd say treating magic as though it was a disease would be a good way to go about it. This way your audience is able to quickly understand it and relate it back to a real world occurrence. Essentially, whenever magic is talked about think about how one would talk about cancer or schizophrenia. Even though magic doesn't physically effect the body or mind like an illness, it is a rather effective way of establishing the role and perception of magic within your world in a way that we as the audience can comprehend and relate to. $\endgroup$ Aug 3 at 12:23
4
$\begingroup$

This is basically the same premise as the X-Men comic franchise. The X-Men mutants have various supernatural powers which in most cases defy any reasonable scientific explanation, making them basically wizards by another name. Discrimination of wizards mutants is a recurring theme in the franchise.

The reason why they are being discriminated against is because "normal" people are afraid of them. Mutants Wizards have abilities which make them far more powerful than any ordinary human. Some of them cause accidental damage because they can't control their powers. Some of them are actively malicious: they use their powers for crime, or even believe that they are superior to ordinary humans and thus deserve to rule over them. The dangerous mutants wizards might be a minority, and those who are malicious and not just clumsy are an even smaller fraction. Yet the discrimination and prejudice is often extended to all of them. Lots of people have seen or heard what damage mutants wizards can do with their powers, and some even experienced personal loss due to those powers first-hand. That makes the average human feel powerless and afraid when confronted with them. So a general hatred for them is pretty understandable.

This can be really emotionally taxing on the well-intentioned superpowered individual, especially those who don't have a peer-group of other equally-powered individuals to rely on.

$\endgroup$
1
  • 2
    $\begingroup$ In my idea, the wizards are almost all powerful. This means if they all banded together (and no more powerful wizard would prevent) there would be very little that even the entire rest of humanity could do to stop them. I'd like to engineer a scenario in which it's not necessary to put a hard limit on what a wizard can do, because the psychological aspect would universally prevent them from turning the world into a pancake. $\endgroup$
    – magisch
    Aug 3 at 11:59
4
$\begingroup$

The wording is a bit confusing and it is not quite clear whether apathy is associated with magic powers or near-immortality that magic users obtain. However, both are possible.

1. Apathy is associated with having magic powers

Mary's answer suggests a biological connection between magic and depression-like symptoms. It is one of the possible explanations. Other explanations are more psychological:

  • mages are omnipotent but magic is extremely hard to control, control cannot be taught and have to be mastered over time

    This creates a situation where a mage is doomed to make a lot of mistakes. Some of these mistakes have grave consequences and are very traumatic to mages. For example, just one careless thought may lead to the deaths of friends and relatives. Moreover, there is no one who can help and emotionally support mages during this learning phase since mages are rare.

    Only those who have immense wills and perseverance can master full control over their magic. The rest will most likely develop depression-like symptoms. In addition, both mages and people around them will see magic as a curse.

    Please note, while depression will be a very common symptom in this scenario, some people will manage to overcome all troubles. Although, some eccentricity is to be expected. It is also possible that some mages develop asocial (not interested in society) and antisocial (go against society) personalities. The latter may cause great harm to the societies they live in.

  • mages are omnipotent and they develop apathy over time as they lose interest in life

    If mages have a natural ability to alter reality at will they may lose interest in life very soon after their abilities manifested. If mages face no challenges in life and can get anything they want just by thinking about it, there is nothing to achieve, no room to grow. Most of them will get apathetic, especially if their ability to alter reality includes influencing people. No relationship will be sincere, meaningful, or unquestioned. A mage will almost all the time feel isolated, with no one to relate to. This is extremely damaging to humans and leads to depression.

    Again, while the majority of mages would develop apathy and depression-like symptoms over time, it does not mean that all of them will be depressed and apathetic. Some mages may somehow develop healthy personalities and find ways to live meaningful lives and some mages may choose a path of destruction and wreak havoc. But these are expected to be a minority.

