Life and Death: Why I Avoid Sorcery in My Fantasy Novels


By Kara Swanson

Word Count: 478 words

Rating: PG-13 for disturbing imagery.

Summary: The author shares her story of why she doesn’t use magic in her stories.

magic in book
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Magic. Sorcery. Wizards.

They seem to be pretty essential components to any fantasy or whimsical story. And as a reader—and author—of fantasy novels, I’ve definitely discovered my fair share of magicians and sorcerers.

However, in my own novels I veer away from using the term “sorcery”…or witchcraft, anything in that vein. Why? Because I believe every story with a sorcerer in it is immediately the devil’s work and you will burn in hell?

No. Just, no.

Often times, in fantasy novels, the term “sorcerer” is not even used in the correct context of literal sorcery. They are not calling in the devil, casting real spells, or even dabbling in something demonic at all. Many fantasy novels simply use the word as a way to describe their own made-up magic system.

Yes, there are some fantasy novels that have demonic influences, and those would be a definite red light. Any time you call on the darker forces in this world—even if you don’t believe in them—there will be an answer. They are not dormant, nor stupid. The Bible clearly states that Satan and his followers are cunning and manipulative.

Okay, so we have that clear, right? Demons—bad. Demonic stuff—also bad.

But what about those books that I just mentioned? The ones that don’t truly have demonic content, just choose to use names that correspond with evil spirits. Words like sorcery…witchcraft…what then?

Is it harmless?

That is the core of the question, after all. Can something take on the name of something troublesome, and still remain innocent?

I would venture to say—no.

And this is why I choose to use other terms for the magic systems in my fantasy novels. Because I believe that in “dumbing down” sorcery and witchcraft, into making it into a children’s story, or a myth, we have made it even more dangerous.

We have made the darkness into a joke—and that is most dangerous of all.

Because sorcery is not a joke. It is not a scary story told to frighten children at night. It is not a myth or merely a plot device. It is a real, dark and threatening thing.

And I’ve seen it hold countless lives captive.

I grew up overseas, in the middle of the jungles of Papua New Guinea. My family moved there to share hope and light with a tribal group who had next to no contact with the outside world. We were so remote that the only access to our tribe was by airplane.

Only a mile away from our house lived the village sorcerer. I grew up alongside his children. I did a bible study with his daughter. Our family interacted with his on a regular basic.

And what I saw in their eyes still makes my chest ache to this day.

That sorcerer lived in darkness, and his children—and the many wives he had stolen and forced into his harem—were caught in his shadow. Those children were malnourished, and forced to live a distance from the rest of the village. They were frail, frightened little things.

And their father would switch moods on a dime. One moment, he would be almost jovial—the next, yelling and chasing them with a machete.

The darkness that he openly worshiped affected the rest of the village too. They were trapped in superstitions, some that merely made their lives more inconvenient—others deadly. Like the belief that if twins were born, one of them “had the devil in it” and so they would often bury one twin alive, so that it would die and the devil would be silenced. However, it wasn’t the devil that was silenced, but that baby’s cries echoing through the village from being buried beneath their own feet.

Until it was quiet. Either from starvation. Or suffocation. Or the bugs had gotten to it.

It was this same spiritual darkness that my father came face-to-face with one night on his way home after a teaching session in that village. When he passed through the Sorcerer’s little corner of town. And found it deathly quiet—no children playing, no women cooking. Silence.

The children and women cowered in the farthest corners of the Sorcerer’s house—and then the silence was broken as the Sorcerer began to chant, banging against the walls of the house.

And then, before my father’s eyes, he began to wrestle with an unseen enemy. An unseen force that even lifted the grown man and hurled him over the porch.

And my father ran. Ran for home, with the sickening knowledge that what he had witnessed was so…wrong. So dark and manipulative.

That darkness only began to slip away when we were able to tell that tribe of the light that can pierce through even the thickest of shadows. Of the God-Man who was more powerful than any spirit. Who had shed his blood for them. Who wanted to give them life—not death.

As that truth sank in, the tribe began to treasure their twins. To feed the malnourished, and stand up against the Sorcerer’s abuse. That is what true light is. It shines into the darkness, revealing it—not making a joke out of it.

Seeing what real sorcery is, firsthand—and the tragic effects it has on a culture—I made a choice to never make light of it. To never use the term as a way to explain an unnatural gift in my novels. To never become callouse to it. But, instead, to create my own words for those magic systems—such as gifted, elemental, or Heaven-born (for my series that deals with angels/demons). Or have a sorcerer be a villain, portraying the darkness for what it is. Even more than that, to show the light for its true power—how it can spark courage and hope. That it can bring life into a world of death.

That, after all, is the most powerful story one can tell.

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