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Usually, in traditional fantasy, magic is a source of wonder and possibility, a tool used by heroic and villainous characters alike to achieve phenomenal results. But works in some genres, notably Low Fantasy, Urban Fantasy, and certain flavors of Heroic Fantasy are not quite so enamored of their local phlebotinum. They prefer the use of the human intellect and human muscles to the eldritch workings of powerful sorcery or impossible mad science, often resulting in a strangely paradoxical view of their setting. Magic is something inexplicable, impossible, and often, genuinely dangerous. This may tie into old, pre-scientific beliefs about the supernatural, which was often seen as frightening, dangerous, and more often than not hostile to humans, and thus, something not to be messed with by any sane soul save the local shaman, wise-woman, priest or other person experienced in its ways.
The degree to which Magic Is Evil can vary, of course. Some settings simply achieve this effect by featuring predominantly wicked magic-users or magical creatures, contrasting it with liberating and safe technology and ordinary human pursuits. Some settings tie the use of their phlebotinum intrinsically to moral corruption or even the gradual destruction of the world; magic is, at best, a decadent and arrogant practice by frail humans who would wield power too great for them. Some even go so far as to make nearly all magic have hideous moral or physical costs that gradually destroy the sorcerer's humanity and make it impossible for magic to be a common fixture of the setting. After all, if there is just the Devil but No God; and if magic is theurgic (coming from a magical being), there's no "good" source.
Some settings mitigate this slightly by portraying divine or religious magic with a more positive brush. In this case the message seems to be that God, or perhaps faith or the community, is acceptable, whereas the sorcerer's lonely power is inherently dehumanizing. (A more cynical take on this view might argue that "miracles" are portrayed as good, but "magic" is portrayed as bad, because the church proclaiming the miracles dislikes competition.)
In these settings, expect most or all magic to be de facto Black Magic, leading quickly to The Dark Side. Even well-meaning sorcerers may be portrayed as dealing with a dangerous power that will eventually destroy them. Mages and others might be tormented souls, hated and feared by the population, or even actively persecuted. They might also be conduits or dupes for an Eldritch Abomination, or doomed to insanity. In many such settings, magic has few benign uses and can only work its tainted wonders through blood or other acts of terrible sacrifice.
This trope also pops up in many supernatural Horror tales, particularly Religious Horror, where any extraordinary power that does not come from God is tied to Satan and The Legions of Hell, is used to work evil and leads to eternal damnation in Hell. Horror tales that are not of a religious bent will sometimes have the power come from some form of Eldritch Abomination instead, with the cost being the wielder's sanity instead.
As a result of magic's wicked nature in such settings, Muggles often decide to Burn the Witch Compare Science Is Bad (which, incidentally, is considered to be magic if the technology level of the setting is low enough).
In settings that do not have this view of magic, there's usually at least one Anti-Magical Faction who believes it to be such. Sometimes bleeds into audience reaction; some Moral Guardians have been known to condemn fantasy stories as evil for containing "witchcraft", even if there's good magic in the actual work.
Anime & Manga
- Magic in Puella Magi Madoka Magica is a bit like Darkspawn taint--a few people can and do use a seemingly benign version to fight against greater threats, and for quite a while they can even stay relatively sane, but Heroic Willpower doesn't last forever.
- There is such a thing as a good witch in Soul Eater, but they're pretty rare, and they tend to get targeted along with the bad ones. (And all witchcraft, even for a good cause, warps the soul into a demonic form.)
- The Day of Vengeance tie-in to Infinite Crisis kicked off with Eclipso convincing The Spectre of this. It largely worked, too.
- The Covenant portrays magic as analogous to drugs: it's addictive, and the young protagonists refering to practicing magic as "using." It waxes Anvilicious when it demonstrates that continuous use will result in accelerated aging and an early death.
- H.P. Lovecraft's Cthulhu Mythos stories. Those who use Mythos magic tend to be extremely evil (and nearly always insane).
- Though both in The Dunwich Horror and The Case of Charles Dexter Ward the protagonists themselves use spells taken from Necronomicon in order to battle evil beings immune to all mundane effort, and don't suffer any consequences at least in the context of the stories.
