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Using color as imagery within a magic system

Discussion in 'World Building' started by JC Hendricks, Jun 5, 2021.

  1. JC Hendricks

    JC Hendricks Acolyte

    Hi guys! I'm new to the forum and parts of it are locked if you haven't posted, so.. Leggo! I've wrote on and off since I was a child, and I'm a voracious reader and gamer. Fantasy for the most part, but plenty of scifi and horror as well. I've started writing more 'seriously' in the last year or so, and I finally have a short story that I'm happy with, set in part in my own little D&D world. This post is related to that.

    The world of the story is 'grim-dark', and is set during a war between humanity and elves. The story doesn't explore the reasons for the war, but the elves basically rebelled over the humans outlawing unsanctioned magic. The law was used in a similar manner to the Jim Crow laws in America; Elves weren't specifically unable to be licensed, but for all intents and purposes.

    The elves used magic as part and parcel of their life, but the major turning point was when the humans started arresting the Twice-Born. The Twice-Born are elves that have had magic used to change their gender. This is just an integral, normal, part of their culture (There is a lined out history for why the process exists), and the forbiddance lead to a mass rebellion.

    What I'm running into is an explanation for why the elven magic is mostly represented with a "rainbow" effect. Neither side is really 'good' anymore, and while the half- elven protagonist utilizes the rainbow effect, so do the elves. The humans use darker system, and call themselves the Umbral Host.

    How would you explain the difference in imagery in a coherent way that reflects the world? The first story explores the world and a bit of the racial and trans tension, and ends darkly. I have more planned out for the same protagonist, and plan to keep exploring social themes.

    Thank you, and be safe!
  2. cak85

    cak85 Minstrel

    Your premise does sound interesting to me. It sounds like you are taking the "oppressed mage" trope, which can work.

    Just a few questions to help me understand the context a bit better:

    - Do these twice-born chose to be twice born and change their gender? Or are they born that way? Both would have VERY different connotations for your story. I am pretty sure most trans-people are born that way, so if you imply the opposite... well. I'd just be careful of that.

    - What do you mean by "rainbow" effect? And does it have to be a rainbow? I am pretty sure the rainbow is a universal symbol for LGTBQ pride in the world, so I wonder how appropriate that is for a fantasy world.
  3. Rosemary Tea

    Rosemary Tea Archmage

    I, too, wonder what specifically is the rainbow effect. Does it involve actual rainbows? Or is it called the rainbow effect for some more obscure reason?

    What does the elves' magic look like? How do they do it, what are the results? And the humans' magic?

    Trying to see how it relates to rainbows or darkness.
  4. JC Hendricks

    JC Hendricks Acolyte

    Thank you guys for the feedback. I posted a short story set within this, and had my own feelings verified: Attaching the rainbow theme to the 'enemy' came off poorly. I've come up with a solution I think will work, but still allow the connection between my MC and the 'enemy'.

    The elves in the setting have a truly gender fluid culture. They aren't expected nor required to maintain a gender role or form, and they have a magical process to change it.

    The magic as set, was that when the rebel elves used magic, it caused a prismatic light display in all shades of the rainbow; when the authoritarian humans use it, it was displayed with flowing shades of grey. The effect changed depending on the actual 'spell', but for all intents and purposes, elves are rainbows, humans are shadows.

    The issue is that early on the MC is a half elf, fighting on the side of the humans; his magic is rainbow hued, but so are the enemy. This confused the meaning of the coloration. Moving forward, Im going to have the elven magic be corrupted by veins of black shadow, to emphasize that they've fallen, while only the MC will retain his pure hues. (The elves went from "This is wrong, we want treated better", to "The only way to fix this is to wipe out the oppressors", and they have the ability to do it.)
  5. Saigonnus

    Saigonnus Auror

    Perhaps there is some realization that humans are distantly related to elves (think like homo sapiens coexisting with neandertal, both coming from the same "human" stock.) Maybe that's why both sides have magic. Maybe the original species had access to the "full spectrum" of magic, but as the sub-races diverged, so did their abilities; which could be further compounded by traditional usage through the following millennia. Maybe there are still a few who can access the full spectrum (both the rainbow and the shadows).

