Utility Magic YKTTW Discussion

Utility Magic
Magic in which Mudane Untility is the Primary Utility
(permanent link) added: 2011-04-17 23:50:45 sponsor: NoirGrimoir (last reply: 2011-05-23 14:54:50)

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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.


  • 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.

  • 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).

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