“The practical use of supernatural forces for the improvement of the daily lives of the populace.” – Jasper H.B.
If someone else has coined this term, or a similar concept I do apologize. But to date while I have seen it many times I haven’t heard a specific term go along with it. As such, I’ll take this opportunity to insert myself into the fiction writers’ lexicon if I can. Magical Industry is important in how I tell and relate to stories because, to me, it is a parallel science. Humans in our “real world” have learned to fly, cure diseases, and of our own history by way of sciences. If we lived in a world in which magic was prevalent then we would scientifically use magic. To me, it just makes sense.
We use “magic” colloquially to explain away small oddities. But one element I love about science is that so often “science fiction becomes science fact”. Pick a point in the past, and bring someone from that age into a room that is closed off. Now tell them about our modern world. Things that are simple and everyday to us. It will sound like fiction, lunacy, or an act of God. And in another hundred years time there will be advancements we haven’t even thought of. They will be so commonplace that our descendants will look on us and be happy they weren’t us. Then again, maybe we’ll be there too in brain jars or synthetic bodies.
Science is our basis for the fantastic. As such, it is difficult for me to delve into a world in which magic or superhuman abilities are natural wonders yet shunned and secreted away. I grew up on a solid X-Men cartoon, and I loved it. I understood the need for conflict in stories even then, but I loved to imagine “What If?” Cyclops would be awesome at welding. The stellar advancements Forge could make just inventing and improving other tech boggles my mind. Wolverine could be the cure for all the worlds’ ills due to his healing factor. Pardon the puns, but in the current climate Storm would be awesome at redirecting rain from areas that are flooding to areas that experience drought.
If there is one thing we humans are good at, it is utilizing every resource we can get our hands on. ‘Humans fear what they do not understand,’ so it is oft relayed, but in these worlds the people do not aim to understand what is beyond their inborn scope, which is simply not realistic In any parallel world, I posit that natural human inclination would lead us to use magic as we would electricity.
When in casual conversation I tend to use the words “Low” and “High.” For instance, I feel we live in a High Science, Low Magic world. All manners of machinery work, from nanomachines to aircraft carriers. Magic, conversely, is more a part of ancient myth than widely accepted fact. Science and Magic are typically exclusive in fiction, and in a High Magic world you will find low to no Science as the magic saturation interferes with scientific advancement as we acknowledge it. Conversely, High Science tends to develop because magic does not exist anymore, or never did in the first place. In my experience, you typically do not see crafted worlds in which High Science and High Magic exist at the same time. Often times when both exist on equal footing, Science is the tool of the non-magical and the story tends to revolve in part around the unease between two cultures.
Since you have a framework, let me compare some other worlds.
One you may not know of is a series of novels called “The Codex Alera.” When it comes to Magical Industry, I am always pleased with the works author Jim Butcher produces. The titular land, Alera, is wrought richly. In this world most to all Alerans have access to beings called Furies. An Element given life, these independent entities work in tandem with the more human populace. This keeps the Furies from ravaging the lands and leaves the people more empowered even while lacking our conventional technology. As such, I consider this to be a High Magic, Low~Mid Technology world.
Outside of just the technology, there are cultural differences in the perception of Furies. Those living out in smaller communities often give a name to their Furies, whereas the Highborn living in the central cities scoff at this superstitious practice. This links to the Industry in that it is reflected in how Furies are used.
Here is a very abridged rundown of the types of Furies:
Flora, Wood – Drawing upon trees and plant life, Wood Furies allow their partners to adjust the wilds to their advantage, often to track others or conceal themselves. Additionally, with a manipulation over wood, bows of sturdier woods are practical to use as they can be ‘convinced’ to bend.
Terra, Earth – Resonating with the ground and rocks, it becomes possible to move the ground itself. All from building solid walls, tracking someone from their movements along the ground, and on favorable terrain hastening movement. Earthcrafters are also able to draw from the strength and solidarity of the world beneath their feet, making them formidable heavy hitters.
