Allomancy is the Perfect Blend of Physics and Imagination
Welcome to Part 2 of Why I Love the Mistborn Trilogy
Ignore my nonsensical ranting, I am clearly NOT under duress, nor am I typing this post with an iron spike prickling the back of my neck. Even if such things were true, you’re here to read about the awesomeness of Mistborn, not help me with my daily woes.
Whining aside, The Mistborn Trilogy is unique in many ways, only partially due to the presence of not one or two, but three distinct magic systems.
Allomancy: gifted individuals can ingest and “burn” certain metals and their alloys, using them as fuel for specific magical effects.
Feruchemy: certain, specially-gifted users can use specific metals as metaphysical storage for certain attributes (strength, eyesight, or even memory) to be drawn on at will
Hemalurgy: through a messy and disturbing combination of metal and blood, Hemalurgy steals the powers and attributes of one person and gifts them to another.
All of the systems are surprisingly easy to understand while still being incredibly flexible, and each possesses unique strengths, weaknesses, and quirks. Each of the three brings something vital to the world and the story in addition to their inherent awesomeness. Of the three, Allomancy has always done the best job of capturing my attention and imagination.
Because of the Newtonian Nature of Allomancy
No, I’m not saying Allomancy is a figgy cookie. I’m talking about one Sir Isaac Newton and his laws of motion. More specifically, Newton’s third law
For every action, there is an equal and opposite reaction
In the real world, this means when you hit your head against a wall, the wall hits back. Which explains why I get so many headaches… now if I could just get the walls to stop defending themselves…
Just as Newton’s 3rd Law of Motion is a fundamental principle in the study of real-world physics, it is equally fundamental in the magic of Allomancy. In fact, it is the single most important concept for the entire system and comes into play multiple times, throughout the series.
What grabbed my attention faster than anything else was the blatant and logical applications of Newton’s third law to the powers themselves. Two of the basic metals an Alloymancer or Mistborn can burn are iron and steel. Burning steel allows a Mistborn to push against metal in their surroundings while iron grants the ability to pull on them. This way a Mistborn can push coins and lethal speeds or pull a weapon across the room and into a waiting hand.
But the coolest part is still to come.
If a Mistborn pushes or pulls against a loose piece of metal lighter than themselves, the metal object moves. On the other hand, a metal object with more mass or better support (such as a building or a coin on the ground) then the Mistborn is sent flying.
That is what I love about it. Sanderson took the basic concept of telekinesis and expanded it using a well-known law of physics.
Sanderson Also Applied the Concept of “Equal and Opposite” Metaphorically as Well as Literally
Take a look at the chart of metals on the Coppermind. For each of the quadrants (mental, physical, etc) he added the dualities of “pushing” and “pulling” metals as well as “internal” and “external” metals. This pattern even appears on a much larger scale that I can’t discuss without providing major spoilers.
This repeated use of Newton’s 3rd law appealed strongly to the engineering side of my brain. It gave me a familiar concept to latch onto as I learned more about the world and the magic. In a couple of cases, it even let me extrapolate from what I had seen and predicted potential uses of Allomancy before I saw them in the book. While this doesn’t mean I’m smart or clever, it sure made me feel that way.
By taking this well known scientific principle and working it into his system, Sanderson managed to capture both sides of my brain at the same time. As Mistborn clashed with one another in a cinematic flurry of coins and daggers, my analytical side was also treated to an intriguing balance of mass, velocity and force calculations.
I could drone on and on. Let’s just keep it simple and say “I like Allomancy a lot.” Not so much my wife worries about our marriage, but still… a lot.
Now See if You Can Do the Same with Your Magic
Take a closer look at the magic system you have right now and identify its fundamental aspects.
Now, explore one of those aspects and see if you can find a well-known law, theory, pattern, or rule-of-thumb relating to it.
Bam! You now have a core tenant for your magic. Run with it! Do what Sanderson did; explore the logical and metaphorical ramifications you can impose upon your magic, the users, and the world around it. Whatever you come up with, it’s sure to be unique and awesome.
Good luck in your endeavors. I’ve got some Inquisitors to defeat and some figgy cookies to devour. We’ll talk again soon.