In fantasy stories: "magic" vs. "magics"?

Sometimes in fantasy settings, you hear some talk about “magics” or “magicks” as opposed to what we would usually call just “magic.” Actually, I seem to recall something snarky on Buffy about this spelling/ word usage where the use of “magicks” was derided as possibly pretentious, perhaps regarding

Willow and her “pusher” when she was supposedly addicted to magic.

(Yes, I’m spoilering it, I know how you B:TVS fans can get. If one person viewing this thread is in the middle of watching the show on DVD I’m not gonna be on the wrong side of some B:TVS fan rage. :D)

So my question to you, O fantasy experts, is: what is the difference, if any? Is one as pretentious as implied by the above snark, or is there a significance to the different usage?

I’ve seen it both ways, honestly.

There is a subset of fantasy that, as part of the world-building or the plot has to acknowedge that “magic” exists as just trickery and sleight of hand, and they use the word “magic” for the fakery, and either “Magic”, “majick”, “magick”, or “magik” (those are all ones I’ve seen) to indicate that in their world-building, that stuff being referenced is the real deal in contrast.

Other times, the author is just being a little pretentious or show-offy by using a different spelling.

It also may indicate an author with either a real or imagined or hopeful connection to some traditions of Wicca or Pagan revival religions, as those groups often use the Magick spelling to refer to their practices.

No idea what the difference is between “magic” and “magick”, but in my head, I always make sure to enunciate the “k”. Usually multiple times: “Magic-k-k-k…” I figure, if they’re going to put it in there, it must be important. Also, to make it sound even more important, the “Mag-” part sounds like the “-mag-” in “fromage.”

Are you asking about magic vs magick or magic(k) vs magic(k)s?

I’ve always regarded the “k” spelling as a bit pretentious (which may or may not be appropriate to the story, depending on how pretentious the magicians are).

As for the plural, “magic” vs. “magics”, I tend to assume it’s actually referring to different forms of magic. Maybe the magician in question uses several different types–say, evocation, divination, and summoning. Those would be “magics”, but regardless of which is being performed, the magician is using magic.

Often the difference is simply that one is plural and the other singular; “what foul magic is this”, as opposed to “beware his foul magics”. Sometimes magic/magic is used like spell/spells.

I think Mercedes Lackey did it better in the Valdemar books by just calling magic tricks “mock magic”; it’s both accurate and less pretentious.

Many thanks (or should that be thancks?) guys. Trying to edit a friend’s fantasy story and I couldn’t get a handle on whether to flag the use of “magics.” In context, it came across as seeming as if she’s trying too hard to sound like a fantasy writer rather than just being one, if you get me.

Hmm, the latter really. I figured the “k” was an optional alternate spelling to make it more, y’know, otherworldly / antiquated. It’s more the use of “Magic/ks” when not in a plural sense – or when I wouldn’t usually think of it in a plural sense – that made me curious. Though perhaps the difference is, as mentioned, that some use it in place of “spell,” so naturally they’d speak of “I’m amazed by your magicks!” or as bad fantasy writers trying to sound all Tolkieny might render it, “Long have I wondered at the magicks thou hast in thy possession, O mage!”

Hee! That’s precisely what I do mentally when I see that extra “k.”

Magick with a k refers to the occult.

If they’re going to do that, they need to go whole hog, and have the mage restore himself after working his magicks by consuming a pye from a shoppe or bakmonger. Oh, and in that context, it would be “magik” or “magike”, anyway, most likely.

… as opposed to… ?

The art/craft of magic, i.e. sleight of hand and the like, I would suppose.

I don’t think there are any occult connections to the type of magic that appears in Harry Potter, etc.

The idea that magic is parlor tricks, but there’s such a thing as real magick, has its roots in RL occultism, and bled into stories from there. Aleister Crowley is one famous example of this. You’ll also see it in neo-paganism and wiccan movements, although the last time I paid any attention the terms ‘Craft’ or ‘Art’ were more popular.

According to our friends at Merriam-Webster, they put “sleight of hand and tricks” in the #3 position, so I’m not sure where the idea of “the K makes it REAL” comes from…


1: the use of means (as charms or spells) believed to have supernatural power over natural forces or magic rites or incantations
2: an extraordinary power or influence seemingly from a supernatural source or something that seems to cast a spell : enchantment
3: the art of producing illusions by sleight of hand

Urban Dictionary doesn’t list a source, but suggests the Crowley angle mentioned above might be right:

It’s not my trick…


I love arts and crafts, I’m halfway to being a wizard already!

When I see “magics” I always picture a grizzled practitioner with many magical techniques or paths available to him through long experience - spells, rituals, potions, scrolls, fetishes etc. Whereas say, a Necromancer practices the singular magic of Necromancy, or a Sorceror practices Sorcery (whatever that is) a Mage practices “diver∫ magics”. It’s partly derived from D’nD, but also from older things like Merlin and that ilk.

I tend to fall into the “Unorthodox spelling means the author is a pretentious git” camp, although it’s fun watching fantasy writers go into contortions to avoid using the word “magic” (Robert Jordan was the most impressive - in over 300,000 pages of sorcery and braid-pulling, he didn’t even use the M-word once).