The Books of Magic is a comic book series set in the DC Universe's Vertigo imprint, created by Neil Gaiman. It was originally conceived as a "tour" of DC's magical universe, showing off important supervillain and superhero figures, the magical realms, laying down the basic rules of magic, and showing the history of the universe and magic in it from start to finish. The concept was introduced in a 4 issue mini-series written by Gaiman, lasting from January to April, 1991.
The books begin with four famous magicians from DC's history meeting Timothy Hunter, a poor adolescent British boy with messy, dark hair and coke-bottle glasses, who is destined to be the supreme avatar of magic of the age, on par with Merlin in the Dark Ages. They show him everything they know about magic, and at first he refuses the call but then accepts.
After the four-part series, Tim got a continuation of the title written by John Ney Rieber, focusing much more upon himself and the forces dealing with him rather than the DC Universe (this was around the same time the Vertigo line was distancing itself from stuff in the DCU). Unlike, say, Harry Potter, Tim does not immediately start taking magic lessons; instead, he wanders around, wondering what to do with his life now that it has irrevocably become more bizarre, and dealing with all sorts of hard situations.
Everyone and everything he meets wants to use Tim for their own purposes or kill him (except, obviously, Death herself), including demons, fairies, and angels. Tim's friends and family are targeted by supernatural forces beyond imagining in attempts to get Tim to agree to a Magically Binding Contract to own his soul and power. And everything gets really, really weird.
The ongoing series lasted for 75 issues (May, 1994 - August, 2000), and had three annuals and a two-issue crossover miniseries with Hellblazer. It was followed up with a five-part mini-series by Dylan Horrocks called Names of Magic (February - June, 2001), in which Tim is admitted to "The White School", in the vicinity of Gemworld, to study magic in earnest. This served as a transition to another ongoing series written by Horrocks named Hunter — The Age of Magic, which dealt with Tim's last days at the White School, and his life post-graduation. This series lasted for 25 issues (September, 2001 - September, 2003).
There have also been a few spin-off mini-series under the collective title The Books of Faerie, which focus on supporting characters like Titania, Auberon and Molly.
A fifteen-issue Darker and Edgier Alternate Continuity series by Si Spencer called The Books Of Magick: Life During Wartime (July, 2004 - December, 2005) depicted an alternate Tim Hunter — as well as alternate versions of Molly, John Constantine and Zatanna) — caught in a war between the Born (the Faeries) and the Bred (the humans).
A new series by Kat Howard was announced in March 2018 as part of the Gaiman-curated Sandman Universe imprint.
The Books of Magic provides examples of the following tropes:
- Action Girl: Iolanthe, the half-Faerie, is very much one of these. Molly, while less of a warrior, is one as well, and in Life During Wartime we get another one in Jaqueline "Jackie" Constantine, a teenage Distaff Counterpart to John Constantine.
- Adam and Eve Plot: With Cat and Dog in the final issue of Life During Wartime, when Tim takes them back to the pre-historic world, to give the world he just destroyed a new chance to start over.Tim: Think of this as paradise, and you're Adam and Eve. Multiply and be fruitful.
Cat: Did he say something?
Tim: Oh, one last thing... Don't touch the apples on these trees.
Cat: Why not?
Dog: Is it some kind of sin?
Tim: 'Course not.... they just taste of fish for some reason. Don't ask me why.
- Adaptation Dye-Job: Or Alternate Universe Dye Job, anyway; in the world of Life During Wartime Tim has black hair instead of the dark brown he ended up with in the regular continuity, Molly is a redhead and Zatanna is blonde. Constantine is the only one who looks more or less exactly like his regular-continuity counterpart.
- Alternate Universe: The concepts of alternate universes and alternate versions of people is brought up several times, most notably with Tim's "Other." Of course, Life During Wartime takes place in an alternate universe — several of them, in fact.
- Anti-Magic: In Life During Wartime, in order to hide from the Faerie Queene, Tim created a world completely without magic — any kind of magic. Which means, among other things, that there's no such things as dreams and nobody knows what religion is.
- Awesomeness Is a Force: When Timothy Hunter and Zatanna got themselves surrounded by the Cult of Cold Flame, John came to the rescue. All he did was give a wisecrack, and the cult and others pissed their pants and fled from his presence. Zatanna was confused on how he did it, John says it's his "reputation".
