Vision: A Resource for Writers
Lazette Gifford, Editor
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Holly Lisle's Vision

Magical Intelligence

By Colleen Philippi

2001, Colleen Philippi  

Psychologist Howard Gardner identified seven types of intelligence.  One of the things I've wondered is how each of those types of intelligence would affect a character's perception of magic, and how that would be reflected in their ability to use magic. The stereotype that keeps popping up is the wizened old man, shut up in the tower somewhere, industriously reading books and collecting arcane components for spells. So, the old man looks at magic from a logical-mathematical frame, with an interest in linguistics, as well. 

Linguistics and logical-math skills are what Americans usually think of as intelligence. This is what SATs measure, so those two components are the first that come to mind. But Gardner identified five other types of intelligence, in addition to Logical-Math and Linguistics: Kinesthetic, Spatial, Musical, Interpersonal, and Intrapersonal intelligence. What would magic be like when guided by a different intelligence type?  

A mage with Bodily-Kinesthetic intelligence might be drawn to creating magic out of dance; tai-chi, for example, could be used in a kinesthetic magical system. Or perhaps they might be drawn to herbs and gardening, or maybe they would approach magic like a chef approaches cooking, knowing the ingredients and imagining how they would mix in order to create a new recipe.  

"The boy who drew cats" is an example of a Spatial magical system. Howard's purple crayon or the chalk drawings in Mary Poppins would also be examples of this. How things relate to each other in space, and how that can be the basis of a magical system seems utterly alien -- and yet isn't it also what engineering is about? The mage as engineer could make a fascinating characterization. 

Musical magical systems might make it possible for that up-and-coming garage band to find the true source of their power. 

The tricky types of intelligence are those based in Interpersonal and Intrapersonal skills. 'Empathic' is the label we give to a character who has a high degree of Interpersonal intelligence; 'Psychic' is another one. So is a 'born salesman.' But those labels are hard to deal with when designing a magical system to go hand-in-hand with them -- though I have to admit I can come up with some fairly creepy things that could happen as a result, based on the concept that the magician feels everything that his target does. 

As far Intrapersonal goes, that's usually thought of as spiritual. But if you mix the types of intelligence up, there are some fascinating magicians and magical systems that can result: an engineer who can feel the buildings he designs as if they were alive, or a salesman who can literally charm the shirt off your back. 'Dancing till dawn' could have some very nasty side effects. 

To create variety in a magical system, think about how diverse people are and how their strengths differ.  A culture may value one type of intelligence over others; how would that affect their magical forms?  What would the outsider be like then?  Imagine the chef-mage interested in cooks, rather than books.