Myths & Magic: The Complete Fantasy Reference, introduction by Terry Brooks

I went to high school in a small town with what was probably the second largest Wicca/occult shop per capital in the world (the largest being Salem, Mass.). Is it any wonder that I dabbled in that sort of thing as a teen?

Just to be clear, I never got into Wicca. I got into the awkward, romanticised version of Wicca that we see in movies like The Craft. I was angsty, and it was my way of rebelling.

Given the proximity of so many magic shops, I of course did a bit of shopping and picked up books – most of which I’ve since discarded because… yikes. But during my recent move, I re-stumbled on Myths & Magic as I was unpacking and decided to give it a good second look.

When I first read it, I didn’t really get what it was supposed to be. I just saw that it wasn’t teaching me how to make love potions or make my enemies sprout warts, so I shoved it in a corner. But re-reading it, I have no idea what it was doing in a magic shop, because that’s not what it is at all.

Myths & Magic is a superficial reference for writing fantasy. It covers everything from a brief explanation of how medieval European society worked, how different cultures around the world have understood and classified magic, and of various mythical animals. There are also checklists of things to think about regarding how a writer’s magic system works, and how the society is organized given the existence of magic.

The information really is quite superficial, and frequently sacrifices nuance for simplicity and clarity. But it’s not supposed to be a history textbook, it’s supposed to be an aid in idea generation.

I really quite enjoy this book, and I would definitely recommend it for anyone who writes fantasy. It’s not an instruction manual, but it’s great for thinking through world-building with magic.

My only complaint is that the book lacks some amount of focus. Each chapter has a different author, each clearly tackling a different problem, and it shows. I think that the addition of a “checklist” sort of chapter at the end of things to think about would have been an improvement.

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