- Bad Future: Mister E takes Timothy to see one in which he has become a nigh-invincible evil archmage slaughtering most of the world's greatest practitioners of magic in an epic battle that will cause magic to be largely forgotten for centuries.
- Baleful Polymorph: Almost a staple of the series.
- Batman Gambit: Eventually becomes one of Tim's trademarks. Usually they work, too — most notably he pulls off an impressive one with Barbatos in the very last issue of the original ongoing series.
- Big Brother Mentor: John Constantine to Tim.
- Book-Ends: One of the last scenes in the last issue of Hunter — The Age of Magic is a callback to the very first issue of the Books of Magic mini-series, with Tim riding a skateboard and being interrupted by someone asking him if he believes in magic. It's gently parodied, as this time around Tim is so startled he falls off the skateboard and begins cursing out the person who startled him — only to see a smirking John Constantine who says: "Sorry, mate — I just couldn't resist it. Fancy a pint?"
- British Accents: Provides the trope page quote.
- BrotherSister Incest: Cat and Dog have feelings for one another, and their relationship has a definite sexual tone, though they resist taking the step to make it physical. After they discover they're not actually siblings, however...
- The Bus Came Back
- Yoyo the owl, who has not been seen since the first Books of Magic mini-series, returns as Tim's spirit guide in Names of Magic. In Hunter — The Age of Magic he's become a prominent supporting character; now infused with the spirit of Merlin, so that Merlin, through the owl, can oversee Tim's magical development.
- Also, other people from Tim's past make returns in Hunter — the Age of Magic, most notably Molly.
- The Captain: John Constantine in Life During Wartime.
- Cats Are Mean: Well, more snarky and unhelpful than actively mean. When Tim takes the shape of a cat, his created body has a mind of its own and provides an inner dialogue, basically making spiteful comments and insisting to forget everything and just go chase pigeons.
- Averted with Filthy, Molly's mangy tomcat; he's an affectionate and loyal cat. Granted, he is a cat and has the instincts of one — he briefly tries chasing Molly in Books of Faerie after she's shrunk down to the size of a flitling, but when he realizes it's her he goes back to being the affectionate pet who follows her around... on bat wings. (They both drank from a magic pool.)
- Changeling Fantasy: Tim is apparently the illegitimate son of Queen Titania and her human falconer Tamlin, raised by mortal parents. At least at first. Then Auberon says that Tim has no faerie blood and it seems he's the illegitimate son of Tamlin and Mary Hunter, and the changeling son of Titania and Tamlin is his half-brother whose fate is unknown. But it's never completely certain. A third possibility raised is that Mary Hunter was a faerie nursemaid under a glamour who smuggled Tim out of Faerie at Titania's request to hide the fact that Her Majesty was a human sorceress under a glamour and the baby, having been fathered by Tamlin, was fully human. So the only thing really certain is that Tamlin is Tim's biological father and William Hunter isn't.
- Changeling Tale: Titania's story is a variant; she was a human girl who was lured away to Faerie and later became the Queen as a result of several Batman Gambits. Not even Auberon knows that she's not a born faerie.
- The Chessmaster: The Amadan, though he's not as ahead of everyone else as he thinks he is. He's thoroughly tricked and outmaneuvered by Yarrow, whom he has regarded as meek and harmless all this time.
- Chivalrous Pervert: In Hunter — The Age of Magic, Tim certainly has this reputation around the White School; he's described as having a soft spot for Distressed Damsels.
- The Chosen One: Tim has the potential to become the most powerful magician of the modern age, a fact that results in an awful lot of people and creatures wanting to control or kill him.
- Cloning Blues: Molly's clones, created by Sir Timothy Hunter, live lives of fairly literal soulless indoctrination to become suitable pretty-pretties for Sir Timothy.
- The Comically Serious. Yo-yo, in Hunter — The Age of Magic.
- Compelling Voice: A variant with Bongsquall the troll; nobody can say "no" to him, no matter what he asks of them — but the flipside is that he can't say "no" to anyone else either. He gets around this through Loophole Abuse and Exact Words. Also Mr. Lily, though Tim eventually learns to resist it.