Aeris, Air – Manipulating the space around them flight is made possible. Visibility can be augmented to make one invisible or to fashion a telescopic ‘viewing lens’. It is possible to accelerate perception and movement with these Furies.
Ferrous, Metal – Functioning similarly to Earthcrafting, the ability to attune to metal allows it to be reshaped dynamically. In most cases the strongest sword wielders in the are notable Metalcrafters. They can not only strengthen their blades but can wield them with inhuman precision, rivaling Windcrafters movement when it comes to combat speed. Additionally, attuning with the solidarity of Metal itself can allow the user to ignore large amounts of pain.
Ignus, Fire – Able to commune with spirits of pure fire, these Crafters tend to be used in a mostly offensive capacity. However, there are unique uses for this crafting which I’ll mention below.
Water – Using subtler techniques, those in tune with Water Furies tend to be prized for their utility rather than all out combat effectiveness. Able to discern the emotions of others, close up wounds rapidly, and communicate across vast distances.
As you can see, there is a robust usage of Furies even in this brief telling.
The social elite wield an array of Furies to terrifying effect. Being able to fly with Wind Furies while launching an assault with Fire and following up with a Wind-and-Metal hastened melee attack while pulling up from the Earth’s strength is not unheard of. If the High Lords and Ladies do not have this level of diversity it is often a bane to them. Of course, you can imagine what politics may be like if many of those in power are strongly empathic.
Aside from the rich and powerful, there are unique applications. Furies inundate the world, large and small. It is possible to capture a small Fire Fury and, by trapping it in a stone and starving it, it will pull in heat voraciously. Oddly, this make the stone and the surrounding area cold. This counter intuitive process means that this world has refrigeration for many goods. Many swords for the military are crafted with Fury assistance, if they don’t outright have Furies imbued within them. One of the more impressive workings were sand tables that, when activated, would form terrain and movements. In essence, these were holographic or satellite maps. These could even be seen in command tents in the field, so they were well known and widely used.
In the steadholts, the name for the further out communities, the people have a very practical efficiency with their furies. Often times they have one or perhaps two, though there are cases of more. But their abilities often give pause to those from the cities. A group of steadholt engineers, gifted in Earthcrafting, can construct a solid wall in no time. They can keep at this work for hours, and perform this for days on end. Only the Lords, Ladies, and above are able to rival this and only because of their raw power. The practiced might of the people was never something to snuff at.
All of this, and more, worked together to make a very rich world. The magic was integrated rather than just some strange happenstance of some people. It helped that it was an oddity when someone didn’t have Furies, so their use was common amongst the protagonist culture.
If you need a more well known set of examples consider Avatar: The Last Airbender and The Legend of Korra. I would call this world a Middle World. Bending was powerful and prevalent, but not available to everyone. As such, there were more technology in use by non-Benders, especially in the latter series.
Each of the nations have a focused used for each of their Bendings which lends a reality to their world from our perspective. The first time the Fire Nation is introduced you can see that their sea-faring vessels are all made out of metal. Knowing that fire is key for smithing processes this makes a good deal of sense. Additionally, with them liable to do a lot of fighting on deck this prevents their ships from burning down during practice, let alone in an all out battle.
Water Bending tribes resided primarily at the poles and, in an extension of their abilities, are able to manipulate ice. While the climate is rather harsh, the ability to will a palace out of the terrain of the tundra was not seen by me since probably Superman. Plus, the maintenance of such structures would give young and old alike to fine tune their ability. Earth Benders primarily lived in Ba Sing Se, and the walls and and transport mechanisms in the city relied on their powers. Air Benders had a number of interesting transit methods which were unique to them as they relied on their mostly lighter bodies and manipulation of the winds.
The Legend of Korra continued this, showing practical application of Metal and Lightning Bending. Additionally, they had several varieties of “Hybrid Bending” as well as “Advanced Bending” showing development and unique oddities among practitioners. This is a world in which the abilities were embraced. And yes, perhaps this was forced somewhat as there is also a prevalent part of the populace that cannot Bend at all. This still shows all the potential for how abilities can be properly made use of in a world, rather than squirreled away. And then, to counter potential tyranny, there were those who learned how to block bending if only temporarily. Advancements in transportation technology and weaponry allowed the non-Benders to stand on equal footing with some Benders. This is why this world is so remarkable, I think. We can more easily see our non-Bending selves in it, and that we would have a place.