2. Apathy is associated with near-immortality

This is a very likely development if mages are very rare and unable to create a community of mages. A near-immortal being living among humans will have to experience the pain of losing those dear to them again and again. Considering that mages are born and raised as humans and by humans, a lot of them will struggle with survivors guilt and overall loneliness.

Humans raised in human societies can rarely live happy lives without having meaningful relationships with other humans. There is a lot of research suggesting that happiness and life satisfaction are related to being part of a community and having friends. The elderly who outlive their friends often develop depression symptoms due to loneliness and isolation. Moreover, once depression onsets it becomes much harder to meet new people and create new relationships.

Near-immortality also means vastly different life experiences and difficulties in relating to others. It is very hard to talk to people who belong to cultures, generations, or even lifestyles different from yours. It is even harder to become friends with them. Not impossible, but hard.

A person who lived for a thousand years and knows that can live for ten thousand years more will have a completely different perspective from someone who is going to die in a couple of decades. These people will also have vast differences in accumulated knowledge and life experiences. A thousand-year-old person most likely will see regular humans as children. One can love children, enjoy playing with them, teaching them, but it is hard to be friends with them. Friends, as in someone who can share your burdens and support you when you need it the most.


Of course, it is not either 1. or 2. All of these may exist simultaneously. And any of these may lead to the perception of magic being a curse rather than a blessing.

$\endgroup$
3
$\begingroup$

It would be trivially easy to ensure that magicians are all lazy, apathetic, and depressed. The way is not to have the magic cause the temperament. Have the temperament cause the magic. The power only appears for the particular personality.

Temperament is about half genetic in origin, and depression runs in families. Perhaps there is later influence and parents extort their children to work diligently to avoid the curse, but that sort of influence can't just be shaken off.

Another possibility is the magic affects brain chemistry to produce depression. This could be if it builds up as they don't use it, or as they use it, or just a constant effect.

$\endgroup$
2
$\begingroup$

Being the immortal help desk assistant to the world can be demoralizing.

Being an all-powerful mage is great - if you're an academic in academia. Unfortunately, being all-powerful and revered doesn't keep you from needing to make money off of your power, and people may revere you somewhat, but not enough to not ask you to perform the routine, smaller things that feel like a waste of the power you have.

Maybe you don't need money - that doesn't mean you won't be inundated by the magic-less to solve their problem for them - after all, it should be easy, right? Just a little manipulation of reality to keep my computer cooled shouldn't be that hard, right? It's a spell that requires concentration to keep running? Well, what else were you going to use that magic for? Please?

When they do get to use the higher powered magic, it could go wrong. When you're all-powerful, you don't not make mistakes; your mistakes are just larger.

If you're a reality bending mage, and you can only be stopped by stronger reality mages, what happens if you end up making a reality powered mage stronger by adjusting reality around them? Do they just get to keep the power? Do the effects of the stuff you were doing around them to specifically try and do a large scale change, even if you want to correct some of it, end up getting stuck because it's what they would want, and they're okay with upholding the status quo even if it's due to reality warping by you that was a mistake?

And all of that is before you end up getting criticized by non-mages for the big changes you made, especially if there's an unrepairable mistake as a result.

Or in short: your most common magic is tedious, annoying, and doesn't keep people from asking you for more mundane uses, and your rare magic is so powerful and strong that people are angry whenever you use it. You don't want to spend almost-immortality listening to society pass down your greatest failures over and over again down through generations, or binding you to bland and tedious use of maintaining infrastructure.

$\endgroup$
1
  • 1
    $\begingroup$ Love this. Especially this part: "Being the immortal help desk assistant to the world can be demoralizing." In The Good Omens, by Terry Pratchett and Neil Gaiman, it is explained slightly differently. Nobody likes to clean their room. With enormous power you have, the whole world is your room! You either get blamed for the mess you made or for not cleaning the mess somebody else made, when it is so easy for you to clean it. "You can solve all my problems with a snap of your fingers yet you don't! You big meanie!" $\endgroup$
    – jo1storm
    Aug 4 at 7:54

Not the answer you're looking for? Browse other questions tagged or ask your own question.