- Continuity Porn: The original miniseries may be the Most Triumphant Example, at least in Gaiman's bibliography. If a character hails from The DCU (circa 1991) and does any amount of magic, they will at the very least get a cameo.
- Cosmic Egg: This is how worlds are born. Tim restores the dying realm of Faerie by finding a world egg to hatch a new Faerie.
- Cowardly Lion: Yarrow the Flitling
- Crapsack World: Both the main worlds depicted in Life During Wartime. One is a war-torn hellhole where Anyone Can Die, the other is a place where dreams don't exist, and people go crazy when introduced to the concept of gods or magic.
- Cursed with Awesome: Molly grows a garden (a "real garden", as in, "tomato orchard", not "pleasure garden") while in Faerie, and Titania gets miffed about this for no good reason, so she puts an enchantment on the garden. When Molly eats one of the fruits, she gets cursed and is constantly on fire without burning. Molly is pissed, of course, but she puts the curse to good use by burning everything that stands in her way on her march to the Titania's palace.
- Darker and Edgier: Life During Wartime. While the original series is by no means light and fluffy, this is definitely darker and more violent.
- Deadpan Snarker: One of Tim's most enduring traits. There is no situation so dire, or weird, that he can't make a few choice sarcasms about it.
- Deity of Human Origin: Queen Titania was originally a human peasant girl during the Middle Ages. She is such a powerful sorceress that to all practical intents and purposes she is a Physical God and appears to be The Ageless. Titania easily outmatches most mythological gods in the modern age, as she does not depend on worship for power. The supernatural community in general simply regards her as the godlike Queen of Faerie.
- Distaff Counterpart: Jackie Constantine is the Hunter's World's teenage girl answer to John Constantine. She has much the same attitude, but not the power or experience.
- Does Not Know His Own Strength: Tim is the magical equivalent of this.
- Don't Fear the Reaper: Tim meets Death from Sandman several times; the first is at the end of all time (when the only thing left is Death), the second is when he's in the Afterlife Antechamber because his body is dying from manticore poison. He bumps into her a few other times throughout the series.
- Doom Magnet: With some notable exceptions, such as Molly and Nick, pretty much every supporting character that doesn't have their own series or place in the DCU or Vertigo universe eventually ends up dead after meeting Tim.
- Eldritch Abomination: Half of the entities Tim deals with on a regular basis.
- The Everyman: Tim
- Everyone Is Satan in Hell: In-Universe, this is Mr. E's schtick. When he takes Tim on a trip to the end of time, they meet a Tarot-style Fool who gives them a riddle;I sat with my love,
And I drank with my love,
And my love she gave me light.
I'll give any man a pint o' wine
That'll read my riddle right.
Only I don't have a pint of wine.
- An innocent would say he loves the moonlight. Someone more worldly would say he just plain loves wine, has a candleholder made out of a wine bottle, and can't give anyone any wine because he drank it all. Mr. E, who sees evil everywhere, gives an Exact Words Insane Troll Logic response;I sat in a chair made of my love's bones, drank from her skull, and saw by the light of a candle made from her fat.
- An innocent would say he loves the moonlight. Someone more worldly would say he just plain loves wine, has a candleholder made out of a wine bottle, and can't give anyone any wine because he drank it all. Mr. E, who sees evil everywhere, gives an Exact Words Insane Troll Logic response;
- Evil Chancellor: The Amadan is one in Auberon's Tale, casting new light on his appearances and many of his actions in Books of Magic.
- Evil Matriarch: Titania, Queen of Faerie and Tim's real mother. Jossed because Tim is fully human, but confirmed because Titania is human as well.
- The Fair Folk: Dealing with them is a major chapter of the original four-part story, and a major part of the series proper once it began.
- Most of the protagonists of Books of Faerie count as this, as one might well expect. Molly is the main exception, as she's human, but under a very powerful Faerie curse. Then again, at the end of Molly's Story, she is claimed by the magical gemstone Twilight as the new "Protector of the Summerland" and while she goes back to seeming like a normal human, she displays definite Fae-like powers at the end.
