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Literature / The Lay of Paul Twister

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Once Upon a Time, magic used to exist in the world. At least, that's what everyone believed back then. Today, we all know better; there's no such thing as magic.

That's what we've all heard, at least. The truth is, there used to be magic in our world. Another world existed alongside ours, that was filled with magic, and it had free communion with our own. And then, for whatever reason, at some point over a thousand years ago, the link was severed and the magical world drifted apart from our own, and we've been stuck with nothing but science ever since.

Only one guy knows about all this, much to his chagrin. You see, he's from Earth. Just an average college kid from Seattle, when one day, for some utterly inexplicable reason, he found himself instantly transported to the magical world. With no idea how he got there, no way to get back, none of the resources or basic technological infrastructure he needs to have a comfortable life in a Standard Fantasy Setting, and precious little in the way of relevant skills, he turns to the only two assets he has available: his wits, and the Twist, a mysterious ability that allows him to break magic by touch.

Taking on the name of "Paul Twister," he finds his power makes him highly in demand as a thief because he can break magical wards protecting valuable items, and over time he builds up quite a bit of notoriety. This is where our story begins.

The Lay of Paul Twister is a Web novel by an author who goes by the somewhat Punny Name of "Anthony Peers." It starts with Paul taking what looks like an unusually simple job: break a magic seal on an item that the prospective employer already has in his possession. But then things go wrong when he finds out the "item" is a person, and he finds himself slowly being drawn into the middle of a tangle of plots and schemes involving wizards, angels, dragons, and the truth about the two worlds...

It can be found at The Tales of Paul Twister, as the first of a series with which is still in progress. The second book is The Fate of Paul Twister. Please read the story before reading the trope list below, especially the spoiler-tagged stuff!

The Lay of Paul Twister provides examples of the following tropes:

  • Above the Influence: When Sarah's curse turns her into a rather affectionate half-nymph, her father is worried that she might throw herself at Paul.
    I took a step back. "Surely you don't think that I would—"
    "I think that she would."
    He nodded. "We understand each other."
    "Well, I think I'll be a bit too busy for any such distractions. And besides, it would be like taking advantage of a drunken girl."
    He looked just a bit impressed when I said that. "You're a better man than many, if you see that as a thing to avoid."
  • Aerith and Bob: Actually used as a (subtle) plot point: Most of the human characters have standard English names like Paul, Sarah, or Patrick, but then there's Archmagus Ken'tu Kel, head of the Circle of Magi. Gerald says that several things about him are suspicious, including his name which "sounds like something out of an ancient saga." Turns out that's because he spent a couple decades on Earth, where time flows at a different pace.
  • Aliens Speaking English: Handwaved. The people on the magical world are humans (mostly; other races are mentioned but we don't see very much of them) but they have a completely different language. Paul has no trouble communicating with them, though. Through some mechanism that's never quite explained, he perceives everything he hears as English, and his words likewise come across intelligibly to whoever's listening. He does note that whatever's doing the translating doesn't seem to care about mouth movement, and watching anyone speak makes him feel like he's in a bad kung fu movie.
    • Blessed with Suck: It also means that, as he has no idea what the spoken language is actually like, he's completely unable to learn the written language based on it, and so is left illiterate.
  • All-Natural Gem Polish / Treasure Is Bigger in Fiction: Averted in both cases; the story deals with gems and gold in very realistic and physically correct ways.
  • Anti-Villain: Archmagus Ken'Tu Kel turns out to be a type III. Paul doesn't actually think there's anything wrong with his "evil plan" except for the way he's going about it and his clear and remorseless willingness to "break a few eggs" along the way.
    • The dragons, on the other hand, really didn't like the idea and manipulated Paul into taking him down in order to preserve the status quo.
  • Arc Words: Paul as a "Gray Knight."
  • Automaton Horses: Strongly averted. Horses are mammals that get worn out and have to be cared for properly.
