I'm looking for fantasy stories in which magic is literally, physically dangerous to humans.

The thread title is pretty clear, so naturally I’ll have to complicate things or people will suspect I’m an imposter.

  1. I’m looking for tales in which magic is by its very nature dangerous for humans to use or even be around. Not necessarily lethal, mind you, but certainy contraindicated, the way that, oh, licking paint laced with radium is contraindicated.

a) Literature only please. I stipulate that in full knowledge that, if the thread gets any legs, people will start talking about comic books, movies, and television shortly, but this way I get get my bitching out of the way now.

ɣ) No stories in which magic isn’t real. That is, if there’s nothing truly supernatural going on but the process of faking it is dangerous.

iv) Anyone who mentions Lovecraft will be stabbed, shot, suffocated, beaten, strangled, decapitated, and then sent to bed without dessert. Unless it’s a girl, because of Rhymer Rule 7.

Anybody got any suggestions?

I would suggest Lev Grossman’s The Magicians and The Magician King. I believe it meets your criterion, though perhaps not as directly as you intend. Magic is a thing that has to be used carefully, and some pretty awful things happen when it is not.

The Farseer Trilogy seems to fit the bill pretty well.

It runs afoul-ish of your Point (iv), but in Charles Stross’s Laundry-verse, too much thinking about the applied mathematics at the heart of the occult magic in that world, leads to holes being etched in the mathematician’s brain.

But that series is an explicit satire of Lovecraft (and James Bond, and any thing else he can cram in there.).

I think The Wheel Of Time from Robert Jordan could be a candidate.
Not going to spoil how and why though. I do hope you like to read because there are many pagewise not too shabby books.

:: ritually spits ::

The Curse of Chalion, sorcery is absolutely real, and most users of it die from using it. It’s incredibly important to the story, but of course because of people dying when they use magic (most of the time) you don’t have a bunch of magic users running around willy-nilly.

The Real Boy, by Anne Ursu. The use of magic, it turns out, has lasting toxic effects, sort of like radioactivity, that eventually catch up with its practitioners. It’s children’s literature, fyi.

Only if becoming a spoiled alcoholic with arthritic fingers fits the criterion.

I’d think a better fit to the OP would be more like the wearing of the One Ring where you go from Hobbit ==> Gollum over a period of years.

Mayhap. Gandalf does say that he thinks any of the great rings (which I took to mean the 3, 7, and of course 9) was dangerous to mortals. But I’m not sure that was true of all magic in Middle-Earth; it seemed a characteristic specifically of the great rings, which worked in part by connecting the wearer to the Unseen.

Hmm. I may have just contradicted myself.


summoning up murdering Gods by accident which I think is more in keeping with the OP.

There was a Paula Volsky book I’d like to reread, The Wolf of Winter, where necromancy is real but destroys the minds of its practitioners. I believe there’s a scene set in a madhouse where, as one used to do in the real world, wealthy tourists went to view the maddened necromancers.

Master of the Five Magics, by Lyndon Hardy.

Thaumaturgy (sympathetic magic) is not especially dangerous.

Alchemy involves exposure to volatile chemicals and is likely to kill you very, very eventually.

Magic (manufacture and use of magical items) might cause an explosion or something if you don’t do it just right. Also, it is controlled by tightly organized guilds that are very jealous of their knowledge and power, and will punish their own apprentices with death for misappropriating items.

Sorcery (clairvoyance and mind control) drains the non-renewable supply of life-force you were born with, and is likely to kill you very, very eventually.

Wizardry (demonology) always involves a contest of wills with the demon you summoned to control, and there’s always the possibility you might lose and end up the demon’s slave.

In the Dresden Files universe, using black magic (that is, magic done in violation of any of the Seven Laws) is sure to drive the practitioner insane eventually, if the Wardens don’t cut his head off first. It is not explained how the White Council’s all-licensed Blackstaff manages to remain sane.

I submit Jonathan Strange and Mr. Norell. The people using magic really don’t know what they’re getting into.

The Bartimaeus books also depict the flip side of the Harry Potter universe–one where Muggles are oppressed by magical people and don’t take it lying down.

I’m pretty sure it is, actually. It has something to do with the staff he wields.

Plus, there’s the thing how sufficiently powerful human magic users cause technological devices to fail when they’re around. Magic is like a form of radiation that may not harm its users, but disrupts electronics and complex machines on a regular basis.

In that sense, magic is dangerous to humans - it causes their cell phones to burn out and their cars to break down, which can be very hazardous under certain circumstances.

There’s C.S. Friedman’s Magister trilogy, where the fuel for magic is the user’s own life.

The world of Brent Weeks’s The Black Prism has magic users with a finite amount of magic before they go insane, and the insanity is pretty grotesque.

Blood mages in Barbara Hambly’s Sisters of the Raven books use their own blood. It progresses to lopping off fingers and arms eventually for every blood mage.

The grave witch heroine of Grave Witch, by Alex Craft, goes blind any time she uses her powers and it is gradually destroying her eyesight.

Those are the ones that popped right into my mind.

There’s an urban fantasy-ish series by Anne Bishop called The Others (Written in Red, Murder of Crows and *Vision in Silver *being the individual book titles so far) that has one specific form of bloodline-based magic heritage which leads a person (usually a young girl) to experience euphoric and addictive visions when they cut themselves - even accidentally. These people usually die young - either through killing themselves due to the lure of the ecstasy of cutting ever deeper, or because the power and intensity of the resulting visions (they tend to have no context for them, or ability to know where/when the vision is based) drives them insane.