- Fertile Blood: The world of the fairies is slowly becoming a desert thanks to the destructive, life-consuming effects of a manticore, but the protagonist manages to kill it with the help from a unicorn, and he stumbles away, with life blooming where his blood falls.
- Fish out of Water: Happens to several people when they cross over into other worlds, but it's clearest with Iolanthe, who doesn't know much about how mortals operate when she decides to stay on Earth.
- Friendly Enemy: Tala, the Queen of Evil (from The Phantom Stranger) is portrayed as this to Zatanna.
- Future Me Scares Me: An evil future-version of Tim, apparently some sort of sorcerous overlord who likes making clones of Molly, pops up when his "servant" Barbatos points out that the past is in flux and there may not actually be a reality that leads to creating him, thus he tries to ensure that Tim will make the decisions that lead to being him. (Apparently one of the deals he made for power was erasing his own memory of the past, so he's literally got a Multiple-Choice Past). Changes to the timeline result in "Sir Timothy" becoming a homeless bum in the future, then a dragon in Hell, then Alas, Poor Villain. Tim avoids this path by royally pulling one over on Barbatos.
- Though this could also be interpreted as "Sir Timothy" always being a homeless bum, and Barbatos' plots are intended to make the possible future they are in a definite future.
- Gender Bender
- Doctor Occult turns into Rose Psychic while in Faerie (previous versions had her as his assistant, not literally his other half).
- Tim himself, in the later parts of the ongoing series, spends several issues in the form of a girl, thanks to an amulet that once belonged to his mother. Unlike many examples of the trope, he doesn't even find it remotely freaky to suddenly be of the opposite sex, just viewing it as a handy way to disguise his real identity (but then, this is hardly the first time he's changed shape, or had his shape changed for him, and most of the changes were decidedly freakier — at least this time he is still human, walks on two legs and can wear normal clothes). Since he looks like a younger version of his mother, he adopts the name "Mary". Tim even responds positively to Charles Rowland (of the Dead Boy Detectives) flirting with him as "Mary" in a Winter's Edge story.
- Girl Next Door: Molly appears as one to begin with.
- Glamour: A lot of Faeries use it.
- God Save Us from the Queen!: Who do you think?
- Happily Adopted: Tim, after he finds out that he's not William Hunter's biological son, and may not even have been the son of Mary Hunter, mopes a bit about it, but in the end decides that William and Mary raised him and took care of him, and never once called him a "changeling." William, upon confronted with Tim's parentage, admits that Mary was already pregnant when he married her, and he never knew whether Tim was biologically his or not — but he never thought it mattered one way or the other.
- Horny Devils: Leah, though she doesn't really like it.
- I Just Want to Be Normal: After being cursed by Titania, and a long time of being a Weirdness Magnet, Molly goes through periods of this. In Age of Magic, she has (largely thanks to being put on medication by her patrents) managed to convince herself that she is normal and that none of the supernatural things she experienced were real, though she eventually admits that they were.
- I Know Your True Name: To be accepted into the White School, you have to present your true name. Tim's true name turns out to be "Merlin".
- Incorruptible Pure Pureness
- In an odd variation, Tim is easily corrupted by outside forces, but something about his soul is "purely human" in a vaguely defined way.
- Every character in the setting has a Spirit Animal or inner beast that reveals things about them through Animal Stereotypes. Tim's Spirit Animal is a human. Which is as freaky as it sounds.
- Incredible Shrinking Man: Happens to Molly, as a result of falling into a magic pool.
- Infant Immortality: Averted in Life During Wartime. Any child or infant that shows up in this series will die a gruesome death.
- Language of Magic: Played with and becomes much more important in the later series than in The Books of Magic. According to Tim, magic is a language in and of itself.
- Laser-Guided Amnesia: In Life During Wartime, Tim has imposed this on himself in his created world. It doesn't last.
- Lighter and Softer: While it does have some decidedly dark undertones and its fair share of gruesome scenes, Books of Magic is on the whole one of the gentler, more lighthearted Vertigo titles of its time. This is especially noticeable when you compare it to the two comic series it was most closely related to, Sandman and Hellblazer.
- Life During Wartime, however, reverts this — see the Darker and Edgier entry above.
