Vision: A Resource for Writers
Holly Lisle's Vision
©2001, Colleen Philippi
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.
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
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.
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.
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.