The Magic Series Essay - Critical Essays

Larry Niven


The Magic Goes Away appeared in several incarnations. The mana ideas and Warlock appeared in several short stories before the novel came out. The novel was first published as an illustrated trade book in 1978 and was a trade best-seller of that year. The heavily illustrated mass-market publication appeared the year after. In 1986, DC Comics published a graphic novel adaptation of the novel by Paul Kupperberg and Jan Duursema.

At first appearance, The Magic Goes Away seems to be part of the “sword and sorcery” subgenre, similar to Robert E. Howard’s Conan books. Niven, however, shows a sense of humor concerning this type of fiction. This is seen in particular in the short story “Not Long Before the End,” which is reprinted in The Magic May Return. The stupid swordsman who faces Warlock in that story is named Belhap Sattlestone Wirdless ag Miracloat roo Cononson, but his friends call him Hap. The last part of the name, even with a different spelling from Howard’s Conan character, is an allusion to this type of fiction, and the goofy name is one indication of Niven’s attitude toward this type of fiction.

Another difference is that Niven applies the mechanisms of hard science fiction to his fantasy. His magic has a logical explanation—it is fueled by mana in the same way that cars are fueled by gasoline. The reason magic no longer exists is that the mana ran out. When magic goes away, all the magical creatures as well as the gods disappear, or, as Warlock puts it “they’ve gone mythical.” Susan Miesel, in...

(The entire section is 644 words.)