- A case could be made that magic in the context of the Mythos isn't so much evil, per se, as dangerous to humans due to their sheer ignorance of what they're actually doing when they set unknown but powerful forces and entities into motion. If the human villains of the stories have an edge here, it's likely due to their plain old ambition, ruthlessness, and willingness to jump off the slippery slope more than the use of magic itself somehow inherently 'corrupting' formerly-decent folk.
- Clark Ashton Smith's Averoigne stories. In Averoigne, magic use is considered evil by the Church and the populace.
- Most of the magic-wielders that Conan of Cimmeria encounters are extraordinarily malevolent, and the magic they practice tends to require truly awful material components and blood sacrifice. Just one example involves magics which need candles made from the bodies of virgins strangled with their mother's hair and their virginity taken after their death by their father.
- Since Howard's original Conan stories are effectively part of the above-mentioned Cthulhu Mythos, this doesn't come as a complete surprise.
- A Song of Ice and Fire seems to be playing around with this trope. While it is hard to separate good from evil in the setting, magic seems to be decidedly unpleasant, carries a big cost, and usually results in someone dying.
- In Christopher Marlowe's Doctor Faustus, as in the Bible and certain other medieval works, magic is only possible through a Deal with the Devil or other supernatural beings, often malicious.
- More or less everything ever written by Jack Chick.
- And most Christian lore in general, for which there is no such thing as "white" magic: Power belongs to God and no one else.
- Ciaphas Cain has relatively few serious prejudices, but reflecting the general attitude of the Warhammer 40000 universe, he and other protagonists treat all magic or psychic phenomena as a fearful thing.
- Given the setting this is perfectly justified, as anything Chaos related is likely to get you and everything near you (often defining "near" as "inside the same solar system") dragged down to the depths of capital-H Hell.
- In the Discworld novels magic weakens the border between the Disc and the Dungeon Dimensions, allowing all sorts of Eldritch Abominations to come through. Magic users themselves are usually portrayed as fairly decent, but the education of witches and wizards tends to focus on discouraging them from using magic, either by teaching them more practical skills or distracting them with university bureaucracy and politics.
- Discworld doesn't really have Magic Is Evil so much as Magic Is Way More Trouble Than It Could Possibly Be Worth. It's not characterized as actively malevolent by either the narrative or the characters, just as incredibly dangerous and unreliable.
- David Farland pointed out in the introduction to his short story The Mooncalf that the farther back one goes in traditional Arthurian legend, the less things like powerful wizards, enchanted swords, and ladies who live in lakes seem benevolent. His story was an attempt to capture that flavor, where it's magic itself that ultimately will doom Camelot to tragedy.
- In The Magister Trilogy, every spell is Cast From HP. Magisters are those who've learned to cast from other people's HP. They're not nice people, to say the least.
- Witches, who fuel their magic with their own life-force, are generally incredibly respected on the other hand. It's less that Magic Is Evil than Magic is Pricey, and who you make pay the price is the key.
- In Josepha Sherman's The Shining Falcon, Danilo and many others are convinced of this. Finist distinguishes between sorcery, which is, and magic, which need not be.
- Oddly enough, in The Dresden Files, while magic is certainly not inherently evil (the hero and many other Wizards use it to do considerable good, and it's only corruptive if you misuse it, breaking the Seven Laws of Magic), it's still shown as very dangerous and risky. Most magic practitioners can not do very much with it, though getting power from demonic bargains or breaking the Seven Laws is relatively easy. Also, even for major players who can do a lot with it, demonic temptations are multifold, the protagonist almost falls into this trap early in the series. For those magically gifted individuals without a major talent for it, and also access to a trustworthy teacher, a good case can be made from events in the books that the safe, smart, morally and pragmatically best choice is to turn away from magic and don't look back.
- In The Demon's Lexicon, humans have very little power on their own. Magicians have to get their power by making deals with demons, typically sacrificing innocent people as payment. It's apparently addictive too.
- In The Bartimaeus Trilogy, many magicians are either actively malicious or complicit in an oppressive magocracy, so ordinary people tend to believe magic is evil. Even the way magicians get power leans toward evil, since they have to summon spirits and few bother to be benevolent masters.
