Wednesday, March 13, 2013

Talismans, Amulets, and Other Enchanted Things

I have a very nerdy confession to make: I own a necklace of the sword Tetsusaiga from the manga/anime series InuYasha. And I wear it (usually under my shirt, so as not to freak people out-- I’m not ashamed of the nerdy aspect, but when people see a 2-inch sword hanging from your neck, they tend to get the wrong idea). It’s not exactly in line with my usual style, but it does something for me that most of my other jewelry doesn’t by reminding me of the series and its strong, brave characters-- which makes me feel brave as well. I often wear the Tetsusaiga when I have a class presentation, an important meeting, a tough workout, or a dentist appointment. Not exactly challenges that would make InuYasha and Kagome break a sweat, but we can’t all be heroes!

I think of the Tetsusaiga as my talisman. Even though I know it’s not magic, it has an effect on my mood that is undeniable. In fantasy, there are countless examples of necklaces, charms, rings, crowns, books, stones, statuettes, staffs, weapons, and other inanimate objects that are imbued with magic, designed to protect and empower or curse and destroy. Often, the magic of these objects is less effective than the character’s belief in and relationship to them. Think of the sword of Godric Gryffindor, which can appear to any true Gryffindor: it doesn’t create courage out of nothing, it lends strength to courage that is already there. Or, to return to InuYasha, consider Tenseiga, the sword of InuYasha’s bloodthirsty half-brother, Sesshomaru. It brings back the recently dead, a quality that over time helps Sesshomaru reveal his more sympathetic side. 

These objects serve many purposes for authors. They can be used to represent a character’s struggle, to exemplify a flaw or virtue, or to inspire a character who might otherwise chicken out. The entire Lord of the Rings trilogy-- arguably the greatest work of fantasy in existence-- is centered around the One Ring and its dark influence. It tempts Galadriel, it twists Boromir’s mind, it turned Gollum into a nightmarish creature, and it nearly destroys Frodo. It breeds treachery, envy, hatred, and madness, but it often does so by bringing forth the deep secrets and vices in a person’s heart. 

There are a thousand others to be named: Horcruxes, the light of Eärendil, the Hero’s Crown, the various Zanpakutō, the sköldpadda, the Abhorsen’s bells, the Holy Grail-- and all of them serve to develop character in some way. Enchanted objects are very useful for fantasy writers as long as we don’t lose sight of their purpose. They’re unimportant in and of themselves. It’s how our characters relate to, use, and are changed by them that matters.
Got a favorite enchanted object? See another use for them in writing? Share your thoughts!

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