- Line-of-Sight Name: Tim introduces himself to the Manticore as "Jack Bone", while standing in a yard littered with bones.
- Magically Binding Contract: The focal point of nearly every other plot point, particularly in Faerie.
- Magick: Books of Magick: Life During Wartime. The alternate spelling of the word "magic" was brought about by the fact that the original Books of Magic series was being adapted as a series of Young Adult novels, and DC wanted to distance this book, with much more adult content, from that series.
- Master of Illusion: In Faerie, you can count the number of characters who aren't this on one hand.
- Merlin and Nimue: Provides the page quote from Tim's brief meeting with Merlin.
- Missing Mom: Mary Hunter died in a car accident a decade ago or so.
- The Mole: In Life During Wartime, John Constantine suspects there is one. He should know, because the mole is Constantine himself, allying himself with the Faerie Queene against the humans. Except it then turns out he was playing the Fairie Queene all along and the entire thing was a Batman Gambit orchestrated by him and Tim Hunter.
- More Teeth than the Osmond Family: The Manticore. Even in his human form, he has what looks like another set of teeth painted across his face.
- New-Age Retro Hippie: Nick "Bearclaw" is introduced as one of these in Names of Magic. Learning that magic is real doesn't really change him much.
- Obviously Evil: Mister E is set up for this in his first appearance in the four-parter, what with his suggestion they murder Tim out of pure pragmatism, and his misogynistic comments further cement this (he was literally raised to believe that women are the source of all evil).
- Omni Glot: Tim eventually develops the ability to understand, speak and even read any language. He describes himself as "a walking Babel fish".
- Pals with Jesus: Death seems rather fond of Tim. Plus there is his love/hate relationship with Queen Titania.
- Parental Neglect: After the death of his wife, the grieving William Hunter spends a lot of time watching the TV or sitting zoned out in that very car instead of being aware of his son. He gets better... And then he dies.
- Poke in the Third Eye: Volume I of the original series has a non-violent but effective version of this idea. When the Phantom Stranger takes Tim Hunter on a walk through history, they aren't, technically, time traveling — just looking at the past. Nonetheless, Tim gets a chance to talk to some of the powerful magicians they see. As one Atlantean sorcerer says, sarcastically, "No. Of course I can't see you. Or hear you either, for that matter. But you ought to be here at this time, or so my spells have said."
- Prequel in the Lost Age: Both the first Books of Faerie mini-series and Auberon's Tale qualify as this, telling of the younger days of Titania and Auberon.
- Put on a Bus: A lot of characters have large or semi-large roles in the comic for a while and then unceremoniously vanish. Some of them return, mostly for brief cameos, though in some cases like Yoyo and Molly, The Bus Came Back in sequel series. Only Tim is actually in the series from beginning to end and even he borders on being moved Out of Focus for some parts of it.
- Really Gets Around: Tim, though not until Age of Magic, when he's actually old enough.
- Reasonable Authority Figure: Auberon, especially in comparison to the vindictive and impulsive Titania. If The Fair Folk have a reputation for screwing mortals over, he's the one who stands on the opposite side. "Old Glory," the fairy market-master in the four-parter, also stands as this; he keeps a dishonest fairy shopkeeper from framing Tim for theft and renders some immediate justice.
- Seeker Archetype: Tim
- The Slow Path: Inverted from the norm, but still really slow. Mister E, who is able to fast-forward himself into the future to take a look at it, has a harder time going backwards. After traveling with Tim all the way to the end of time itself (just so he could murder Tim in private), he's stopped by Death and told he has to walk back to the past, one step at a time. Yeouch.
- Spirit Advisor: Yoyo/Merlin to Tim.
- Spotlight-Stealing Squad: Molly has traces of this; for a while she almost looked like she was usurping Tim's status as main character, before she was Put on a Bus.
- Stop Worshipping Me: After the people of Tim's created world realizes he's their creator, they begin worshipping him like a god and doing terrible things in his name. He's not amused.
- Straight Gay
- Nick. In fact, there's no hint that he's gay in his first appearance in Names of Magic, where he's simply introduced as an eccentric but kindly New-Age Retro Hippie and his sexuality isn't mentioned at all. It's not until Age of Magic he's revealed as gay.