- In Tolkien's legendarium, "magic" and "sorcery" usually mean artificially-acquired powers that draw on Morgoth's lingering evil in the fabric of the world; the powers of good wizards such as Gandalf are usually either inborn or gifted by God. The Elves are sometimes confused or annoyed when their own more subtle powers are called magic by others.
- The Wheel of Time has this all OVER the place. Originally, the "True Source" (both Saidar (the female half) and Saidin (the male half)) had ambiguous morality and were up to the user's design. Then, in the War of Power, Saidin was corrupted, and drove male Channelers insane, rotted them while they were still alive, and often caused them to kill truly horrifying numbers of people as they died. However, the Dark One's power, the "True Power", is inherently evil, though the Aes Sedai in the Age of Legends didn't know that when they tried to reach it and accidentally released the Dark One - they were trying to find a single power that both male and female Aes Sedai could use.
- This being the WoTverse, most commoners (and much of the nobility) are incredibly superstitious and stubborn and believe that all Channeling is evil, though much of that stems from the male Aes Sedai going insane and the end of the War of Power and devastating the world.
Live Action TV
- Played with in Merlin. Magic is not inherently evil; however, King Uther Pendragon was unready and unwilling to accept the price that was ultimately required for a spell that would grant him an heir - his wife dying in childbirth - which led to a campaign of extermination against all magic-users. As a result, Merlin must hide his talents or face execution, and most of the few remaining magic-users are out for bloody revenge against Camelot and the Pendragon line.
- Warhammer and Warhammer 40000 are perhaps the most dramatic examples of this trope, where any and all use of magic has hideous risks and relatively few advantages. In Warhammer magic can still be used with a degree of safety and positive result, but in the latter, the power of the Warp is so terrible even being near the psychic backlash of sorcerous workings makes ordinary, virtuous people feel sick.
- In Call of Cthulhu, learning and using Cthulhu Mythos magic causes the user to lose Sanity points and eventually go insane. Most people using such magic are Mythos cultists who are both crazy and evil.
- Some magic is relatively safer, though; unsurprisingly, it's the kind that impedes or protects from Mythos forces (like the Elder Sign or the powder of Ibn-Ghazi).
- Dungeons and Dragons:
- Adventure X2 Castle Amber, based on Clark Ashton Smith's Averoigne stories (see above).
- Dark Sun (World of Athas) setting. The overuse of arcane magic caused Athas to become a desert planet, and a significant fraction of magic users are Defilers, whose magic use drains the life out of plants and animals within a certain radius. As a result, most people in the setting consider magic use evil per se. This was mainly an excuse to have a psionics-heavy setting.
- Carcosan sorcery is about as evil as all get-out, drawing a lot of influence from the Cthulhu Mythos and from sword and sorcery stories such as Conan above. A lot of the sorcerous rituals listed require grisly Human Sacrifice of some nature, with the banishment rituals being the ones that generally don't.
- Ask any fundamentalist Christian about Magic: The Gathering and they'll say this is why Everyone Is Satan in Hell. Hilariously enough, an anti-magic church is the primarily religion on one Dominarian continent in The Dark.
- While Prospero only uses his magic for good in The Tempest, he nonetheless drowns his books of magic for this reason at the end of the play.
- The slightly earlier Doctor Faustus promised to burn his books -- a little too late.
- Dragon Age has shades of this, with magical talent inevitably endangering the would-be-mage and linked to the realm of generally-malicious demons.
- Though it also leads to lots of Fantastic Racism and self hate.
- While the Fade is the source of demons, it's also the source of virtuous spirits and dreams, aspects which get less narrative because they're a tad less dangerous.
- Magic Is Evil is the Chantry's standard operating procedure, in fact, as mages are sequestered from the general population in their Circles and controlled rigorously by the Templar Order. This is understandable considering the creation of the Darkspawn is (allegedly) linked to the ruling mages of the empire that once controlled the entire continent where the games take place. The fiction itself, however, can be seen as taking the stance that a mage's intentions and character determine whether their magic is a gift or a curse as there are genuinely heroic and good mages such as Wynne, Bethany and Malcolm Hawke (respectively a Circle mage and Cool Old Lady, an apostate who's basically the Girl Next Door and her equally apostate father who swore that his magic would only "serve what was best in (him)") who fight against mages that abuse their power and the many evils of the Dragon Age world. Blood Magic usually is used for evil purposes but not always; it's possible to play a genuinely heroic mage character that is also a Blood Mage.