    That being said, I am fully in support of inclusion and equal representation for LGTBQ+ in the media, but I feel the whole "rainbow magic" is too "on-the-nose" for the setting. Perhaps the mages themselves can "see" the various colors of the rainbow (or the shadow spectrum) with their inner-sight; the way their brain differentiates the different forms of natural energy that exists in the world, but it doesn't manifest that way in the visual spectrum when the spell is actually cast. I wouldn't say it's based on color, but I use the "many energies" type of magic in one of my worlds as well. In my case, there are thirteen and run the gamut from the elementals to the spiritual to the shadows. None are inherently evil, or good, they just are. The evilness or goodness is solely dependent on the user.
  6. Chasejxyz

    Chasejxyz Inkling

    As a queer person, I don't think there's anything inherently wrong with this idea....like most things, it comes down to the execution (and themes). From what I've seen in this thread, it seems that the humans are The Bad Guys and the elves are the ones who're oppressed, especially so because humans are forcing cisheteronomartivity on them. But your hero is a half-elf, where do they start in the story, what do they believe? Do they "switch sides" as the story progresses? If so, the words that are used to describe the magic can change as the story goes on to reflect their changing worldview.

    My main character sometimes ends up in this nothing-zone in her dreams where she talks to her imaginary friend/spirit guide/whatever you want to call it. To describe it neutrally, it is pitch black, but she can see herself and the other person perfectly fine as if there's light, there's no other objects, sounds, smells, nothing. It is also kinda chilly. At the start of the story, it's her greatest source of comfort, so having nothing and no one else there makes it a literal safe space. The darkness is enveloping, all her attention can be on the other person, I use very positive descriptions for everything. After the midpoint, she's now terrified of that space. The cold cuts her lungs with every panicked breath, there's nowhere to run, nowhere to hide, no one to save her and nothing she can use to defend herself. The quiet only lets her fear spiral out of control. Nothing about the space has fundamentally changed, but the words I'm using make it feel very different, it illustrates how her viewpoint has shifted so much.

    Light can be warm, radiant, purifying, healing. It can also be scorching, harsh, blinding, intruding, chaotic. Shadows can be safe, comforting, a trusted companion that's always with you, or it can be the unknown, cold, dampness, isolation. Outside of rainbows in the sky, we very, very rarely see light as a prism in nature (most people don't have access to optical glass/crystal in ye olden days), so seeing roygbiv come out of something that should otherwise be white is going to be confusing for a lot of people. Colors also had various meanings because certain types of dye were incredibly expensive (hence royal purple, the process is very laborious and gross and only makes a small amount of dye). Seeing a lowly elf so effortlessly and flagrantly using the king's colors like that can be taken as a great offense. Or maybe the world is so literally grimdark that bright colors just have this knee-jerk reaction of "this is something dangerous," like a lot of bright colors are in nature.
    cak85 likes this.
  7. Rosemary Tea

    Rosemary Tea Archmage

    To my mind, that is a HIGHLY problematic premise for a story in which the oppressed class (who are now trying to wipe out the oppressors) match a group of people that has been, and continues to be to some extent, oppressed in the real world. It feeds the presumption that if we "give too many rights" to "those" people, they will destroy us. To this day, there are plenty who say that about LGBTQ folks, with the transgender getting the brunt of it lately. Witness all the "bathroom bills."

    If the elves were oppressed simply for being elves, it would be safer to use that premise, because then it would be much harder for readers to leap to the conclusion that when you say elves, you really mean trans folx. If them having the ability to switch genders is crucial to the story, it could still be one of the characteristics they have, but what if other characteristics of theirs were the main reasons humans oppressed them? Maybe the real reason was that the humans wanted to take their homeland. Maybe they wanted to enslave the elves and used the penal system as an excuse to do it.

    It would also work if you're starting from that premise--elves are fighting back against human oppression that's been brought down on them for being gender changers, and now they're out to destroy humans, period--but your hero's journey includes coming to see the nuances of it. If the elves are not painted as pure villains from start to finish, then no one can say that you're saying the people they stand in for are evil.

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