"Vigorously told deceptions and battle scenes." ~Publishers Weekly review of Eolyn

"The characters are at their best when the events engulfing them are at their worst." ~Publishers Weekly review of High Maga

Tuesday, July 13, 2010

On Mages and Magas

I’ve mentioned in previous posts that while writing EOLYN, I’ve had feedback and comments on various drafts from a wide variety of readers – friends and family, friends of friends, and many very gifted authors & critics from two writer’s groups, The Dead Horse Society and TNBW. One aspect of EOLYN that occasionally trips readers up is my use of the terms ‘maga’ and ‘mage’. The distinction is simple, really: A maga is a female practitioner of magic, and a mage is a male practitioner.

I took the word ‘maga’ from the feminine form of the Spanish word for magician (also maga). What I wanted for my novel was a gendered term for a woman who practices magic, a fresh word that implied a unique tradition and did not carry the potentially negative connotations of 'witch'.

In Spanish, the masculine form of the word 'magician' is ‘mago’. I suppose I could have adopted mago as well, but we already have ‘mage’ in English – which in my limited experience with the genre of fantasy seems to refer most often to a man anyway. And besides, the "Mago King Akmael" just didn't sound right.

In a scene that was cut from the final version of the novel, Eolyn’s tutor, the Doyenne Ghemena, discusses the division that existed between ‘male’ and ‘female’ magic. The separation arose because the women of Moisehen expressed an instinct for certain magical arts, while the men tended to take an interest in others. This is what Ghemena tells Eolyn regarding the division between male and female magic:

“Granted the boundaries were not always clear - and there existed exceptions to every pattern - but nonetheless practitioners lined up along axes of gender. In time they formalized these barriers and began writing rules about them. Thus the Great Orders of magic came into being: the Order of Magas, which recruited girls and trained them in the ways of women’s magic, and the Order of Mages, which trained boys in the ways of men’s magic.”

Ghemena occasionally questions this and other divisions that existed in the magical traditions of Moisehen, but on the whole she tends to see them as positive and necessary:

“For centuries, the two Orders practiced side by side, their rivalry constant but on the whole well-intentioned and very productive. Discourse flourished over the interpretation of the old legends, the limits of magic, definitions of ‘male’ versus ‘female’ energy, and the boundaries between the different levels of magic. At the High Holidays, collaborators from both Orders organized the great festivals. These served as playing fields for magas and mages who tried to outdo each other at every turn, unveiling new and exciting discoveries in the process. It was all very entertaining, even in my time, when tensions had begun to run quite high…”

But is there a real difference between male and female magic? And if yes, can that difference ever be clearly captured or defined?

These questions are left open during the novel, and as you can see from Ghemena’s words, were actually a point of debate during the entire thousand year history of magic in Moisehen. It is true that the principle practitioners in the novel – the High Maga Eolyn and the Mage King Akmael – have some powers that overlap, but they have many others that do not. Also, their greatest strengths are in decidedly different areas of magic. But is that because Eolyn is a woman and Akmael a man? Or is it simply a reflection of the very different circumstances under which they were trained, and the very different tutors to whom they had access?

You’ll have to read the book and decide for yourself…