Why is the Parasitic Nature of Hemalrugy so Fascinating?
Welcome to Part 11 of Why I Love the Mistborn Trilogy
By this point in the series, saying I like the metallic arts in The Mistborn Trilogy is a massive understatement.
I love watching the characters wielding Allomancy as they leap through the air in a perfect balance of magic and physics. If given a choice, I would become a Feruchemist over an Allomancer in a second; Feruchemy melds too well with my hoarding tendencies for me to pass it up.
But Hemalurgy. Well, Hemalurgy is my favorite magic of Scadrial… so long as it stays fictional.
There are lots of aspects to Hemalurgy that fascinate and revolt me. For instance, I love how it intertwines with the elemental horror in the story, not to mention the skin-crawling glimpses of body horror and physical disfigurement. While both aspects are intriguing and wonderful additions to the magic’s flavor, they are not what brings me back time and again to exalt in the creepy experience of Hemalurgy.
What fascinates me is how Hemalurgy seems to dig and worm its way into the world around it, sapping away vital energies to extend and strengthen its own existence. It is a parasite draining its host to grow and thrive.
Which, when I put it like that, isn’t too different from how I’ve insinuated myself into your mind, draining all your ideas and creativity to boost my power. The bad news, you’ll need a lot more than medication to get rid of me now. But hey, I’m not complaining, so let’s get back to Hemalurgy.
How is Hemalurgy Parasitic?
I’ve mentioned this briefly in other posts, but now I want to discuss the details.
1) Dependence on Other Systems
Hemalurgy can’t exist without the other magic systems. It functions by driving metal spikes into the body of a magically gifted individual and transferring the spike to another. This process robs the initial victim of their power and grants it to the recipient.
Without my inspiration-leeching powers and a target rich environment, my ability to craft such marvelous prose would dry up. Soon I would possess nothing more than the boring, technical writing skills of your average chemical engineer. In a similar fashion, without Allomancers or Feruchemists to steal power from, Hemalurgy is much les useful.
At first glance, Koloss and Kandra might seem a contradiction to this statement. The Lord Ruler created both breed of creatures through the use of Hemalurgy but neither have any Allomantic or Feruchemical abilities.
If the theft of Allomantic of Feruchemical ability didn’t make them, how do they exist?
Transference of basic human strengths through Hemalurgy is possible, but it leads to odd results. Even this practice relies on an additional magic system to function. Here, the underlying magic seems non-existent because it is so thoroughly buried under layers of worldbuilding.
There is an explanation, but covering it would require a deeper dive into Brandon Sanderson’s Cosmere than intended in this post.
2) Power Decays Without a Host
The second thing that strikes me as distinctly parasitic is the Law of Hemalurgical Decay. This is a hidden law of the magic system buried deep within the series, but it is very important.
When a spike pierces the initial person and becomes Hemalurgically charged, it loses a small amount of energy. Once charged, the longer a spike remains outside a body, the weaker the stored power becomes. To combat this diminishment of power, the Steel Inquisitors developed special tables so I could drive spikes straight through their victims and into the new host.
I don’t know about you, but that dependency on a host reeks of parasitism. Personally, the prospect of using spikes in such a manner seems messy and inefficient. I much prefer sneaking up on a creative storyteller and… You know what, nevermind.
3) Damage to the Host
A parasite, by definition, is an organism that lives in or on another organism and derives nutrients from its host… which applies equally well to both Hemalurgy and that uncle who just won’t leave after the holidays, but I digress.
Parasitic relationships are often harmful to the host and sometimes lead to the host’s death. Which is exactly what Hemalurgy can do to its human victims, the world of Scadrial, and even the entire Cosmere.
Due to the Law of Hemalurgical Decay, the world loses fragments of power every time someone creates a new Hemalurgical spike. This generates a net loss within the system, decreasing the potential power remaining. If the powers Hemalurgy steals are non-renewable then, given time and unlimited use of Hemalurgy, it might be possible to drain the world of magic entirely.
If that doesn’t scream “parasite,” it’s fine because I just shouted the word at the top of my lungs… Oh… looks like that upset the neighbors… I’ll be right back and we’ll discuss why this parasitic nature is so freaking cool.
… … …
Why Parasitic Magic is Awesome
Do I really need to justify this? I mean, that heading alone gave me chills.
For me, the answer comes from the perfect combination of uniqueness and horror this injects into the magic and into the world. It also creates a plethora of fascinating relationships between Hemalurgy and magical users, other magical systems, and the world itself. The nature of these parasitic relationships further strengthens the connections between the other systems and the world, which leads to a deeper, more natural feeling presence of magic than I’ve ever read before.
By making Hemalurgy so dependent upon other magic systems, Brandon gave himself an additional literary tool. Brandon was, through the use of Hemalurgy, able to reinforce and highlight the strengths of the other systems while making Hemalurgy a unique system to explore and fear. The compounding of powers, which we will discuss next time, enhances these aspects even further.
Whether or not Brandon did this intentionally, it was a brilliant move that improved my experience and deepened my love of the story and systems.
Look for Your Own Magical Relationships
Most magic systems, including many of my own, treat the magic like fossil fuels or electrical energy. I love building magic that functions as a tool characters use for good or ill, but there are so many other possibilities out there.
Hemalurgy was deeply parasitic. Why not develop a magic that embodies mutualism instead of parasitism? See what you can come up with beyond simple coexistence. Try expanding the nature of your magic systems and make them more than two parts of the same world.
Find new ways to connect them and you won’t be disappointed. At least, I won’t be when I slurp the idea from your skull and use it to become disgustingly wealthy… What are you waiting for? That system won’t build itself!
That’s All for Now
Believe it or not, we’re nearing the end of this series.
I know, I know, you’re just as sad as I am that we can’t discuss the Things I Love about The Mistborn Trilogy forever. But there are many other awesome magic systems out there I can’t wait to dive into.
So, here’s your chance!
If you have a favorite series or system, you want me to dig into like I did with Mistborn, let me know. I’ve got a couple tasty series begging to be re-read and analyzed, so you should act fast.
On the other hand, if you trust my judgment — Shame on you! You should know better by now. — you can hang around and see what comes up next, maybe even sharing this post/series with some of your friends and/or hostages.
The next and last post in this series will be about The True Strength of Compounding in the Metallic Arts, so stay tuned. We’ll talk again soon.