Created By: RolandNovember 27, 2009
Troped

Magic Is Evil

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Trope
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.


Examples:

Literature
  • 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.

Theater
  • 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.

Tabletop Games
  • 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 And 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.

Video Games

  • 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.
Community Feedback Replies: 18
  • November 22, 2009
    Raven Wilder
    Discworld, where use of magic is likely to open the door for creatures from the Dungeon Dimensions to invade the universe.
  • November 22, 2009
    melloncollie
    I am compelled to mention Jack Chick.
  • November 22, 2009
    Unknown Troper
    Discworld isn't Magic Is Evil, though, because while the use of it can open the door, it's still used for a variety of useful purposes in society and doesn't require any ghastly sacrifices.
  • November 22, 2009
    LickyLindsay
  • November 22, 2009
    Wyvernil
    Burn The Witch may be a result of this sort of mindset.

    I'm not sure if examples where magic is thought to be evil by the superstitious (when the truth isn't so clear-cut) count, in addition to those examples where practitioners of magic are all Always Chaotic Evil or followers of The Dark Side (with the one exception being one of the protagonists).
  • November 22, 2009
    Goldfritha
    The one situations where it is normal is where humans have no magic and can only use it through Deal With The Devil.

    • Christopher Marlowe's Doctor Faustus

    Note that this was widely enough believed at the time that Prospero drowned his books at the end of The Tempest.
  • November 22, 2009
    Earnest
    The default in Sorcerer Hunters. In the anime they run into a total of two non-evil sorcerers, one was decent and acted as a benevolent mayor to his town until his wife was kidnapped and the enemy sorcerer forced him to kill a policewoman to save her. Though he got the bad guy too, he only saved the wife by turning her into a cat, a state she loathed. The other was an overprotective older brother, and survived the episode by letting the hunters destroy the evil flute he used for his powers.

    Hypothetically they can be good, and the hunters do (by charter) deal with the bad ones, but even their boss is surprised that the first good sorcerer even exists.
  • November 22, 2009
    Unknown Troper
    Most magic in the horror genre in general is evil. Particularly Religious Horror, where such powers are often linked to Satan and The Legions Of Hell. Really, I've been waiting for a YKTTW like this for some time.
  • November 22, 2009
    LickyLindsay
    Is this related to that thing where magic is possible by designated races of characters but normal humans can't just learn how do it? We must already have that, right? (Oh, it's called Witch Species)

  • November 23, 2009
    Arilou
    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, carry a big cost, and usually result in someone dying.
  • November 23, 2009
    Blunderbuss
    Vagrant Story describes magic as an unnatural act only possible by using The Dark, and dooms the user to an incomplete death.
  • November 23, 2009
    Arivne
    Literature

    Tabletop RPG
    • 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 And 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.
  • November 23, 2009
    Unknown Troper
    In Warcraft universe using Arcane Magic (the type of magic mages use, as opposed to divine or nature magic used by priests and druids) will cause the user to suffer from arcane corruption, and eventually become addicted to magic. This may lead them to attempt to use Fel (demonic) magic to gain more power, which tends to lead to very bad things, as Fel is not only far more addictive, but also twists the mind and body of the user, gradually turning them more demonic and evil, usually leading them to eventually willingly join the Burning Legion in exchange for even more power.
  • November 23, 2009
    Unknown Troper
    Bump.
  • November 24, 2009
    Unknown Troper
    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.
  • November 27, 2009
    Roland
    Is this more or less ready to go?
  • November 27, 2009
    Unknown Troper
    I would say yeah. Time to launch this thing.
  • November 27, 2009
    Henker
    Just a reminder; Ur Example is the first use of the trope, not the best.

Three days must pass before this YKTTW is Launchworthy or Discardable