The Magic of “Camp Ferguson”

No, for once, this title isn’t actually a play on words. Well, it sort of is. But I’m not talking about story-wise or writing magic. I wanted to discuss the literal interpretation of magic in the “Camp Ferguson” universe that I’ve constructed, and my ongoing struggles with just how exactly to portray it.

As most of you who have read my posts before already know, my novel “Camp Ferguson” is first and foremost based off of the Harry Potter series, as sort a response, parody, and reinterpretation of the whole teenage wizard genre. Obviously, the magic itself plays a big role in the story, and is the primary means for my protagonists to dig their way out of the various sticky situations they find themselves in.

But if you look out there in fiction, there’s so many different interpretations of what magic, and wizards, should look like. Harry Potter gives us the very traditional kind: wands as tools to cast the spells, in addition to spells which are series of words spoken aloud in another, more arcane language. This various wildly from other forms of magic, such as that in the Earthsea series by Ursula LeGuin or the Bartimaeus Trilogy by Jonathan Stroud. In those books, all a magic-user must do is know the proper, secret, and hidden name to something in order to control it and reshape reality, perhaps along with a few incantations. Different still are the magics based on runic symbols we see in much of Norse mythology, the mandalas of Middle Eastern and Asian cultures, and finally the elemental-based forms of magic seen in the Avatar shows. All of these have their own place and purpose, so it’s just a question of picking the right kind of magic that makes sense in the context of your story.

I don’t traditionally like the whole idea of wizards using wands to sling spells around: it just seems like a cheap replacement for guns or other weapons. Also, notice how in the early Harry Potter stories, a lot of attention was paid to elaborate, difficult incantations to cast the spells that had to be pronounced a very specific way or they could backfire tremendously. As the series got further on, however, this became less and less of a focus, until the average wizard battle was nothing more than a bunch of guys on opposite sides of a room shooting magic lasers at each other. Lame.

However, I did decide to have the wizards of “Camp Ferguson” use wands, but for a different purpose. A wand isn’t just a tool that helps to cast spells: it’s also the very center of a wizard’s concentration. In fact, if wizards try to cast spells without a wand or staff to focus their power, that power can quickly get out of control and threaten to cause a lot of damage. Furthermore, instead of the stereotypical image of wands as long pieces of wood, wands in the “Camp Ferguson” universe can be any kind of item, as long as it is properly prepared by its user (involving carving runic symbols in a special way onto it). Anything from a tree branch, to a pencil, or even a monkey wrench (and yes, that is a thing for one of my characters) will do. However, once created, a wand becomes perfectly in tune with its user, and each one is unique, so much so that if a wizard’s first wand is lost or destroyed, any that might come after it just won’t have the same power or precision. This makes destruction or theft of wands one of the highest and most despicable crimes among wizards. Also, only immensely powerful wizards can even attempt to utilize magic without a wand or staff or other focusing tool, and it is still viewed as incredibly volatile and dangerous.

On the subject of spoken or written spells, I’ve gone back and forth many times when working on “Camp Ferguson”. On one hand, the idea of creating specific incantations for each different spell seems time-consuming, tedious, and something that creates a complexity barrier for the wizards in my story. On the other hand, magic without a spell is basically just like telekinesis or telepathy or any other superpower you see in superhero fiction. It seems far too easy to let wizards just have to point and think for their spells to work, and kind of takes away from the specialness and mysticism of it all. This is something I’m still very much on the fence about.

I also decided to borrow heavily from the Avatar universe in that magic in the “Camp Ferguson” books is centered on a few core spells that anyone can do, but most of the more powerful magics are derived from the elements: earth, water, wind, and fire. Each wizard has a specific affinity for one, and only one, of those elements, with earth being the most common, followed by water, then fire, and wind being the most rare. I liked this idea because it allows the magic to further showcase and develop each individual character and accent whatever their personality traits might be (for example, one of my characters, who is a rich, egotistical, and elitist hothead, wields destructive fire magic with great proficiency).

I’m a bit wary of borrowing too much from Avatar, especially considering that I have plans to introduce a character much like the Avatar, who can control all the elements, in future installments, but I very much enjoy the core concept as I’ve explained it. In addition, there are some people in the “Camp Ferguson” universe who cannot use magic themselves, but who are sensitive enough to its presence that they are able to construct mechanical devices that can harness magical power. Magic, in my view, is just another constant force like gravity: you don’t have to see it to know that it’s there.

As I’ve said, recently I’ve been trying to come up with ways to better showcase magic in my story, and I was drawn to the visual effects of the upcoming Marvel film “Doctor Strange”. In the movie, sorcerer Stephen Strange uses his spells to create constructs of light and energy, most often sigils and mandala-like patterns, to forge weapons and shields for himself when in battle.

I very much like this depiction because it adds an amazing visual element to the use of magic that’s quite a bit more creative than just whipping a fireball out of thin air or controlling water. Knowing the right patterns and symbols could even be a substitute for the word-based incantations I was talking about earlier. I’m also a big fan of the Magic: the Gathering card game and its associated story: in this (and I’ll spare you all the details), there’s a team of dimension-hopping wizards called the Gatewatch, with five members who each specialize in a different form of magic. Those forms have been shown in card form to be associated with certain glyphs in the more recent stories, something I think that could be interesting when combined with elemental magic. Maybe each element has a specific rune associated with it that is the key to controlling it?

In the end, there are so many possible options that it’s difficult to keep track of them all, and I’m pulled in a lot of different directions. I don’t want to just rip off of existing ideas about magic, but at the same time, I think incorporating elements from some things that are already out there might be the best way to go. I’d be interested to hear other people’s thoughts on this. Maybe there’s even some depictions of magic out there that I have yet to discover.

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