Thursday, April 16, 2020

Vancian Magic is Mathematics

Saw someone on Twitter this week claiming that seeing Vancian magic as mathematics was a mistaken reader interpretation (and claimed that something very different was the case). I knew it was, rather, explicitly described as math, but it took me a few minutes to find the quote. In case I need that again in the future, here it is (page 12 of my copy of Dying Earth):
In this fashion did Turjan enter his apprenticeship to Pandelume. Day and far into the opalescent Embelyon night he worked under Pandelume's unseen tutelage. He learned the secret of renewed youth, many spells of the ancients, and a strange abstract lore that Pandelume termed "Mathematics."

"Within this instrument," said Pandelume, "resides the Universe. Passive in itself and not of sorcery, it elucidates every problem, each phase of existence, all the secrets of time and space. Your spells and runes are built upon its power and codified according to a great underlying mosaic of magic. The design of this mosaic we cannot surmise; our knowledge is didactic, empirical, arbitrary. Phandaal glimpsed the pattern and so was able to formulate many of the spells which bear his name. I have endeavored through the ages to break the clouded glass, but so far my research has failed. He who discovers the pattern will know all of sorcery and be a man powerful beyond comprehension."

So Turjan applied himself to the study and learned many of the simpler routines.

"I find herein a wonderful beauty," he told Pandelume. "This is no science, this is art, where equations fall away to elements like resolving chords, and where always prevails a symmetry either explicit or multiplex, but always of a crystalline serenity."

15 comments:

  1. Are you familiar with Trivium and Quadrivium? I use vancian magic as a lost liberal art that synthesizes all the other seven.

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    1. Yes, that's great. It's kind of common for me to touch back on that, actually (esp. the central item of logic).

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  2. It's one of my favourite passages from that book.

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  3. I love this imagery. Alas, I have no limousine rental websites to shill for.

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    1. I let my spam-bailing go for too long there, sorry about that!

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  4. Vance was a poet. And I love putting posturing, pontificating pundits in their place!

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  5. Nice quote.

    It wouldn't surprise me if this also planted the seeds for so many spell material components to be science jokes in AD&D.

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  6. I don't think that quote says magic is mathematics. It explicitly names it as "abstract lore", in listing of "spells" and "secrets" learnt.

    The further paragraphs are describing mathematics as underpinnings of all existence which is lot (everything) more than just magic and lot more powerful to understand than just magic.

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    1. Based on the sentences "Your spells and runes are built upon its power and codified according to a great underlying mosaic of magic" and "He who discovers the pattern will know all of sorcery and be a man powerful beyond comprehension", my interpretation is that magic is a subset of mathematics, just like squares are a subset of rectangles or paintings are a subset of art (i.e. magic is mathematics, but mathematics is more than just magic).

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    2. What about the much more important and explicit "Passive in itself and *not of sorcery*" part?

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  7. It's a great quote all right, but does anyone know where I can get a limo during lockdown? Asking for a friend.

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  8. I haven't really followed the comments, but I wish I could tell you.

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  9. Sounds like the virtual universe theory. And spells being code writing.
    Then again isn't that what a fictional world of magic is anyway... A virtual universe scripted by an author?
    Think of a meta mirror opposite a meta mirror meta reflecting to infinity...

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