So I think about this a lot based on seeing things like clichés or unrealistic reactions - how would someone actually react to magic?

In some media, the character is in unbelievable denial - you've obviously seen magic, why are you acting like it still doesn't exist?

Other times people are waaay too accepting, to the point that it feels really weird how they don't bat an eye at seeing wizards and dragons.

In my story specifically, my character is kidnapped by merfolk, and then turned into one (very simple merfolk, just a human with a blue fish tail replacing the legs). I should note in my world, magic and merfolk are widely known to exist, but such a transformation is the subject of dark stories.

Psychologically speaking, how should my character react to this? Obviously everyone is different, and thus will have different reactions, but should I expect things like my character having lasting psychological damage from this?

Specifically I'm looking for some real world analogues, in how people react to such dramatic revelations. General thoughts on reaction to magic, not just my specific case, are also welcome.

Edit, further info on my character:

My character, Irian was raised on a farm in an industrial era world before moving to a port city, where he is now 18. Irian's chief personality trait is stubborness, and as the humans and merpeople are locked in a small scale war, he has a less than favorable view of them. Irian worked as a scale farmer - captured merfolk have their colorful scales periodically harvested to make jewelry.

Thus, being captured by escaping merfolk, and becoming one himself, causes great strain to him, especially because he is then basically enslaved to forage food for the merfolk.

I do however, want some air of realism with how he should react, because right now, it feels like he adjusts to it far too well. I'm wondering if I should look at stuff like the five stages of grief.

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    $\begingroup$ I think it would be useful to describe the age of your character, what level of mental flexibility they have in terms of personality, and what emotional support they have after the transformation? I mean the nicest analogy I can think of is the situation of war refugees, driven from the surroundings and people they once knew into a unfamiliar and often hostile new circumstances; even more unsavory analogies come to mind. A high level of grief and mental trauma is to be expected. $\endgroup$ Oct 31, 2021 at 17:34
  • $\begingroup$ Too broad. (a) There is pain in the transformation, or some kind of altaration in the cognitive functions?. $\endgroup$ Oct 31, 2021 at 17:54
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    $\begingroup$ This is still very broad. We react differently to supernatural events that happen to others from those that happen to us. There is also a broad reaction to events that happen to us. Compare your event with someone who lost their legs in an accident as opposed to someone who was abused by their parents to lose their legs. The two will have very different reactions because of how everyone else reacts and what support they receive. You might also read up on how people responded to being captured, sold as slaves, and transported to the Americas to work in plantations. $\endgroup$
    – David R
    Oct 31, 2021 at 18:27
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    $\begingroup$ VTC:NAW. The help center states, "If … you aren’t sure what a character (be it an individual or organization) should do, that is out of scope for the site." It doesn't matter how narrow the scope, asking about character actions and decisions is off-topic. If you knew everything about the one circumstance where one character was introduced to magic, it might be possible to offer an objective answer - but it would require knowing everything about the character, which isn't possible. See also: narrative necessity. $\endgroup$
    – JBH
    Oct 31, 2021 at 18:35
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    $\begingroup$ @JoinJBHonCodidact it's just annoying when I have it made clear that my question was bad, only to have people feel the need to tell it to me over and over again. I only need to be told once. $\endgroup$ Nov 1, 2021 at 18:18

2 Answers 2


The magic won't be too shocking.

Plastic surgery has a long history and people were aware of the idea that you could sew animal parts to a person, or that diseases could change you to look more like some sort of animal. It would be weird, but not that far out of what people expect.

Radically changing his body will be traumatizing.

Imagine how people react when their limbs are removed. Phantom limb syndrome, body dysmorphia, depression and suicidability. People have long term consequences when they lose body parts that take a while to get over.


This question isnt about the magic. The magic is well known in this world. This question is about mutilation and loss of limb.

In general terms your character will struggle with their daily functions and body image. Some other effects that can happen are things like Psychological morbidity, decreased self esteem, increased dependency and significant levels of social isolation. Surprisingly only around 30% of healthy young people who get an amputation get depressions (as in the long term debilitating one I assume). This is about people who knew the amputation was coming, however. Not a forceful mutilation, which the removal of one leg and changing the other in a functional fishtail is to a human.

The exact detailes of these effects vary greatly, giving you leeway to fill it in based on how you and your audience would expect it to go.


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