  • Awesomeness by Analysis: Invoked: Aylwyn believes that Paul has this.
    Where there is a chance for you to accomplish something, you study and plan and come up with a way more often than not.
  • Better than a Bare Bulb: Paul really enjoys hanging lampshades on things. Aylwyn, Patrick and various wizards get in a few as well.
  • Big Bad: It turns out that the Archmagus Ken'tu Kel was the one causing most of the trouble for Paul and Aylwyn since the book started.
    • Downplayed somewhat: when Paul finds out that his "evil plan" is to reunite the worlds, Paul doesn't really think it's such a bad thing. It's his callous attitude towards the suffering and chaos that would surely ensue when people find out what's happened that make Paul realize he has to find a way to stop it.
  • Book Ends: The story begins with Paul climbing a small Wizards's Tower, entering through the top, and rescuing a magical woman held captive within. It ends with Paul deposited atop a very big Wizards's Tower, entering through the top, and rescuing a woman who has lost her magic, held captive within.
  • …But He Sounds Handsome: Paul loves this trope. Under an alias, he composed a folk song for bards to sing about his exploits (though it's mostly a bunch of cultural references for anyone else from Earth trapped here to pick up on), and when Gerald disparages the research he's heard is going on at Stark Academy, Paul steps up and explains how he's met the guy in charge (one of Paul's alter-egos) and he's actually pretty awesome.
  • Car Fu: Used in the climax to break the shield spell that Ken'tu Kel has erected around the ritual.
  • Cat Girl: The first time Paul meets Sarah, she's just fallen victim to a magical curse that turns her into one.
  • Catchphrase: Paul has a couple.
    No way that will end well.
  • Chekhov's Gun:
    • Back home, Paul played baseball.
    • When Paul was taken from Earth, he was in his car at the time.
  • The Chessmaster: Fiona Khal sees herself as one, though she has an interesting take on it:
    "And now you want me to work for you, against [the dragon who had hired Paul to steal from her]?" I asked, trying not to look too bemused. "It's a strange game, where Black and White both move the same pawn!"
    She laughed. "I've always lamented the lack of mercenaries on the chessboard. It would bring whole new levels of strategy to the game!"
  • Chivalrous Pervert: Paul is stuck at a physical age of 19, and frequently finds it difficult (and distracting) to deal with his strong attraction towards any pretty girl that happens to catch his eye. But he's also quite aware of the problems that acting on these feelings would cause for him, and he manages to consistently keep it all under control. (Mostly.)
  • Cool Horse: Much to Paul's chagrin, right after he narrates up a big rant about how silly and unrealistic the Automaton Horses trope is, Aylwyn introduces him to her celestial horse, Wyntaf, who he admits looks like she could probably hold her own against a car. Although even Wyntaf has limits.
  • Cool Old Guy: Gerald Wolf is an older wizard who Paul befriended as part of his backstory. According to Paul, he's the closest he's seen to actually looking like the wizard stereotype... just a lot heavier. "Imagine if they'd cast Santa Claus in the role of Gandalf." He's primarily a healer, and when Paul shared the principles of Germ Theory with him, he went on to use that knowledge to help a lot of people.
  • Deadpan Snarker: Paul, very much so. And just about everyone else, to varying degrees.
  • Did I Just Say That Out Loud?: Paul, right after admitting that he finds Aylwyn attractive.
  • Distressed Damsel: Subverted very strongly in the opening. When Paul finds a woman being held prisoner in a dungeon, he tries to help her by setting her free, only to find out that she's actually a powerful paladin who let herself get captured in order to find out her captor's plans. She claims she could have escaped at any time, if the time had been right.
  • Deus ex Machina: When Paul is right about to get caught by a guard, an angelic warrior whose life he had saved at the beginning of the story shows up to conveniently provide a distraction, just long enough for him to get away. Paul is a bit freaked out by this, since it seems to have come out of nowhere and required knowledge that she shouldn't have had, and he figures that whatever he's caught up in is probably about to get worse.
