Created By: NoirGrimoir on April 17, 2011 Last Edited By: NoirGrimoir on May 23, 2011
Troped

Utility Magic

Magic in which Mudane Untility is the Primary Utility

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Will Launch by the End of the Week!


And when you're done with the basement you can clean my room.

In many works, magic is something to blast things with and generally make stuff explode.

But not in this universe. In this universe, Mundane Utility isn't a secondary effect of all those awesome spells, but the primary one. The magic essentially has to do with things on the more mundane scale of the Inverse Law of Utility and Lethality, like Cleaning Magic, or Gardening Magic, or Paper-Filing Magic. Why modify that fireball spell to cook your hotdog, when you can just have a spell that does exactly that in the first place, and to your perfect specifications?

This can get as crazy as worlds where everything is done with a spell, from cooking to transportation to brushing your teeth. Another manifestation of this trope is where everyday things or tasks seem to be imbued with magic. It might be so subtly done that it leaves one wondering Maybe Magic, Maybe Mundane, especially in a Low Fantasy or Magic Realism work.

Either way, this kind of magic is somewhat prone to the What Kind of Lame Power Is Heart, Anyway?? question, especially in works where the more ordinary (less ordinary?) way we view magic is also used. It happens pretty often though that this kind of magic can turn out to be Lethal Harmless Powers, when the user is pushed into a corner, implying that Heart Is an Awesome Power. If the ability is a personal power rather than a general spell the user might be recruited to the Hero's group for some particular task, or the character will improvise the uses of their power to match the situation using cleverness.

It should be noted that in worlds where there is some kind of Equivalent Exchange for performing magic, this kind of power appears much less often because the mundane nature of it can be performed without magic, and often times a mage, witch or wizard would rather just wash those dishes by hand then pay out the cost, whatever it might be.

Compare Mundane Utility and Martial Arts and Crafts, for the martial arts version. If the magic is incorporated into or used in conjunction with some kind of mechanical aspect, it might be Magitek.

Examples:

Literature
  • In the Circle of Magic series, the main characters have 'Ambient magic' which is magic from everyday things, including thread magic, metal working magic, gardening magic and carpentry magic.
  • Robin McKinley loves this trope.
    • In Rose Daughter, the main heroine has magic with growing roses, which themselves seem to be magic in some way.
    • In Chalice, the main heroine has magic with honey.
    • In Sunshine there is a girl whose magic ability is to that when she pours coffee, it's always hot.
  • Averted in Discworld with the witches: they use magic as little as possible, even for chores, preferring to use trickery and/or other people to do it. It shows how far Granny's gone when she magics the wheels of a cart, requiring a Bright Slap from Nanny. Played straight with the wizards, who indulge in Mundane Utility with it as well.
  • Robert A. Heinlein's short story "Magic Inc." has magic being used on a regular basis for mundane purposes, such as construction work.
  • In the Harry Potter books, wizards have roughly the same standards of living as muggles did in the 50's (radio but no TV or internet). Except they use magic for everything beyond medieval technology.
  • The entire Magical Land of Xanth runs off of this. And puns. Often at the same time.
  • Labyrinths of Echo by Max Frei describe mostly the highly magical region. Not only mages used to hang out where they are more powerful, but all locals use low-grade magic for everything and has a very vague idea of living without telepathic communication and kitchen spells. Away from Heart Of The World it's not easy. So a lady from the capitol who can't afford servants will not live in a remote province simply because she "used to have fat never spluttering from the pan and to crack nuts by poking them with a finger".
  • In Sherwood Smith's Inda series, the protagonists' culture primarily uses magic for waste-disposal, Fantasy Contraception, and similarly mundane tasks.
  • This is how magic is used in the Lord Darcy books. It many cases, magical devices will take the place of some sort of mundane technology in our world, e.g. the magical preservation chest that acts like a refrigerator.

Film
  • In the Film version of Practical Magic, Sally Owens can be seen using a minor spell to make a spoon stir her coffee.
  • Most of the magic seen in Miyazaki's Howl's Moving Castle is used to keep the house together and moving. There is a magic war raging on, but most of it happens off screen.
  • Disney movies (The Sword in the Stone comes to mind).
    • Disney's MaryPoppins. In the "Spoonful of Sugar" segment Mary and the children snap their fingers to clean up a room.
    • In Enchanted I think there is a scene where some lady magically convinces the bugs in her apartment to help her clean.
    • The picture for the trope page is from Fantasia, and feature's Mickey as The Wizard's apprentice, using magic to do his chores. We're not really sure what the original intent of the spell is (is it an actual 'cleaning' spell or does it just make objects sentient?) so it might also be Mundane Utility. Ends pretty disastrously, either way.
    • The Movie The Sorcerer's Apprentice, which is loosely based on the Fantasia example, and also contains a mops-gone-wild scene.
  • Cast a Deadly Spell. Everyone can use magic, usually for completely normal activities.

