Mages, Familiars, and Magic: Some Background

So, in the world of the Familiar Tales, there are three major classifications of magic workers: mages, sorcerers, and witches. The popular media tend to lump all three in as “mages,” because the word is shorter and because the distinctions are usually lost on most reporters (at least, those who are not also practitioners.) However, there are differences, and some of those play a major role in Eerily Familiar.

In the short story “Chester,” Martin observes that only a mage-Familiar pair or someone who is working with a second individual as a buffer could collapse a shield in on themselves and redirect the energy without suffering severe backlash burns and other injuries. That is because of what Familiars are and do, although “do” is the more important part.

Sorcerers tend to store magic, loading small objects (or not so small) with power for later use. They need time and space to prepare for a working, and don’t always respond well when they need to use magic “on the run,” as Lelia puts it. Uncle Leopard, having learned the hard way, always has at least two pre-charged things with him, usually his ring and a watch-fob or his pen-knife. Other magic workers of that class do similar things. One down-side to this is that they are not always prepared to deal with wild spells and shifting their plans on short or no notice. They need time to prepare.

This is especially true with defensive magic. A sorcerer is generally stronger than an average mage, because they have greater reserves to draw from before they start tapping into their own power. But when things go wrong, they have less flexibility.

That’s where the Familiars come in. Familiars act as little batteries, true, and that’s how most mages think about them. Most Familiars don’t work too hard to disabuse their mages of that idea, because it keeps the mages from over-drawing without really, really good reasons. However, what Familiars also do is to act as buffers. They can channel overflow and send it places in ways that sorcerers can’t, at least not without a great deal of practice and advanced preparation. So when Martin has to grab, twist, collapse, and redirect the shield’s magic, Chester smooths the flow and reduces the load on his mage, in part by sending the power elsewhere at least temporarily. The Familiar can then “grab” the power back if they need to, or let it disperse.

This is one of the ways whereby Familiars are very different from normal animals. Obviously, just being sapient is one way, and the oversize Familiars are a second way. If you were to ask Rosie, Angus, or some of the others why they are scaled-up, they won’t answer. Just like asking Fernando the parrot why he’s not dead, since he belongs to an extinct species. He’ll give you a smart-alek answer, or change the topic. Mages learn not to ask. Familiars just are, and their mages have to deal with that.

The vast majority of witches and warlocks work only in groups. That’s partly the nature of their power, which is magnified by other magic workers cooperation. It is also part of the traditions they belong to. Group work just fits their sort of magic better, and so they incline that way. There are solo practitioners who belong to the witch and warlock “tribe,” but they tend to stay quiet about their skills. Often they are married or partner with a sorcerer or mage, but not always. They also tend to lean toward herbal magic, hydro-thaumatology (water magic) and geomancy (earth-magic) in ways the others don’t. They prepare in advance as a rule, because you can’t really do group magic “on the fly.” The coven that helps Martin and Chester knew what they were coming into, and they’d prepared some spells that only needed triggering to take effect.

Shadow mages and their Familiars, and sorcerers of shadow, cast on the run and do magic on short notice. They also tend to be “harder” people, with a darker life experience. But not always, as Heike and Walburga show. Heike grew up in a nice, quiet Lutheran minister’s family in south-central Germany, not far from the German-German border. Her father helped people who had recently fled the East, which might explain where Heike got her strong sense of right and wrong. André and Lelia are close to the archetype of shadow mage in terms of rough life stories and being ready and able to stand on their own feet. Rodney is also pretty standard, being a predator, one who blended in pretty well in Southwest Asia. (OK, aside from developing a very healthy dislike, nay fear, of camel spiders.) Tay…

Tay’s a mystery. The other Familiars defer to him. Even Angus, if it comes to that. In which case Katy bar the door, because the Sweet Meteor of Magical Doom is probably about to strike. But this is not Tay’s first rodeo, which makes him rather different. Rosie too has been around, but not the way Tay has, and was unprepared for having her mage turn evil. That wouldn’t have happened to Tay, although he’s been burned in the past.

Rodney will stand up to Tay, although there has to be a really good reason, and André has to back him. Lelia just wants to either shave the silly lemur, dye him black, or laminate him so his fur will stay on.



16 thoughts on “Mages, Familiars, and Magic: Some Background

        • ” Paul Mitchell’s Freeze and Hold™ ”

          Okay, now you’ve got me wondering if a product’s name can make said product useful in holding or amplifying certain types of spells…

  1. I think of the Familiars are guardian angels. For them to appear means that there is a coming need.

    • Implies scary things with Tay.

      I think along similar lines. Companions of Valdemar, without that “feels slightly amoral” warping that may have got in because Lackey was working so closely with MZB at the time. This series doesn’t fear being aligned with traditional Christianity, even if certain things are not said in story.

  2. And my theory was (emphasis on the past) that Familiars are angels doing penance for having sided with Lucifer before coming to their senses.

  3. Not sure which fate is worse: utterly non-magical in a magic-afflicted world, magic-user, Familiar. And I (in a different world, or at least not this one yet) I could see myself as any of those. And ‘worse’ is NOT the same as ‘has headaches about’… I suspect MOST non-magical types blithely go on with things… which is both good and Very Bad.

    • I think it depends on “how much magic stuff” regularly happens (especially magic stuff of the nasty kind).

      If the average non-magic type only witnesses one “interesting magic event” in a year, it’s one thing.

      But if he witnesses it more often (say monthly or daily), then its another matter.

      It’s hard to tell from the stories concerning “how much magic stuff happens” likely because the times nothing “interesting” happens aren’t as interesting to the readers. 😉

  4. Tay’s “interesting” status makes you wonder.

    Does Lelia’s past life & problems mean that she needs somebody like Tay to “handle the situation”?

    Or does it mean that Lelia is about to find herself on the “front-lines” of big trouble thus needs somebody like Tay to win and/or survive?

    • I suspect a greeting similar (SIMILAR!) to “Hail, full of grace!” at some point, probably within a day or so of a (hopefully) Wedding of Nearly Infinite Improbability. This one might simply open “Be not afraid. Your Higher Power, and magical friends and neighbors, have selected your for extraordinary service …”.

      I appreciate the background information, which helps sort some things out without three pages of “tell” in a story.

  5. Tay, the most experienced, and also one of the biggest kids. Almost Zen. Which would be a lot if The Real Zen is in fact, only approachable, not attainable.

Comments are closed.