There is no power on Earth — real or imagined — that surpasses love. It makes us do things we ordinarily wouldn’t — like buy flowers, give up watching a second football game on Sunday afternoon, and even throwing ourselves in front of a bullet, should one ever be fired at someone we care about. Nothing else carries that kind of weight. Nothing else makes us think of someone else instead of ourselves.
And when it happens, it is truly magical. There’s no explanation for what makes a person fall in love with one person and not another. There’s no real good explanation for why one falls out of love or falls in love with someone else while in an otherwise loving relationship. Two people meet, they get to know each other, they spend some time together, and somewhere along the way — often without realizing it — someone falls in love. It’s just magic. It just feels right.
Writing about love is the primary occupation of most authors. It’s not just the romance authors and the chick-lit authors. No, it goes across the board. In an action story, there’s a love interest. In a mystery, love and lust are often motives.
Love is the universal theme, and, like most authors, I can’t stay away from it. It invades nearly all my stories.
And that’s one of the many reasons I like fantasy literature. Because love is magical, and using magic to explain it seems the most logical way to me to treat it.
For example, in my latest novel, Red Dragon Five, the two main characters Wolf Dasher and May Honeyflower, are pretty obviously in love. They are in a committed relationship, they share an apartment, and they clearly enjoy each others’ company.
Consider the following exchange between them early in the novel:
He collapsed on the bed in the small flat they shared. His eyes still hurt from the all the security briefs he’d studied today.
“She’s too hard on you,” May commented.
“Tell me about it.”
She pulled her hauberk over her head and threw it on a chair. Then she pulled the pins out of her hair and shook it out. Rich brown tresses cascaded over her caramel skin. He felt all the air go out of him. She was indescribably beautiful, and the sight of her with her hair down and just a short shift on over her chest enraptured him. It was his favorite look for her. Well, when she was wearing clothes.
“You’re hard on her too, though,” she said.
The comment snapped him out of his lustful thoughts. Instantly, all the stress and disappointment of the day returned.
“How do you figure that?” he said.
She turned and smiled at him. His heart melted again.
“Come on, Wolf,” she said. “Imagine for a moment you were the controller, and you had an agent like you to command.”
“What do you mean, ‘an agent like me’?”
She smiled again. Then she seated herself on the edge of the chair and started unlacing her boots.
“You don’t like protocol,” she answered. “You much prefer to jump in head-first and start stirring things up. You’re explosive, Mr. Dasher. When Shadow Six is on the job, chaos is coming rapidly behind him.”
She tossed off a boot and gave him a teasing look. He searched for an appropriate response.
“Well, I get things done,” he said.
“Yes,” she replied, unlacing the other boot. “When the situation needs shaking up, you are the perfect agent for the job. But sometimes subtlety is required, and that’s not your strength.”
She continued to smile at him. Her golden eyes flashed mirth. He decided not to be offended. Besides it was true.
“I’m sorry,” he teased, “were you making some sort of point?”
She giggled and tossed her other boot aside. Then she stood up, came over to the bed, and flopped down next to him. He put his arms around her, and she snuggled into him.
It is a typical scene between two people in love sharing their days. Wolf may be a spy and May a soldier, but, at home at least, they are a normal couple enjoying each others’ company.
But a writer can establish that in any novel. You don’t need magic to show two people in love. But the magic of that most complicated of emotions can be shown even more effectively with sorcery.
Later in Red Dragon Five, Wolf is about to go off on a dangerous, unofficial mission. May is not about to let him go without some sort of protection. She uses a charm her father taught her to give Wolf a way to call for help.
She sketched a circle in the center of his chest over his heart. He flinched a little at the scratching of the quill’s tip, but he didn’t resist what she was doing.
She drew a second circle inside the first. Then she began writing sigils between the lines, creating a ring of symbols he didn’t recognize.
Drawing them took about ten minutes, during which neither of them spoke. When she was finished, she pulled out a dagger and pricked her index finger with it, drawing blood.
“Give me your hand,” she said.
He did as he was told. She grasped his index finger and pricked it as she had hers. Before he could cry out, she mashed her own bleeding finger to his, mixing the blood. Then she smeared the mingled blood in the inner circle of ink on his chest. She leaned in, kissed the bloody mark, and whispered, “Wolf Dasher, my love.” Then she blew on the mark.
Wolf saw the sigils and circles light up with green, magical light. His whole chest felt warm. His heart seemed at peace.
A second later, the magical light disappeared. So did the blood on his chest. The ink had dried. It looked as though he had a small tattoo.
“Now,” she said, “if you get in trouble, you touch the finger I cut to the center of this mark and think my name. It will send a signal to me, and I will be able to find you. I will come to save you.”
He stared at her in wonder. In the past seven months since he’d started dating May Honeyflower, he’d discovered she was an amazing woman. But this was something deeper, something more bewitching than anything he’d yet seen. He felt the love in his heart grow stronger.
Magic illustrates magic. I use the word, “bewitching,” deliberately to convey the sense that there is something otherworldly at work here. Wolf is entranced. He’s totally ensorcelled by this extraordinary woman he’s found. The magical spell she casts mirrors the real one he’s already under — his love for her. He felt the love in his heart grow stronger.
Magic begets magic. By using magical power to illustrate someone’s love, the true magic of loving is made clearer.
The same is true for the novel’s villain, Alexa Emory. The principal motivator of her quest for vengeance is the betrayal of her family, particularly her grandfather. In an early scene, she reflects on his skill as a magician, thinking of a favorite toy he made for her.
She thought of the toy he made her when she was only six. It was an intricately carved flower. When she spoke the command word, “dance,” the petals opened, and it transformed itself into a beautiful ballerina who performed for her.
Alexa missed her tiny dancer. Her grandfather was a powerful magician capable of crafting all sorts of potent magical devices, but it was this toy that impressed her most. He could have created doomsday weapons like the Red Dragon Project. Instead, he’d made a trinket for his granddaughter.
Again, magic illustrates magic, in this case even more literally. Her grandfather could have bought her a toy, but instead he made one for her. And he made it with magic to do magical things. This simple act of love — a gift for a child — not only was made with magic, it inspired more love. And it is that love for her grandfather and her rage at how he was mistreated that motivates Alexa to take the actions she does. Magic not only creates love, love is magical.
I think fantasy literature has a real advantage over other genres when it comes to revealing love. Whether it’s breaking a curse with True Love’s First Kiss, causing someone to fall in love with a potion, or just the power of love overcoming darkness, fantasy shows us love as it truly is: the most powerful force on Earth.
Click here to read the full chapter of Red Dragon Five wherein May casts her spell on Wolf.
Next week I’ll discuss with author Lynne Cantwell why she writes fantasy lit!