Created By: TheWanderer on January 26, 2012 Last Edited By: TheWanderer on February 1, 2012

Magic Is Foreign

In fiction magic almost always comes from a foreign culture, different species, or some other outsider

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We all know that Speculative Fiction loves to play with magic. Does it exist, (and can you tell the difference between what is magical and what isn't) is it only superstition, how does it work and what kinds of cool things can it do?

Regardless of all that, however, a common theme running through much of fantasy is that Magic Is Foreign: that it comes either from some other country or culture that is suitably mysterious and mystical to the protagonists, or that weird hermit, or that mysterious wanderer that passes through town every few years. After all, it's not often that the Farm Boy wakes up, says hi to his neighbor, then watches the neighbor summon some rain for the crops while thinking that nothing out of the ordinary is going on.

The trope probably comes from the idea of magic as being "Other" so it must either stem from some suitably far off place or someone out of the mainstream who is already trained in it. Otherwise, it wouldn't just be edge of the map marked with Here There Be Dragons.


Anime and Manga
  • In the Fullmetal Alchemist manga, the homeland of the protagonists makes liberal use of Alchemy, but it's a form that is secretly controlled by the Big Bad and seems to take the source of its power from him. The land of Xing, from the distant East, knows a truer form of Alchemy, and thus can do all sorts of things that shock Alchemists from Amestris.

  • Luke from Star Wars was pretty clueless about The Force until that Ben Kenobi hermit started teaching him and took him away from his world. When he needs further training, he must journey to a remote world of Dagobah to find Yoda.

  • In A Song of Ice and Fire, magic is extremely rare, almost impossible to find in Westeros, the continent where most of the characters are from. The few people in Westeros who practice magic are either granted power by a foreign religion, or the few remaining Children of the Forest, whose existence is only hinted at through most of the series. On the other continent it's much more common even before the birth of Dany's dragons, and of course the destroyed kingdom of Valyria had the greatest mastery of magic.
  • In Lord of the Rings, magic is generally seen as mostly coming from the elves or the wizards like Gandalf, who are actually more like powerful spirits or demigods given human form. For their part the elves are totally bemused by this, since magic is so much a part of who they are that they're not even sure what people mean when they ask the elves about magic.
  • Earthsea is something of an aversion: magic (or at least low level magic) really can be common enough to be rather unremarkable, at least in certain parts of the world.
Community Feedback Replies: 11
  • January 26, 2012
    Web Comics
    • In Codename Hunter magic in England was sealed away in the middle ages, after the seal is broken RSCI turns to the newly discovered Magocracy of Astoria.
  • January 26, 2012
    While I think that there is a valid trope here, I think you're overstating its frequency. Some works use it to help emphasize the mystical, strange nature of magic, but a lot of works don't use that trope (off the top of my brain, there's The Enchanted Forest Chronicles, pretty much any Dungeons And Dragons/Pathfinder settings and webcomics based off of those (Order Of The Stick, Irregular Webcomic, etc.), the King Arthur mythos, Codex Alera, etc.).

    Also, aversions are generally not listed on tropes.
  • January 26, 2012
    We had ykttw, though it sunk. Exotic Equals Magical. May as well salvage it.
  • January 26, 2012
    Add Magical Native American as a subtrope as well.
  • January 29, 2012
    Language Of Magic sometimes overlaps with this.
  • January 30, 2012
    Literary examples:
    • The Last Rune series has a parallel world to Earth where magic exists. By a strange coincidence, the two Earth protagonists both learn magic, and different kinds, no less. Later subverted when it's revealed that magic came from the two worlds coming too close to each other, and having important relics move from one world to the other.
    • Heralds Of Valdemar: Valdemar used to have magic long ago, but a barrier was set up to discourage them. The two Herald Mage protagonists both had to leave to find a suitable magic tutor.
  • January 30, 2012
    Can also lead to Fantastic Racism against mages, extrapolating on the "otherness" of magic and its practitioners.
  • January 30, 2012
    Is this different from Ethnic Magician?
  • January 31, 2012
    What was the name of the series written by David Eddings that wasn't the Belgariad/Mallorean? In that one, the heroes have to learn a foreign language the hard way, so they can think and understand in that language and use magic.
  • February 1, 2012
  • February 1, 2012
    The Elenium/Tamuli series was it. The second series reveals that while she had the power to teach people languages in a flash, it had to be done the long way to think in the language.