    Things like that just didn't happen to me, suddenly being bailed out by an unexpected ally, just seconds after being caught flat-footed. And she was a Celestial, to boot. Seriously, all that was missing was the ''machina''!
  • Expecting Someone Taller: Paul's stuck at 19, physically. This throws potential employers for a loop; they tend to be expecting somebody older.
  • Expy: Inverted. Word of God says that Paul was originally conceived as "essentially the Anti-Harry Dresden."
  • Fantasy Gun Control: Paul refuses to do any technological research in this area. Also, it turns out that the invention of gunpowder was what caused the dragons to separate this world from Earth in the first place, and they're actively keeping the knowledge of it suppressed. Ryell claims it's for the sake of peace; Paul believes that the real reason is that technological weapons would give mankind an easy way to slay dragons.
  • Fish out of Temporal Water / Giving Radio to the Romans: Lampshaded and discussed by Paul in his narration; he's painfully aware of just how enormous the gap between a medieval fantasy setting and modern technology is:
    I have no illusions of raising this place to a 21st century standard of living, or even a 20th century one. I'm no Connecticut Yankee, just a Seattle Geek who happens to know a few things about the way things work. ... For example, I know that spinning a magnet around inside a coil of copper wire produces an electric current. But how strong of a magnet? How big does it have to be, and how fast does it have to spin, before you get anything useful? Does the size of the coil of wire relative to the magnet matter? Does the number of loops in the coil matter? We're rediscovering all these things from first principles.
  • Genius Bruiser: Aylwyn is easily the strongest, toughest character in the story physically, but she also exhibits Roy-grade intelligence and deductive reasoning skills. She's a bit surprised by Paul's repeated surprise when she manages to figure out something that seems obvious to her, such as that Paul is from another world or that the driver's seat in a car is special and only Paul would be able to sit there.
  • Half-Human Hybrids: Sarah is an interesting twist on this trope: she's half-human. (What the other half is changes from day to day.)
  • I Have Many Names:
    • Paul goes by several aliases in different parts of the kingdom, where he has apparently established actual identities for each of them. The names he picks tend to be the secret identities of superheroes, such as Clark Kent and Peter Parker, in the hopes of stealthily alerting other people from "back home" that they're not alone and trying to get them to seek him out. (It actually worked at one point, though it's implied that the person seeking him out has been around a long time, and so he's not the first person from Earth to be stranded there.) At one point in the narration, he remarks that "Paul's not my real name," which apparently he doesn't tell anyone, because real names have power and he's mostly in the business of screwing over powerful magic-users.
    • Lampshaded when Aylwyn starts to catch on to all of this.
      "How many names do you have?"
      I shrugged. "Enough for my purposes."
  • I Need a Freaking Drink: Subverted. Patrick thinks Paul is invoking this trope when he says, at a particularly low point, that he needs some alcohol. What he actually wants is pure ethanol to run his car on—the only way to cover 200 miles fast enough to stop the Big Bad.
  • MacGyvering: At one point, Paul manages to discourage pursuit from some guards just long enough to buy himself some time, by improvising a bomb using some fine flour, a magical device (that his touch doesn't break because plot-related reasons) to throw a bunch of it up into the air, and some flints to strike sparks. This is based on how actual grain elevator explosions happen in Real Life.
  • Mage Tower: A lot of powerful wizards have their own Wizards' Tower, to the point where it's considered a bit surprising when April doesn't have one. There's also a tower at Stark Academy, which functions as a research center. Exactly what purpose the towers serve is never quite explained.
  • The Magic Goes Away: Part of the backstory. The magical world was separated from Earth, long enough ago that Earth has become mythical to them.
  • Magitek: The Magi use magic mirrors as essentially a magical Skype system. Fiona Khal even has a travel-sized one that she carries around with her.
