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The frontispiece from DS2
The perils of flying time-expired magic carpets
(Artist's impression)

No-one quite knows what magic is, except that it's a fusion between science and faith. The practical way of looking at it is this: Magic swirls about us like an invisible fog of energy which can be tapped by those gifted enough using a variety of techniques that centre around layered spelling, mumbled incantations and a channelled burst of concentrated thought from the index fingers.

The technical term for this energy was 'The variable electro-gravitational mutable subatomic force' which doesn't mean anything at all - confused scientists just gave it an important-sounding name so as not to lose face. The more usual term was: 'Wizidrical Energy', or more simply: 'The Crackle'.

The following are ten feats of magic voted by Spells magazine readers as 'Whilst not THE greatest, some of the most significant'.

They are in no particular order of importance.

1: Creation of the Quarkbeast, 1783, The Mighty Shandar.

Just one of many animals created by sorcerers in the eighteenth century when it was all the rage, the Quarkbeast was the result of a bet to create 'the oddest creature imaginable', a distinction it still holds as nothing weirder has been created since. The spell used was doubtless cast in RUNIX, and everything about the Quarkbeast is strange - from its taste for rare metals to its quantum style of reproduction.

Despite its magical heritage, fearsome appearance and borderline disgusting personal habits, many have noted that its temperament is similar to a Labrador dog, leading experts to conclude it might have been based on Towser, The Mighty Shandar's loyal pet from 1762 until 1774.

2: Bicycles staying up, 1802, Attributed to Cadet Strickland.

Scholars have been attempting for years to figure out how such a simple spell could be both crackle-efficient, pan-global and so robust, despite having been written by an unlicensed cadet who was working part-time on a magical method to create rubber tyres for handcarts.

Understanding the need for a lightweight, pedal-driven vehicle for the masses, Strickland devised the bicycle, then set about developing a spell to make it stay upright. Considered today as possibly one of the best spells ever, Strickland never did any other great spelling, nor revealed how he did this one, nor made any money from it. The spell remains open source to this day.

3: Sentience Emulation Protocols, 1732, Lucy Mandrake the Astounding

As the title suggests, these were a series of spells that made something appear alive, even if it wasn't. Up until this point, wizards could only create inanimate objects with a clumsy lifelike appearance, no more mimicking life than can a gameshow host.

Mandrake's unveiling of her ground-breaking Protocols at the 1732 World Magic Expo was with a demonstration of a shower of toads, each one of them apparently alive, but not. The 'Shower of Toads' spell is still regarded as a watershed of wizidrical knowledge and understanding - and despite its utter pointlessness, often copied.

4: The turning of York Cathedral, 1802, Hugo Muncebert

Ever since it was built, the mighty York Minster Cathedral had an embarrassing secret - it was facing the wrong direction: North-South rather than East-West. In order to bring it into alignment with all the other cathedrals, the notoriously penny-pinching Dean and Archbishop contracted local magician Hugo Muncebert to turn the Cathedral through ninety degrees 'as cheaply as possible'.

Favouring a 'slow slide' rather than a 'lift and plonk', Muncebert had a stone slab built within the area he needed to turn, and then, using a simple shifting spell and gallons of animal fat, proceeded to move the cathedral in a clockwise direction.

The feat is listed here because it remains the largest object moved by a single sorcerer, all the more remarkable as he was not a highly rated magician, and he used only peak power of 580 Shandars. But it was slow: The turn took thirty-seven weeks, not counting weekends, at a cost of 78, nine shillings and fourpence.

5: RUNIX spell language, 1102, Unknown Sorcerer.

Before RUNIX, all spells were cast by whispering the entire spell out loud, which could take weeks for a long spell, and seriously hampered large acts of magic - if you made a mistake you'd have to start again, and misspellings were common.

RUNIX was the first attempt to gather together the known basic spells into larger groups called 'Spellemes' in order to save time and increase accuracy.

By way of comparison, a standard 'Newting' in longspeak might take twenty-seven minutes; whispered in RUNIX, 1.3 seconds. RUNIX was itself superseded by ARAMAIC in 1443, the spell language - with upgrades - still used today.

6: Thames Tidal Barrage, 1947. Head Sorcerer: The All-Powerful Lionel Trask.

One of the last serious pieces of heavy engineering before the power of magic waned, the Thames Tidal Barrage was also the last official work of Lionel Trask, the greatest civil engineering wizard ever. The job required the combined efforts of twenty-six sorcerers sorcerers, hand-picked by Trask for their specific skills.

The project was budgeted at a peak draw of 1.2 MegaShandars sustained over two weeks, and over half of the sorcerers did no building at all but were engaged to divert the waters of the Thames.

Building materials were conventionally created to save power, and it was said that the sustained spelling caused children's sandpits to turn to glass within a twenty miles radius.

7: North pointing steel, 600BC, unknown, but probably Chinese.

The 'North Pointing Steel' protocol was devised in order to assist navigation at sea. Simple and effective, a needle suspended in a liquid bowl always points to the geographic North of the planet. While mind-bogglingly useful and using almost no power at all, the spell has defied all efforts to discover how it works.

As an exercise in spell-managing, a group of Sorcerers attempted to recreate the spell using modern ARAMAIC-64 spell language, and gave up defeated in six months. Interestingly, early texts from the twelfth century reveal that the spell once gave a precise Longitude and Latitude fix as well, but this was removed 'so as not to assist enemies'.

8: The Dragonpact Forcefields, 1607, Mighty Shandar (plus assorted Dragons)

Listed here also for the unusual collaboration between dragons and humans, the Dragonpact created the need for an unprecedented sixty-three humming forcefields around the designated Dragonlands, in order to keep humans out.

Despite their size (one Dragonland covered 40,000 acres), the forcefields were an immensely robust and long-lived act of enchantment. Anyone who tried to cross the field was instantly changed to something resembling the powder you get in a cup-a-soup sachet.

Research showed that the forcefield weakened molecular bonds, which led the way to the introduction of Wizidrical Defragmetisers, more commonly used today as domestic rubbish destructors.

9: Attempted Moon journey, 1931, Astonishing Hector Braun (and others)

Hurling something to the moon was first achieved in the ninth century, and moon-rock retrieval was finally accomplished after eighty-four attempts in 1622. It wasn't until 1931 that Hector Braun was engaged to see if a human could be sent to the moon and then returned safely.

Although movement of heavy objects had been completed on earth, the effect and control of magic only really works while you can still still see it. Sending a small house around the world can be done as long as there are sorcerers every forty miles or so to achieve a 'handover' before the house becomes too small to see.

Braun himself went on the first mission whereby he was hurled into a precise orbit by a group of well-trained wizards. From there, he was to travel to the moon, orbit twice and then return, controlling the capsule from within. No-one knows what went wrong, but he never broke moon orbit, and remains there to this day - the first and possibly last human eyes to gaze upon an alien landscape.

10: Cloak of invisibility - not yet discovered.

This is listed here because for over twenty-six centuries, the notion of invisibility has perplexed and frustrated sorcerers almost beyond measure. Even the most inexperienced magician will know that theoretically such a thing is easily possible - light manipulation can be achieved with a measure of success, and 'occlusion' enchantments where a person is simply not noticed have been around for years.

At least nine lifetimes have been spent on the problem without success, and the last proponent of 'The Invisibility Conjecture' was the Mighty Tyron McWallop, who proved that the reason invisibility could not be achieved was that there was a deeper, more powerful spell in place to prevent it.

Who might have done that and why, no-one is quite sure.

Page updated November 18th 2011