- Also, Jackie Constantine from Life During Wartime. Which makes some amount of sense, as she's the Distaff Counterpart of John Constantine, whom we know is Bi the Way. Jackie never shows any attraction to men, though, and identifies as gay.
- Succession Crisis: Happens in Auberon's Tale, which takes place long in the past. When the old king dies, the child Auberon is named his successor, but he's not the only one with a claim to the throne.
- Take That!: The third annual featured a number of alternate realities that revolve around some version of Tim. One of them is a superheroic mash-up of the DC Universe with Vertigo. The Tim of this world is a Robin-esque character who served as the sidekick to John Constantine (in this world a Batman figure named "Hellblazer"), before changing his name and joining a Teen Titans analog called the Mystic Youth. The entire segment served as a pointed criticism of the dwindling quality of the New Teen Titans, with Tim himself mentioning that the team was supposed to see years of brilliance becoming mediocrity with a slew of less-interesting members coming aboard. The clincher is that it was illustrated by famed Titans artist Phil Jimenez.
- There Can Be Only One: Tim vs. his alternate selves.
- "This Is a Work of Fiction. All the characters in it, human and otherwise, are imaginary, excepting only certain of the fairy folk, whom it might be unwise to offend by casting doubts on their existence. Or lack thereof."
- Took a Level in Badass:
- Tim has great magic powers from the start, but he's not very good at utilizing them and is downright horrible at taking initiative or acting oh his own. So while never quite a Pinball Protagonist, he spends much of the series getting dragged around by more forceful personalities, many of whom just see his incredible potential and either fear what he could grow up to become or want to make sure he grows up to become someone they can use properly. It takes him quite a long time to grow out of this, but he gradually becomes more active and independent, develops a knack for successful Batman Gambits, and takes control of his life. By the end of the 75-issue series he's become a regular Guile Hero, and through Names of Magic and Hunter: The Age of Magic he's become formidable in his own right — this is when he stops being known for what he could become and instead is known for what he is.
- Yarrow the flitling, who goes from Lovable Coward to Cowardly Lion.
- Trash of the Titans: Molly's room, according to Yarrow.Yarrow: Can this truly be your bedchamber? Never have I seen so small a space so remarkably disarrayed!
- Trenchcoat Brigade: The original Books of Magic series is the Trope Namer.
- Walking the Earth: Much of the series.
- Weirdness Magnet: Tim. Molly, to a lesser degree.
- Well-Intentioned Extremist
- Dr. Lily, whose ultimate goal is "the restoration of Paradise," to go back to the perfect world the way it was before evil existed, and he is willing to stoop to any level to see this goal through.
- On a related note, Francis Fabien believes he has found the DNA that makes people evil, and so he sets out to spread a DNA-altering virus created with the help of an angel's feather, in order to turn humanity completely good. Needless to say, it doesn't work out like that.
- What Happened to the Mouse?
- What happened to human boy Tim was swapped for at birth? Given the history of faeries? The human boy was probably taken back to Faerie to be a plaything until Titania and/or Auberon got bored with him - and god help him, after that.
- For the longest of times, there was no hint of what had become of Yoyo after the original miniseries. However, he returns in Names of Magic, with no real explanation as to where he's been. Tim claims he just shows up from time to time.
- The Wise Prince: Prince Taik of Faerie
- Victory Through Intimidation: Demonstrated by John Constantine on a room full of magical supervillains in the original miniseries. It's a bluff, but he is John Constantine.
- Would Hit a Girl: Lampshaded by Edmund ("Ed") of Hebron and Molly in Life During Wartime:Ed: Don't think I won't kill you just because you're girls.
Molly: Great — we get the only non-sexist demon in this shithole.
- Your Cheating Heart
- Titania has had dalliances with innumerable humans and faeries and possibly Morpheus (the rumors about them are never confirmed). She assumes Auberon is being likewise unfaithful, but this is not true. In fact, some of her lovers (including one of the female ones) were actually Auberon in disguise, in order to be close to her.
- Also, Tim with Leah the succubus while Molly is his official girlfriend. Molly is especially hurt when she finds out secondhand, because she was totally honest with Tim about her flirtation with Price Taik.