More imaginary magic books

There is no end to the writing of books!

I recently wrote about my latest fiction project, tentatively called The 1001st Book. It is based on an ancient archetype of the wizard as a person who has first and foremost knowledge. In modern role-playing games and many fantasy novels, being a mage is something you are born to. You still need to memorize spells in some cases, but that is pretty much it. That is not how it used to be! In times of old, the wizard was both feared and respected, not just for his power but for his knowledge. The wizard was old and, well, wizened. A long life of poring over esoteric tomes had given him an uncanny knowledge of things beyond mortal ken.

I have realized in retrospect that what I am trying to do is modernize this archetype. And I try to do so by starting at the point where the wizard diverges from the ordinary people, the “muggles” or whatever they are called these days. This happens when he first begins studying esoteric books: Books of hidden knowledge, but usually hidden in plain sight.

Not to get excessively autobiographical here, but I dabble in esoteric books myself, and I can see how this would generally require some maturity to even get started.

Another influence on this particular piece of fiction is the Japanese new religion Happy Science and the valiant attempts by its founder to make religious knowledge available for people of average intelligence or even a little below. I recently saw (in a computer game, of all places) theology explained this way: “It’s like religion, but with more deep-thoughtiness.” It is this deeper thinking that is glaringly absent in most religious people you will hear of, and probably also most you will meet. They have some basic knowledge, but they don’t have a deep, wide understanding.

But this story is not about theology or Happy Science. Rather it points back to the traditional wizard archetype, where esoteric knowledge spilled over into the physical world, a literal understanding of “knowledge is power”. It was thought that a wizard could command various spirits, or knew hidden properties of plants or stones or animals, or could consult the stars. By combining diverse parts of this wide-ranging knowledge, he could accomplish things that seemed miraculous to ordinary people.

In The 1001st Book, each of the 20 000 Books of Truth contain just one arcane sigil. The rest of each book explains the concept which the sigil represents, the true knowledge associated with it, and its place in the grand scheme of things. While the lines drawn to shape the sigil are indeed memorized, the rest of the tome has to be understood. It is a process of cognition and cogitation, so to speak. You have to understand it and think about it. Only when you have fully understood the concept and its implications, can you use the sigil – an ancient word for “seal”, see Latin “sigillum Sanctum”, holy seal. (Possibly also Hebrew “segulah”, meaning an esoteric component or some such.) For the purpose of this fiction, we shall assume that the sigil is the seal on the knowledge of the book: It sums up and represents the deep and wide understanding the reader has acquired.

Needless to say, the power of this knowledge increases as you add more books, and become able to see the connections between all kinds of things. It does not just add up, it multiplies, because you can combine them in all kinds of interesting ways.

So how do you stay alive long enough to read hundreds or even thousands of heavy tomes? Ancient portrayals of wizards usually showed them as very ancient, and it was assumed that their art kept them alive. In my story, I have a somewhat more straightforward explanation: The Gift of Thoth, as it is called by the locals, comes from the fact that the magician does not age while occupied with the Art. Whether studying on the tomes, meditating on the sublime Truth learned in them, or actually using the Art in practice, the magician is in a state of  “otherness”, in which the mind is under the sway of the Spirit World rather than the material world.

This is an extension of a topic I wrote about (non-fiction, to the best of my knowledge) recently: That certain activities seem to prolong your life by about as much as you spend on them. In real life, religious participation and meditation seem to be among these. So it is no big leap of imagination to extend this to study of Books of Truth.

As for the actual scenes, these often come while I take a walk. This is the usual for me and fiction. The best length seems to be 10-20 minutes. Much less and I don’t have time for a full scene to form in my head. More, and my brain buffer overflows and I have to repeat the text I have written in my head so it doesn’t disappear. (It still changes a bit when I write it down, but usually is still recognizable.)

I know I have written before about walking and getting fiction “revelations”, but it still works that way, and it may be useful for whoever is reading this. It is unlikely that anyone would read this far unless they are into fiction writing themselves, right?

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