Western Animation
  • In My Little Pony: Friendship Is Magic, Rarity's magic is mostly useful for things like sewing, and Twilight Sparkle, although she can do more impressive magic, mostly uses hers for things like turning pages and writing. In fact, it's implied that most unicorn magic works for things like this.

Web Comic
  • Magic World from the webcomic City of Reality is full of this. It looks just like modern-day Earth, in fact, they just use magic instead of electricity. So the beautician uses magic to make your hair color change, or they use magic to make cars float an inch off the ground to drive around, and so on.
  • El Goonish Shive has a lot of utility magic. Such as cosmetic shapeshifting.

Tabletop RPG
  • GURPS Technomancer. Magic is used for mass market consumer products, such as electronics.
  • Dungeons & Dragons. Cantrips are the lowest level of mage spells, useful for lighting a candle, cleaning items or sorting out a group of objects.
    • Dungeons & Dragons, even aside of cantrips, had this from the beginning, with spells like Read Languages, Magic Mouth and Tenser's Floating Disc. Later adding spells such as Unseen Servant and Quimby's Enchanting Gourmet (Unseen Servant improved so that it cooks on its own).

Community Feedback Replies: 37
  • April 17, 2011
    skzip887
    • In the Film version of Practical Magic, Sally Owens can be seen using a minor spell to make a spoon stir her coffee.
    • Most of the magic seen in the Anime version Howells Movin Castle is used to keep the house together and moving. There is a magic war raging on, but most of it happens off screen.
  • April 18, 2011
    AnonymousCat
    In My Little Pony Friendship Is Magic, Rarity's magic is mostly useful for things like sewing, and Twilight Sparkle, although she can do more impressive magic, mostly uses hers for things like turning pages and writing. In fact, it's implied that most unicorn magic works for things like this.
  • April 18, 2011
    Speedball
    Magic World from the webcomic City Of Reality is full of this. It looks just like modern-day Earth, in fact, they just use magic instead of electricity. So the beautician uses magic to make your hair color change, or they use magic to make cars float an inch off the ground to drive around, and so on.
  • April 18, 2011
    SonofRojBlake
    Discworld has this in spades. Pretty much everything in the world is magic, at least in the early books. A Polaroid camera is "explained" as being a magic box with a little man inside who paints pictures very fast. And then when the protagonist peeks inside... there's a little man who paints pictures very fast. Wizards use magic to light their cigarettes. Magic is (almost) everywhere you'd expect technology, from weapons of war to household gadgets - except magical things have a tendency to go wrong in humourous ways.

  • April 18, 2011
    Chabal2
    • Averted in Discworld with the witches: they use magic as little as possible, even for chores, preferring to use trickery and/or other people to do it. It shows how far Granny's gone when she magics the wheels of a cart, requiring a Bright Slap from Nanny. Played straight with the wizards, who indulge in Mundane Utility with it as well.
    • Disney movies (The Sword In The Stone comes to mind).
  • April 18, 2011
    Arivne
    Film
    • Disney's Mary Poppins. In the "Spoonful of Sugar" segment Mary and the children snap their fingers to clean up a room.
    • Cast A Deadly Spell. Everyone can use magic, usually for completely normal activities.

    Literature
    • Robert Heinlein's short story "Magic Inc." has magic being used on a regular basis for mundane purposes, such as construction work.

    Tabletop RPG
    • GURPS Technomancer. Magic is used for mass market consumer products, such as electronics.
    • Dungeons And Dragons. Cantrips are the lowest level of mage spells, useful for lighting a candle, cleaning items or sorting out a group of objects.
  • April 18, 2011
    Bisected8
    I'm pretty sure the wizards explicitly avoid using too much magic because of both Equivalent Exchange and the fact that wizards are already Supernaturally Delicious And Nutritious enough without slinging spells all over the place.

    • In the Harry Potter books, wizards have roughly the same standards of living as muggles did in the 50's (radio but no TV or internet). Except they use magic for everything beyond medieval technology.
  • April 18, 2011
    dalek955
    Subtrope: some forms of Magitek.
  • April 18, 2011
    jaytee
    [1]

    This was the first thing that came to mind for page image.
  • April 18, 2011
    NoirGrimoir
    Ha! Definitely a good one, I think.