While I cannot speak to Dungeons and Dragons as I have never played a version of it myself, a close relative of mine has made his own tabletop system. One of the things that I have admired about it is the fact that he has rules drawn up for non-combat Areas as extensive as players would use. This may seem superfluous to some, but to me it is a part of building a deeper world. For example, in a magical world what would the analogue be to the printing press? If we, as humans, do not enjoy books themselves we tend to value to more rapid exchange and storage of knowledge. Magic like this would be used to copy books and make notes.
To further diminish my Nerd Cred, not only did I never get into D&D, but Harry Potter is also a series that I did not put myself into. I only recently finished watching the movies last summer. Because I do not know the regular works I do not know all the rules, ins, and outs of how magic works in that world. But I can conclude that magic only works with wands. Well… except for this guy.
I know, I know… this has made the rounds on the internet and I am sure a Potter-faithful can set me straight on this point. However, I am going to enjoy being on the outside looking in for once. As stated above, there have been a lot of shows I have seen where magic was not to be frivolously used or flouted. No using it to clean house or remove stains and the like. Which… I accepted as a child, but the older I have gotten the more confusing that is. If you can open pickle jars with just your hands, and don’t need a towel or device, why use one if your natural talent allows otherwise? If the nature of magic in a given world is corrupting that is one thing. But if it is an extension of yourself that you can train, why not use it freely?
I digress, why no wandless magic? What was the choice there? Perhaps, scientifically, that is just the way it works in the world of Harry Potter. Even in our worlds’ magical practices Tools are used. There is a caveat there. They are meant to focus energy and intent. This said, a practitioner does not need to be reliant upon them. I would have assumed that there would at least be a spell to summon at minimum an attuned wand to your hand, but that was never the case from what I remember. And if wandless magic were doable, just a dangerous and unfocused mess I would have assumed Voldemort or one of the Death Dealers to try it once. Namely Bellatrix. But I never saw that.
Additionally, I never saw any variations to the practice, or any history lessons of people who tried. No warrior monks who had some awareness or even training who put a wand or two into bracers and used magic that way. No one with devices that would help limit a wand being removed via an… Expeliamus? I recall the elder Malfoy male having a cane-wand akin to a cane-sword. And due to wands seeming to be semi-sentient, I can let slide not carrying more than one.
The whole series were magicians, with wands in hand, doing magical stuff. There wasn’t the one Muggle who, in spite of having no magic in them, just studied ZEALOUSLY and earned respect of the magic world, or at least lessened contempt. In the face of a war there were no magical weapons, especially with the Death Dealers? Hagrid had his flying motorcycle, but why no other magical flying devices?
…am I pushing for some type of Magical Iron Man? No. (Maybe yes.) But, for as long as magic has been around, running concurrently alongside a non-magical population why are there not innovations for magical warfare? Outside of fun pranks, where is the growth in the world? I think that I would have enjoyed the world enough to dive into the books if I saw more outside of the hands of kids at school. Granted, many of the magic traditions are based from Europe, which explains much to me.
Addendum: Somewhat curious, I did delve into a wiki a bit. Even in the movies, there were some instances of wandless magic use. However, these were minor, so they didn’t come come to my mind. Additionally, it seems they were not canon to the books, which I would have heard about from my Potter loving friends. And not being canon, I chalked it up to creative license.
As I write my own works in the near future, and as you go about enjoying the worlds of fiction as they are presented to you, I hope you can see the details that go into world building. Often times the things that seem the simplest and most mundane took a great deal of work to get right. When an element seems so smooth that it is effortless, it is oft by design. Hopefully this gives you some insight into the fiction writers’ mind and will help you savor more fully those of us who put our madness onto paper.