  • Names to Run Away from Really Fast: Subverted. Paul thinks of this trope the first time he hears about the wizard Gerald Wolf, but apparently it's just a name; he actually turns out to be one of the genuinely nicest guys around.
  • Nice Job Fixing It, Villain: If Ken'tu Kel hadn't stolen Paul's power, Paul would have never been able to escape from his tower. If he hadn't kidnapped Syrixia and forced her to prophecy for him, right in front of Paul, Paul wouldn't have learned that he needed to get Aylwyn and allies who were not warriors, and sacrifice his car, in order to confront and defeat Ken'tu Kel.
  • No Man of Woman Born: Paul tries to dissuade Ken'tu Kel from relying on a prophecy that makes him sound like he's invincible, even using the story of Macbeth as an example of how it could go wrong.
  • Not Growing Up Sucks: Paul was 19 when he got pulled into the fantasy world he's been trapped in ever since. Ten years later, he's still 19, physically, and rather resentful about it. This is technically closer to Immortality Begins at Twenty in terms of physical age, but Paul's attitude towards it is purely this trope, mostly because he's too young for many people to take seriously, (not that he doesn't take advantage of that at times,) and because his teen-level hormones are hard to keep under control sometimes.
  • Out with a Bang: Paul freaks out a little when he wakes up and finds a nymph has found her way into his tent in the middle of the night, because they apparently have a propensity for doing this.
    Paul (narrating): There are worse ways to go, I suppose, but I've still got a bunch of living left to do, thank you very much!
  • Our Angels Are Different: Paul first meets Aylwyn in the first chapter. She looks like a standard Winged Humanoid, but she's able to break iron chains, summon up a flaming sword out of nowhere, and teleport away seemingly at will. Her body shines, how brightly seems to depend on how much she's using her power. She's later described as being a few inches above six feet and incredibly beautiful. She's noticeably less snarky than most of the other characters, and she has some unspecified healing powers. She works as a Celestial Paladin, which is apparently more of a cop or agent of some sort than the D&D idea of paladin-as-holy-knight, though she does have a Celestial horse. (Who does not have Pegasus-wings, much to Paul's surprise.) Paul thinks she's the most beautiful woman she's ever met, though he tries hard to keep his lust for her from showing, because he knows they really aren't very compatible, personality-wise, what with her being a paladin and him being a magic-breaking thief-for-hire.
  • Our Dragons Are Different: The great golden dragon Ryell serves as a distant, yet immensely powerful antagonist throughout the story. Like any self-respecting fantasy dragon, she hoards gold and other valuables. She has people who act as her agents in the world, who don't quite look right. According to Ken'tu Kel, they aren't born at all, but grown like plants from a mixture of the dragon's tears and her own shed scales. She has "the power of a dragon's will," which is explicitly not magic but is able to alter reality in magic-like ways, and she's powerful enough that even the angels and the most powerful of the Circle of Magi fear her wrath.
  • Post-Modern Magik: Magical shielding spells act like Some Kind of Force Field, and can be broken if opposed by enough energy to overcome their force. When a renegade wizard has conjured up one too powerful for the team's magic to break through, Paul decides to try the kinetic energy of a two-ton automobile moving at over 60 MPH, which of course packs quite a punch!
    • He survives this by using magic designed to cushion someone in a fall from a high height, since deceleration trauma is deceleration trauma, no matter which direction it occurs along. Interestingly enough, it's Gerald who comes up with that idea, not Paul.
  • Power Nullifier: How the Twist operates: he touches magic (or it touches him), and it breaks. It's not under his conscious control, unfortunately, though he does have a magic ring that (mostly) nullifies the Twist, if he can keep it supplied with magical energy.
  • Prophecy Twist: The oracle's prophecy to Ken'tu Kel. Paul even tried to warn him that it would end badly if he took it at face value...
  • Proud to Be a Geek: Paul, very much so. It's a major theme of the story in general as well.