    Heh. The other Caption option I thought of was "Because magic mops complain less than women." But of course you guys are free to make other suggestions.
  • April 19, 2011
    dalek955
    Possible page quote:
    544. I will not cast Gate to bind an infernal creature of power to my bidding and make him mow the lawn.
  • April 19, 2011
    NoirGrimoir
    Funny, but I think that one might be a little too close to Mundane Utility.
  • April 19, 2011
    Bisected8
    I'd have though this was already a subtrope of Mundane Utility?
  • April 19, 2011
    neoYTPism
    The caption is kind of funny, but going with Rule Of Cautious Editing Judgement I would suggest changing it to something more politically correct.
  • April 19, 2011
    jaytee
    I hadn't realized it, but Noir and Bisected might be right. How is this not Mundane Utility? (Speaking of which, that is a terrible name for that trope).
  • April 19, 2011
    NoirGrimoir
    Mundane utility is when something awesome is used to do something mundane. Like for magic it would be like if you used a blizzard spell to make snowcones. This is you just have a spell that just makes snowcones. It's not mundane utility because that's it's regular utility. If you somehow managed to kill someone with it, it would be a matter of Lethal Harmless Powers because it's usual function is relatively harmless.

    @ And I can see what you mean with the caption, I'll change it. Though I'm a chick and I just thought of it as a good joke.
  • April 21, 2011
    NetMonster
    I'm thinking Bewitched, the series.
  • April 21, 2011
    neoYTPism
    If we are going to be mentioning Disney movies, then Beauty And The Beast (Disney version, I would link to that directly but my keyboard wont let me type backslashes) and and Enchanted are examples more clearly worth noting.
  • April 21, 2011
    NoirGrimoir
    ^ How do you mean? Can you give a little more explanation?
  • April 21, 2011
    neoYTPism
    The dishes themselves in Beauty And The Beast are sentient creatures (which is magic) and act as servants for the beast. In Enchanted I think there is a scene where some lady magically convinces the bugs in her apartment to help her clean.
  • April 21, 2011
    NoirGrimoir
    Hmm, in Beauty and the beast the people int he castle are under the effects of a curse, so that wasn't the original purpose of the spell. Though I wouldn't exactly call it mundane utility, I don't think...

    I'll add the enchanted example though.
  • April 22, 2011
    neoYTPism
    Yeah, 3 Disney-related examples are more than enough.
  • April 25, 2011
    TBeholder
    Is it limited to housekeeping or any effects that were intended for a mundane purpose, as opposed to being converted to Mundane Utility? If latter, maybe Utility Magic?

    • Dungeons And Dragons, even aside of cantrips, had this from the beginning, with spells like Read Languages, Magic Mouth and Tenser's Floating Disc. Later adding spells such as Unseen Servant and Quimby's Enchanting Gourmet (Unseen Servant improved so that it cooks on its own).
  • April 25, 2011
    originalhobbit
  • April 25, 2011
    NoirGrimoir
    ^^ I would say as long as it's suitably menial. Like I'm not sure if if I'd say being able to magically learn something is this trope. Though to be perfectly honest I couldn't say way. Any thoughts, anyone?
  • April 26, 2011
    BraveHoratio
    • The entire Magical Land of Xanth runs off of this. And puns. Often at the same time.

    I would say the Enchanted Forest Chronicles by Patrica C. Wrede, but I think that's actually Mundane Utility.
  • April 29, 2011
    NoirGrimoir
    Which do you guys like better, Domestic Magic or Utility Magic? I'm liking Utility Magic, actually.
  • May 3, 2011
    NoirGrimoir
    Bumping.
  • May 5, 2011
    TBeholder
    • Labyrinths of Echo by Max Frei describe mostly the highly magical region. Not only mages used to hang out where they are more powerful, but all locals use low-grade magic for everything and has a very vague idea of living without telepathic communication and kitchen spells. Away from Heart Of The World it's not easy. So a lady from the capitol who can't afford servants will not live in a remote province simply because she "used to have fat never spluttering from the pan and to crack nuts by poking them with a finger".
  • May 15, 2011
    TBeholder
  • May 16, 2011
    Discar
    A line to add to the description: "If people find dangerous uses for these anyway, its Lethal Harmless Powers."
  • May 16, 2011
    Micah
    • In Sherwood Smith's Inda series, the protagonists' culture primarily uses magic for waste-disposal, Fantasy Contraception, and similarly mundane tasks.
  • May 16, 2011
    foxley
    This is how magic is used in the Lord Darcy books. It many cases, magical devices will take the place of some sort of mundane technology in our world, e.g. the magical preservation chest that acts like a refrigerator.
  • May 16, 2011
    NoirGrimoir
    ^^^ This turning into Lethal Harmless Powers is mentioned already.
  • May 22, 2011
    TBeholder
  • May 22, 2011
    Rolf
    Yeah this has been a viable trope for a while now. :P
  • May 23, 2011
    jaytee
    ^^ and ^ Agreed. Launch.

    Although I don't know why it's showing five hats at the bottom and only two at the top.
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