Many of our favourite narratives feature outsiders. They might be alone by virtue of the burden of prophecy, come from the wrong side of the tracks, or simply don’t adhere to behaviour and interests their society expects of them, we see these tropes pop up all over the place. After all, following an outsider protagonist immediately creates conflict!

In this episode, we want to focus on one particular source of isolating and othering characters: aberrant magic. When it comes to fantasy, authors love to create intricate magic systems and then… break them! They may give a character magic and power beyond what is ‘normal’ for that world, or magic may be considered aberrant in any form.

What we mean by aberrant in this context is: ‘departing from an accepted standard’ or ‘diverging from the normal type’.

Why is this trope so popular? How does it manifest in our favourite fantasy stories? 

Luckily, we have Melissa Caruso with us for this discussion – someone who is no stranger to protagonists with aberrant magic!

Texts and authors mentioned in this episode include:

  • Uprooted by Naomi Novik
  • The Worldmaker Trilogy by Lucy Hounsom
  • X-Men
  • Ever After High
  • My Little Pony
  • The Witches Trilogy by Terry Pratchett
  • The Fifth Season by NK Jemisin
  • Red Queen series by Victoria Aveyard
  • Circe by Madeline Miller
  • Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer by Robert Lewis May
  • The Matrix
  • Star Wars
  • Equal Rites by Terry Pratchett
  • The Wheel of Time by Robert Jordan
  • The Hulk
  • Superman
  • Sword of Truth by Terry Goodkind
  • Alan Garner
  • Anne McCaffrey
  • Captain Marvel
  • Parable of the Sower by Octavia Butler
  • Mystery Men
  • Nimona by Noelle Stevenson
  • Frozen
  • The Dark Crystal
  • The Arthurian Legends
  • Maleficent
  • Wicked by Gregory Maguire
  • Deadpool
  • The Dragonlance Chronicles by Margaret Weis and Tracy Hickman

Melissa Caruso

Melissa Caruso is a fantasy author of books of magic, murder, machinations, and mayhem. Her complete Swords and Fire trilogy consists of THE TETHERED MAGE (Orbit, 2017), THE DEFIANT HEIR (Orbit, 2018), and THE UNBOUND EMPIRE (2019). Her new trilogy, Rooks and Ruin, begins with THE OBSIDIAN TOWER (Orbit, 2020) and will continue in 2021 and 2022. Melissa’s debut, THE TETHERED MAGE, was shortlisted for a Gemmell Morningstar Award.

Melissa is a fantasy writer, tea drinker, larper, mom, and all-around geek. Despite being born on the summer solstice and going to school in an old mansion with a secret door, she has yet to develop any known superpowers. She lives in Massachusetts with her video game designer husband and two superlative daughters, and has been known to do battle in ballgowns.