This is something that I hadn’t really thought about writing an article on until right now. I wasn’t sure what I wanted to write about and this popped into my head though as something my wife and I have been talking about. How to work wizards well into a modern world. There are two prime examples for this that I’m going to talk about, The Dresden Files and Harry Potter. The reasons for doing those two, besides both of them being big series, is that there are a number of key differences and similarities between the two. And they both handle them somewhat differently, and in the case of Harry Potter, not often for the better. Now, before it seems like I am bashing Harry Potter too much, even though I’ve always been older than the target audience for that series, even when it was coming out, I absolutely love the series, and the same with the Dresden Files. So when I am being negative towards either of the series, remember that. That’s my disclaimer.
To start out with, this is going to pertain to writing, but also pertains to what you can think about and process as you read through books with wizards in them, especially in a modern setting. In a world where the rules are made up completely, because it clearly isn’t our world, you can get away with a whole lot more when it comes to magic. However, in the human world, you have a lot of things to think about. Even as compared to Merlin vs the Harry’s (Potter and Dresden), you can get away with a whole lot more.
The first issue that you can get away with more is technology. You can simply make technology magic if you want, but when you are tied into a world where both humans using technology and wizards exist, you can run into trouble. Why, for example, in Harry Potter are the wizards so anti anything that would be technology and anything from the muggle world? It makes no sense, they are making their lives more difficult but completely separating themselves from the world. Now, plot wise it makes a good amount of sense, otherwise things would be too easy and you can argue that maybe they are doing it so that they don’t reveal themselves, but really, by ignoring it they stick out more. And by plot wise, I mean, it would make things too easy if they used modern technology. But in terms of the Wizard society, they are so clueless in the world in Harry Potter that they would constantly have to be erasing peoples memories of them because they stick out like a sore thumb for being antiquated and backwards with technology.
This compared to the Dresden Files, Harry and wizards literally fry technology if they get too worked up or use magic around technology. So Harry Dresden can use older more mechanically based technology, but can’t use things like computers. This makes it so that he has to be more of sleuth by using magic versus technology. They also deal with people seeing magic or seeing monsters differently than Harry Potter. There isn’t wiping of memories, it is based off of the idea that if something is to crazy and doesn’t make sense, people will find a way to make it make sense in what they know. A wizard slinging a spell at a vampire, that’s a gas line exploding, because someone throwing a spell around doesn’t make any sense. That’s a whole lot more reasonable, in many ways, than the Harry Potter methodology of wiping that memory from everyone’s mind who saw it.
So, how you deal with technology and the public is one of the first things to think about. Do they use technology, if they don’t, you better have a reason for it. Now, if it’s less modern, you can get away with them using magic for a lot of things, because long distance verbal communication wouldn’t exist without magic, but Harry, Ron, and Hermoine should really use payphones. It could also be said that Arthur Weasley was the only wizard in the ministry of magic who actually thought stuff through with technology. You can also deal with it by having a small sect of wizards reject technology but not the body as a whole, as it’s possible for any sect to get too steeped in tradition to reject things that would make their life easier.
Next, let’s talk about death and abuse of magic at a young age. In both Harry Potter and The Dresden Files, magic is an inherent skill in some people, it isn’t something that the Average Joe can just pick up without first having a natural talent for it. Then you have to learn how to control it. We see in both series some of what happens when people aren’t trained in magic and are using it without really knowing it or without knowing how to properly use it. In Harry Potter we hear about him as a child causing glass to disappear from a snakes enclosure at a zoo. In the Dresden Files there are people who can learn to use it and not really knowing the true power and destroy or mess with peoples minds because they are using something dangerous and instead of it being a scalpel, it’s a club. In the Dresden Files you see consequences for that, and you see the wizarding council come down hard on those who use magic, even if they haven’t properly been trained or informed of the magic rules, because of how dangerous it can be. In Harry Potter, they try and get you at a young age into schooling so that you aren’t a danger to yourself or others.
But that’s a flaw in Harry Potter, how do they not have more deaths or series injuries every year at Hogwarts. Now, I get why jokesters like Fred and George Weasley wouldn’t use magic for pranks, because their mother would literally kill them if they did. But why wouldn’t someone like Draco Malfoy, or more likely Crabbe and Goyle who wouldn’t care so much about what their parents think of consequences just use magic against someone else. Obviously, it’s against the rules, but you have how many kids at Hogwarts with raging hormones, you’re going to get magic used to hurt, prank, or kill other students. Obviously, having lots of deaths in Hogwarts wouldn’t make for as good a children’s book, but it’s kind of a plot hole.
So how can you deal with this? In the Dresden Files, if I remember correctly, while you might have magical ability, you can’t really use it without some training. There are ways to train yourself and get into trouble, but you won’t have something just happen as spontaneously. So that is one of the ways that I would suggest dealing with it. You make it so that magic is something that you have to have at least some training to use. Or, instead, you can also make magic much more dangerous. You can have more deaths, and you can make magic something that probably would be government regulated and those who have the ability are almost scared of it because of how dangerous it can be.
Those are two of the biggest things where Harry Potter and Harry Dresden contrast in magic. And it’s interesting to look at. If you are thinking about writing your own urban fantasy sort of book, they are some big hurdles to overcome. It’s certainly possible that you can leave those plot holes and just say that it’s the way it is, but if you are writing, especially for a more mature audience, it’s going to be something that you want to have thought through.
There are a whole lot more things to think of as well. Where is the power for magic coming from? Who can learn magic? How powerful is the magic in the world? How common are magic users in your world? What sort of magic can be done?
Obviously, that would take a whole lot more to go through, and it’s something that I need to think about. I might come back to that later, but either way, you’re a wizard, Harry.
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