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Disturbing Body Horror

Delivered Courtesy of Hemalurgy

Artwork by Emanuele Desiati
“Courtesy of Crafty Games LLC, based on the Mistborn novels by Brandon Sanderson, copyright © 2006, 2007, 2008, 2011 by Dragonsteel Entertainment, LLC and used with the express permission of Dragonsteel Entertainment, LLC.”

Welcome to Part 8 of Why I Love Mistborn

Today’s talk about one of my favorite aspects of my favorite Mistborn Magic System.

Okay, okay, okay. I know that’s what I say every time I start one of these posts, but today is about Hemalurgy, and the horrible price it demands of its wielders.

You see, every magic has a price. Every. Single. One. The price of some systems manifests subtly, carries low stakes, or appears only from specific angles, but the price is still there.

In some systems, the price is an investment of energy from the user with each spell as seen in The Dresden Files while others require uncommon components and knowledge necessary for potions in Harry Potter. As the creator of the magic, don’t feel you have to let the users off easy, either. Maybe you want the magic to drive your characters into madness like in The Wheel of Time, or perhaps you want the use of magic to draw violent and deadly creatures towards your user as in Divinity Original Sin II.

Some aspects of magic, such as passive effects, magical environments, and magical creatures, seem to have no cost attached, but it’s still there. In those cases, the price manifest in less concrete ways such as altered societal expectations, higher difficulty of survival, or even just the need for extra physical effort to get by. Be as subtle and devious as you want and thrill in the aftermath.

Whatever you decide, the price is there, and the price is important.

So what is the price of Hemalurgy and Why do I love it so much?

Hemalurgy Requires Physical Mutilation

Body Horror of Hemalurgy

Artwork by Jasper Sandner.
Find more of his work here

Yes, Hemalurgy requires specific materials to complete the transfer of powers, and yes, collecting the powers of others often requires killing them. But what creeps me out the most and tickles my sadistic funny-bone is what it requires you to do to yourself.

Just killing another person isn’t enough. You must then drive the spike into your own flesh, or eyes, and leave it there.

You’re left with permanent body piercings in some vital and sensitive parts of your body. This wouldn’t be too big a deal, except the wound won’t fully heal and the pain never fades.

Altogether, it’s a terrifying and awesome price of power. I still don’t wholly understand why I love it so much, but I’ll explain as best I can.

It Makes Me Feel Things as a Reader

I’ve discussed the horror aspects of Hemalurgy before, and this is a large part of where it comes from. Everything from the physical description of the Steel Inquisitors right down to the background details in Marsh’s perspective weirds me out. It makes my skin crawl while enticing me to lap up every detail.

In an already distinct and bleak world, Hemalurgy creates a vivid experience that lodges in my brain as true as any iron spike.

The Addition of Body Horror

That uncomfortable, tingling sensation that made you cringe while reading the last paragraph and imagining a spike piercing flesh and bone as it’s driven into a skull… That right there is called “body horror,” a specific sub-genre of horror that relies on visually or psychologically disturbing violations of the human body. With that laid bare, there is obviously a lot of body horror connected with Hemalurgy. Which is something refreshingly abnormal to see associated with a magic system.

So often in fiction, we make power users superhuman in all the ways we want. They’re better, faster, stronger, and inevitably good looking. Hemalurgy acknowledges this common trope, twists it on its head, turns it inside out, and shakes it for good measure.

It Changes the Nature of Magic in the World

Allomancy and Feruchemy are both elegant systems with beautiful imagery and sensations attached to them. Their juxtaposition next to Hemalurgy does more than just demonstrate the presence of something dark in the world. It highlights the dark and violent aspects of the other two systems as well.

Just as a quick aside: Hemalurgy is a perfect example of ways you can change the nature of your magic system to better match an elemental genre within your story.

Honestly, it’s just creepy and I love it. If you want more reasons, we should talk in person. For now, if you’re desperate for a way to learn from or apply Hemalurgy, give this a try.

Integrate a New/Odd Elemental Genre into Your Magic System

Including body horror in the Hemalurgy system is a perfect example. This doesn’t have to be the route you go, but I would love to see more systems like it.

So, see if you can make your magic physically distressing to the reader.

Find ways the magic can twist, warp, or grow the body in unnatural ways. Mix and match body pieces into a disturbing amalgamation like the Mistwraith. At the very least, consider making it a cost for magic done poorly such as a shapeshifter stuck between forms.

Remember, what is disturbing to some, might be a mark of power or beauty to others. Wielded properly, this can lead to some terrific worldbuilding in addition to marvelous magic.

So make your magic disturbing. Ever since reading The Mistborn Trilogy, I can’t seem to stop putting horror into my magic and I wouldn’t have it any other way.

That’s All for Now

Thanks for stopping by. I enjoy our little chats, and I hope you didn’t find it all too creepy… just a little creepy.

Honestly, you don’t have to build body horror into your magic system if you don’t want to. Whatever little twist you add to make your system unique, I want to hear about it. You know me. I’m always down to talk about magic systems. So reach out to me in the comments below, on Facebook, or twitter and tell me about your current system.

So keep a guy informed, yeah?

Oh, and pay attention, because we’ve still got several more posts in this series before I’m done… maybe lots more… I need to go read The Mistborn Trilogy again, but we’ll talk soon.

Rowenson, out.

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