- Arcane magic in the Warcraft Universe is not itself strictly evil, but it can have very bad effects on the human mind and is almost universally addictive. The various forms of elves, all the product of magical mutation, are all magic addicts -- though the Night Elves claim not to be, their Moon Wells are clearly magical fountains -- and this can lead to some very, very bad results. Furthermore, the more powerful a mage is, the more they are tempted to try their hand at Fel magic, a corruptive magical force which is almost universally evil and leads the would-be-warlock to attempt contracts with malicious demons.
- Malicious demons which they can, occasionally, get the better of. PC Warlocks are no more evil than any other class (which is to say, often rather evil). They're certainly not beholden to the Burning Crusade, and, indeed, spend much of their time actively fighting Infernal forces. Entirely possible this is a case of Gameplay and Story Segregation, since the number of "good" warlocks in canon can be counted on one hand (there's either one or two, depending on your mileage. And one of them jumps right down a rather steep incline in the World of Warcraft expansion he first appears in.)
- In addition, necromanic magic, which was derived from demonic magic, does the same in that it corrupts the user. In fact the player warlocks are a small minority of those uncorrupted (depending on roleplaying). Lorewise, almost everyone that uses demonic or necromantic magic becomes corrupted by it.
- Vagrant Story describes magic as an unnatural act only possible by using The Dark, and dooms the user to an incomplete death.
- In Bayonetta, magical powers for mortals are apparently obtained only through contact with supernatural beings- in fact, ordinary humans can't even perceive supernatural beings, most of whom seem monstrous, destructive, and callously indifferent to mortal life, whether demons of Inferno or angels of Paradiso. The titular character and the (sometimes) Dark Is Not Evil sect to which she belonged before it was destroyed have obtained their powers by selling their souls to (usually) malicious demons, and as a result are doomed to spend eternity in Inferno when they die, while their Light Is Not Good counterparts apparently likewise gained their powers from serving Paradiso.
- In the Fall From Heaven mod's backstory, magic was originally taught by an Evil goddess. In game, though, it can go either way.
- In Age of Conan, all of the mage classes use evil magic in some form, the necromancer simply uses dark powers, while the demonologist and Herald of Xotli make pacts with demons. Being based on the world of you-know-who, this is hardly unexpected.
- In Diablo, it's an explicit part of the setting that most forms of magic carry a high risk of corrupting the user and making them into a servant of the demons. The only definite exception is necromancy, as necromancers are too True Neutral and unconcerned with fleeting personal power to fall to the lure of demonic might. Most people in the setting are fine with magic despite this, oddly enough.
- In Sluggy Freelance, not counting the "Torg Potter" wizards, the only human sorcerers who get more than a cameo are Gwynn (whose powers come from a Tome of Eldritch Lore and a Demonic Possession) and Kesandru (whose powers are based on turning ghosts into his slaves). Not exactly examples of Incorruptible Pure Pureness.
- Zig-zagged and combined with Dark Is Evil in Two Kinds. Normal Mana is neutral, but Dark Mana is obtained by using The Lifestream as mana, and when it doesn't drive the caster mad or kills them outright, it weakens their sanity and causes a horrific black burn to creep up their left arm.
- In Shadows of Enchantment, enchantment is described as "an art that tempts with promises of power, wealth and miracles, but in the end only corrupts and destroys". The Kingdom considers the mere existence of a new batch of enchanters to be cause for high military alert.
- In The Witch Watch all magic has traditionally been condemned as evil by the Church and the general populace. Sorcery in particular seems to generally be used for awful purposes but people have begun to wonder whether magic can be used beneficially for healing. It turns out this involves killing people, so no.
- Most squirrels in Tasakeru follow this viewpoint, believing that only the Gods should alter the natural order. The degree to which this applies varies greatly; some families allow usage of the magically-infused spellstones crafted by mages of other species, and some reject any and all magic, spellstones included.
- In the game Doodle Devil, combining the elements "Demon" and "Energy" creates "Magic".
- This viewpoint is a (possibly the) central theme of the online roleplaying game The Inquisition Legacy.