  • Really 700 Years Old: April apparently has a very extended lifespan. When Paul hears about her, he takes it as confirmation that she is like him, except that his aging got slowed down at a much earlier point.
  • Running Gag: Paul trying to social-engineer his way past guards by pretending to be a messenger with an important message for some important person, only to find out that the person isn't actually available.
    • Invoking a magic mirror (see Magitek, above) always seems to involve a silly rhyming couplet of the "Mirror, mirror on the wall" variety.
  • Sarcastic Confession: Paul uses these a few times to get out of questions that would make trouble for him if the other person knew the truth.
  • Sequel Hook: In the epilogue, Ryell reveals to Paul that magic was never taken from Earth; only the knowledge of how to use it, and apparently Ken'tu Kel left behind some documents that someone is going to find and study, and eventually use to cross over from Earth. A sequel called The Fate of Paul Twister continues the story.
  • She Is Not My Girlfriend: Paul says a variant of this to Ryell after she calls Sarah Paul's "lover."
  • Shout-Out: All over the place.
    • Paul's alter-egos: Peter Parker, Clark Kent, Anthony Stark (no one goes by "Tony" where he is,) Wayne Bruce (apparently "Bruce" is not a first name), Diego de la Vega, and Robin Locksley are mentioned.
    • Likewise, Patrick Hill mentions his friend April, who he believes is from the same place as Paul. When he tells Paul that her name is April O'Neil, it takes a moment for him to get the reference, because it was a bit before his time. (It's implied that she's been there a lot longer than he has, and was probably taken from Earth sometime during The '90s. It also didn't help that the translation spell screwed up the rest of the reference, saying she wanted to be rescued by "The angel Michael")
    • In one of the flashback chapters, when his power was first discovered and it accidentally injures someone with its chaotic side effects, he makes up a history for himself on the spur of the moment, based (very loosely) on a gender-swapped version of Marie from the first X-Men film. When the guy suggests that his power could be used on purpose for personal gain, he reacts fairly strongly:
      I scowled at him. "You want to turn me into some sort of rogue? To use my power to steal something?"
    • When confronted with a skeleton that turns out to be a fake, planted to distract them, Paul calls it a kandra. When Aylwyn asks what that is, Paul says it's just something out of a tale he heard once, about a creature with strange bones that is not what it looks like.
    • Multiple Star Trek references throughout the plot, including April using a TNG episode reference as a secret message.
    • April uses a second message to get across just how dangerous of an enemy they're facing: "Remember, '''our''' gate is down." Paul is quite worried when he gets the meaning behind it.
    • When Paul makes an embarrassing slip of the tongue in front of Aylwyn, he ends up doubling down on it and fast-talking her into believing what he said was perfectly reasonable. According to his narration, this technique is known as a Westen gambit.
    • When Paul asks Gerald if he'll hang on to an Artifact of Doom that he's unwittingly acquired during the course of his adventures, he thinks to himself, "Hey Galadriel, you mind hanging onto this ring of mine for a while?" Gerald doesn't want to, of course.
    • Fiona Khal brings along 12 soldiers when she tracks down and captures Paul to recruit him (a thief) to plunder the lair of a dragon. Paul remarks in the narration that the scenario has an honorable pedigree.
    • The folk song Paul composed for bards to sing about himself, titled ''The Lay of Paul Twister'', was "set to proper Geiselian anapestic tetrameter for optimum whimsicality," and includes a scene where Paul "sneaks into a dragon's keep to rescue a princess, but finds that the dragon tricked him, and she was being held in another castle entirely." Apparently the entire song is full of Trickster Archetype references that should be familiar if anyone else from Earth happened to hear it.
    • Paul first arrived on the magical world while he was just driving to the store. Suddenly he was somewhere else entirely, "And I wasn't even going 88 miles per hour!" He even takes the name Marty McFly as his first pseudonym.
    • In another flashback, Paul describes how his lack of resources and societally-useful skills left him with no way to make a living besides his work as a mercenary thief.
