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Literature / Magic, Inc.

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"Magic, Inc." is a 1940 Mundane Fantastic novella by Robert A. Heinlein. It is notable for being the Trope Maker for Magitek.

The premise: Archie Fraser's construction business was thriving, and magic was just a mundane part of everyday operations. Trouble brews when mobsters try to shake him down for protection money. After cleaning up the mess they made after his refusal, Fraser runs into a suspiciously similar shakedown from the much more "legitimate" and powerful Magic, Inc. that has suddenly gained foothold in town. As he and other businessmen try to hold out, his magician friends try to figure out the truth behind the corporation.

Provides Examples Of:

  • Bait-and-Switch: The protagonists are shocked when members of their business association suggested they try bribing state legislators to stop a new bill that would allow Magic, Inc. to have a monopoly on providing magicians and witches. The association's funds can't hope to match Magic's in a bidding war over bribes.
  • Blue-and-Orange Morality: The salamander who helped in the destruction of Archie's business cannot be yelled at or punished as the other fantastical beings can. It has no sense that what it did was wrong, just that the person who asked it to do so provided something entertaining that it was inclined to do. Archie offers it a special fire place in his home to gain its favor and encourage it to do what he wants.
  • Blue-Collar Warlock: Quite a few major characters and many minor ones are this, providing services ranging from mass-produced construction goods and clothing to fortune-telling.
  • Cold Iron: Used to neutralize magic. Iron plates are used to test for magically-produced coins and the only materials in Fraser's warehouse left intact by the elementals are those made from iron.
  • Corrupt Politician: There is an extensive discussion of politics and the corruption that runs them when the protagonists try the legal route to ousting the titular company. The politics are so corrupt, they have to resort to fighting magic with magic.
  • Devil, but No God: Hell is absolutely a real place, with legions of demons, and Satan as its ruler. Yet any notion of religion is curiously muted—it is mentioned that you can't magically levitate over a church ("consecrated ground" apparently acts as Anti-Magic, so your flying carpet will immediately crash); but on the other hand, one character is Jewish (while other characters are implied not to be), so there are still the same theological differences you'd expect to find in 1940s America. A state legislator is described as introducing a bill to outlaw magic, complete with quoting from Exodus ("Thou shalt not suffer a witch to live!")—this is treated as being about the equivalent of some backwoods state senator introducing a bill declaring pi to be exactly equal to three.
  • Elemental Embodiment: The narrator's business is destroyed by earth, water, and fire elementals, and a witch deals with them to bring it back. Heinlein uses Paracelsus's description of the four elemental creatures: Gnomes (earth), Salamanders (fire), Undines (water), and Sylphs (wind).
    • Our Gnomes Are Weirder: The Earth Elementals are represented by gnomes. Granny Jennings summons their king who is about four feet high with a powerful build (upper arms as thick as Archie's thighs). His description is more suggestive of dwarves than anything else except they are hairless.
    • Fiery Salamander: One is used to vandalize Archie's business. However, its not malicious but playful ball of fire six inches in diameter with no sense that it was being malicious.
    • Undines: It's more of a slime creature than a beautiful woman. Archie describes its tracks in his destroyed business as if a slug the size of a "Crosley car" (a 1940s compact car) had passed by.
    • Wind: Sylphs are mentioned but none appear in the story.
  • Ethnic Magician: Dr. Royce Worthington, the witch smeller.
  • Flying Broomstick: When the group set off for Hell, they do so flying on broomsticks. Archie comments how irked he is that common depictions do it incorrectly; the bristles of the broom should face up and forward.
  • Gorgeous Garment Generation: Jedson is seen working with a young witch whose specialty is creating unique garments out of thin air. Unfortunately, she's been having some problems and produces dresses that are copies of existing designs on one try, and several hundred left shoes on another.
  • Hot Witch: Granny Jennings was introduced as I Was Quite a Looker. However, magic makes many things possible and we do get to experience her full hotness later on in the book.
  • I Know Your True Name: The reason the protagonists storm Hell is they don't know Ditworth's true name and so can't summon and/or compel him.
  • Instant Mass: Just Add Water!: Jenson's new product idea involves shrunken items that regain their full size when they come in contact with water. With an umbrella contained in a pen, you'll never get caught in the rain again!
  • I Was Quite a Looker: Amanda "Granny" Todd Jennings.
  • The Legions of Hell: The group demands the right to inspect Satan's legions looking for the demon who runs Magic, Inc.
  • The Mafia: The story opens with an unnamed Sicilian in an over-tailored suit approaching Archie at his business and telling him it would be a Shame If Bad Luck occurred to his business. That could well happen if he didn't use magicians approved by the Sicilian's organization.
  • Magical Counterfeiting: A practical joker at the Chamber of Commerce attempts to pay a fine using a magically-produced coin, it vanishes after hitting Cold Iron.
  • Magical Society: An attempt is made to create a non-profit association that would test and license magicians. It turns out to be a diabolical (literally) plot to take over control of all magic use in the U.S.
  • Magic Carpet: Archie and Joe hail a flying carpet taxi (complete with meter) during the story.
  • MegaCorp: The titular Magic, Inc. The heroes find out that it is a literal evil corporation when they discover that the founder and CEO is a high ranking demon from Hell.
  • Missing Reflection: The protagonists realize Ditworth is a demon when one of them notices him not casting a reflection in a mirror.
  • The Mole: One of the Demons of Hell is an undercover Secret Service agent.
  • Oracular Head: Dr. Worthington carries the Shrunken Head of his grandfather who gives protection and advice.
  • Satan: The heroes reach Hell and its king, whom custom demands that he let them review The Legions of Hell to find their enemy.
  • Shame If Something Happened: The Sicilian talks about how some magicians are unlucky and it would be a shame if a Salamander was set loose in Archie's shop due to some sloppy magic.
  • Shrunken Head: See Oracular Head above.
  • Suddenly Ethnicity: Fraser didn't expect Doctor Worthington (who had an Oxford accent when he first spoke with him on the phone) to be a large black man. Heinlein was very fond of doing this to challenge people's prejudices back in the day.
  • Supernatural Sensitivity: Dr Worthington is a witch smeller, who detects and analyzes the magic forces that trashed Archie's business.
  • 10,000 Years: Ditworth is sentenced to ten thousand thousandnote  years of imprisonment by Satan for being defeated with white magic. Fraser notes that it's like the demonic equivalent of six months in prison.
  • To Hell and Back: The heroes journey into hell to find the person behind Magic, Inc.
  • Undercover Cop Reveal: In hell they find a federal agent posing as a demon, who helps them deal with Ditworth
  • Utility Magic: Magic is being used on a regular basis for mundane purposes, such as construction work.
  • Voodoo Doll: Joe questions the Sicilian using a doll he made to inflict pain until he talks. For example, when the Sicilian refuses to answer a question, Joe twists the poppet's leg causing the gangster pain until he answers.
  • Wizarding School: Jack Bodie, licensed magician 1st class, went to Harvard for his bachelor's degree in magic and then to Chicago for a postgraduate degree. It seems most universities in the U.S. have wizarding Faculties of Arts and Magic at the least.
  • Your Mind Makes It Real: Although there's no hint of "Maybe Magic, Maybe Mundane" in the setting—magic clearly works, just as clearly and unequivocally as a telephone or one of Archie's dump trucks—the use of the voodoo doll is explained as being entirely a matter of "the power of suggestion". You could make someone feel pain with one, or even terrify them into having a heart attack, but presumably you couldn't actually do something like decapitate them that way.