Usually, in traditional fantasy, magic is a source of wonder and possibility, a tool used by heroic and villainous characters alike to achieve phenomenal results. But works in some genres, notably dark fantasy, urban fantasy, and certain flavors of heroic fantasy, are not quite so enamored of their local phlebotinum. They prefer the use of the human intellect and human muscles to the eldritch workings of powerful sorcery or impossible mad science, often resulting in a strangely paradoxical view of their setting. Magic is something inexplicable, impossible, and often, genuinely dangerous.
The degree to which Magic Is Evil can vary, of course. Many settings simply achieve this effect by featuring predominantly wicked magic-users or magical creatures, contrasting it with liberating and safe technology and ordinary human pursuits. Some settings tie the use of their phlebotinum intrinsically to moral corruption or even the gradual destruction of the world; magic is, at best, a decadent and arrogant practice by frail humans who would wield power too great for them. Some even go so far as to make nearly all magic have hideous moral or physical costs that gradually destroy the sorcerer's humanity and make it impossible for magic to be a common fixture of the setting.
Some settings mitigate this slightly by portraying divine
or religious magic with a more positive brush. In this case the message seems to be that God, or perhaps faith or the community, is acceptable, whereas the sorcerer's lonely power is inherently dehumanizing.
In these settings, expect most or all magic to be de facto Black Magic
, leading quickly to The Dark Side
. Even well-meaning sorcerers may be portrayed as dealing with a dangerous power that will eventually destroy them. Mages and others might be tormented souls, hated and feared by the population, or even actively persecuted. They might also be conduits or dupes for an Eldritch Abomination
, or doomed to insanity. In many such settings, magic has few benign uses and can only work its tainted wonders through blood or other acts of terrible sacrifice.
- HP Lovecraft's Cthulhu Mythos stories. Those who use Mythos magic tend to be extremely evil.
- Clark Ashton Smith's Averoigne stories. In Averoigne, magic use is considered evil by the Church and the populace.
- Most of the magic-wielders Conan of Cimmeria encounters are extraordinarily malevolent, and the magic they practice tends to require truly awful material components and blood sacrifice.
- A Song of Ice and Fire seems to be playing around with this trope. While it is hard to separate good from evil in the setting, magic seems to be decidedly unpleasant, carries a big cost, and usually results in someone dying.
- In Christopher Marlowe's Doctor Faustus, as in the Bible and certain other medieval works, magic is only possible through a Deal with the Devil or other supernatural beings, often malicious.
- More or less everything ever written by Jack Chick.
- In the Sword of Truth series, magic is divided into two basic sides, additive and subtractive. Although additive seems possible of anything, subtractive basically seems to do only one thing: erase stuff from existence. It's viewed for most of the series as being kind of evil.
- Caiaphas Cain has relatively few serious prejudices, but reflecting the general attitude of the Warhammer40000 universe, he and other protagonists treat all magic or psychic phenomena as a fearful thing.
- While Prospero only uses his magic for good in The Tempest, he nonetheless drowns his books of magic for this reason at the end of the play.
- Warhammer and Warhammer40000 are the ur-examples of this trope, where any and all use of magic has hideous risks and relatively few advantages. In the latter, even being near the psychic backlash of sorcerous workings makes ordinary, virtuous people feel sick.
- In Call of Cthulhu, learning and using Cthulhu Mythos magic causes the user to lose Sanity points and eventually go insane. Most people using such magic are Mythos cultists who are both crazy and evil.
- Dungeons & Dragons:
- Adventure X2 Castle Amber, based on Clark Ashton Smith's Averoigne stories (see above).
- Dark Sun (World of Athas) setting. The overuse of magic caused Athas to become a desert planet, and a significant fraction of magic users are Defilers, whose magic use drains the life out of plants and animals within a certain radius. As a result, most people in the setting consider magic use evil per se.
- Dragon Age has shades of this, with magical talent inevitably endangering the would-be-mage and linked to the realm of generally-malicious demons.
- Arcane magic in the Warcraft Universe is not itself strictly evil, but it can have very bad effects on the human mind and is almost universally addictive. The various forms of elves, all the product of magical mutation, are all magic addicts- though the Night elves claim not to be, their Moon Wells are clearly magical fountains- and this can lead to some very, very bad results. Furthermore, the more powerful a mage is, the more they are tempted to try their hand at Fel magic, a corruptive magical force which is almost universally evil and leads the would-be-warlock to attempt contracts with malicious demons.
- Vagrant Story describes magic as an unnatural act only possible by using The Dark, and dooms the user to an incomplete death.