    • When pushing himself to the limits of his (and his horses') endurance to help a friend in trouble:
      I was completely exhausted by the time I arrived. Part of me didn't care that I felt almost dead. Part of me just wanted to find a sword, a cloak and a wheelbarrow and go attack the tower, do anything, whatever it took, to stop... whatever it was Ken'tu Kel was trying to do.
    • At one point Paul needs a fake coded message to try to get in to see somebody, and he uses a couple of lines from a Dragonlance novel.
    • In the first chapter, the reader's first solid indication that Paul is a guy from modern-day Earth Trapped in Another World (at least if the reader didn't notice the Tag Line at the top of the site) is when he quotes Darth Vader, because it makes him sound badass even though he realizes no one around here is going to get the reference.
    • Towards the end, when Aylwyn is moving in on the tower where the Big Bad is preparing his ritual from a westerly direction, Paul decides to cause a diversion from the opposite direction and "make the best dang 'clamor in the east' I could" by zooming around in his car blaring bagpipe music at maximum volume.
  • Sympathetic Magic: Something like this apparently exists. Having something that used to be a part of someone can be used to provide "a material link" to them for a magical ritual. Also, having the bones of a dead dragon in your possession can apparently be used to prepare spells that can defend against other dragons.
  • This Is Gonna Suck: Paul's reaction when, upon getting caught by an Archmage who ought to have every reason to throw him in some dungeon somewhere, she instead recruits him (with a bit of arm-twisting) for a quest to go loot a dragon's lair.
  • Title Drop: The song that Paul composed for the bards to sing about him is known as The Lay of Paul Twister.
  • Trojan Prisoner: Aylwyn allowed herself to be captured by a renegade wizard so she could learn about his plans through reverse interrogation.
  • Unobtanium: Aluminum. Being from modern-day Earth, Paul finds this amusing.
    • Chocolate is apparently rare enough that Aylwyn is shocked when Paul gets his hands on some. (This doesn't stop him from purchasing some more later on in the story, but that was in a major city, which they hadn't been to any of since their journey began.)
  • The Unreveal: In-universe example. Paul knows why Ken'tu Kel's plan failed despite the oracle's prophecy, but he refuses to tell him so as to not give him the satisfaction of knowing.
    • By the time the third book rolls around a couple years later, he's basically figured it out anyway.
  • Unwanted Rescue: When Paul rescues the woman who a renegade mage was holding in a dungeon under horrifying conditions, she turns out to be a Celestial warrior who's quite annoyed at him, claiming she got herself captured on purpose so she could find out who the mage was working for.
  • What Could Possibly Go Wrong?: Paul really should know better than to invoke this one, as he points out more than once in his narration.
  • What the Hell, Hero?: Aylwyn drops an epic one on Paul when he has Gerald forcibly summon her from wherever she was so she can help them fight the Big Bad, except that she had figured out his plan on her own and was moments away from stopping him herself!
    • Subverted: It's later revealed that her plan would not have worked, since Ken'tu Kel had demons on his side that would have been able to stop her, and the summons, rather than being the Nice Job Breaking It, Hero that she thought, may well have saved her life.
  • Year Inside, Hour Outside: It's implied that there's some time difference of this sort going on between the two worlds, which may be responsible for Paul and April's slow aging: their bodies are (somehow) still on Earth time.
  • You Know What They Say About X...: Paul uses this to social-engineer his way out of getting caught by a guard: he pretends he's there for a tryst with the local sorceress, and "you know what they say about magic and the Nighttime Arts..." The guard is predictably squicked and stops being suspicious of him; instead just wanting him to leave, exactly as planned.
  • Your Approval Fills Me with Shame: A mild version occurs with Aylwyn, when Paul compliments her for her deviousness in getting herself captured on purpose to "reverse-interrogate" a renegade wizard.
    "I do not find your approval a mark of honor," she replied dryly.