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Saturday, April 26, 2014

“Mazirian the Magician” from The Dying Earth by Jack Vance

First appeared in The Dying Earth.  Reprinted in a few major genre retrospectives by L. Sprague de Camp, Isaac Asimov, Martin H. Greenberg & Charles G. Waugh, Robert Silverberg, and Margaret Weis.

Mazirian is a rather unpleasant magician, watches creatures die for pleasure.  A woman who enchants him, evades his spells.  He keeps Turjan in a trap beneath his feet because he will not disclose how to make creatures.  Turjan is in glass box, almost relentlessly pursued by a dragon, kept until he discloses his secrets.  Mazirian makes a creature, but it immediately attacks; later it calms.  Turjan intimates he’d help Mazirian catch if released:  He’d wear live boots and hold a headful of spells.

So Mazirian locks Turjan away but follows his advice.  Mazirian spies, gives chase, but his live boots run out of juice.  He discovers the horse, but not the girl.  He runs across a deodand and a thrang, which he dispatches with two spells in his head.  The girl runs out of spells herself so that its brawn and wit against brawn.

I read this tale separately, earlier.  As a stand-alone work, it loses power from not having been read after “Turjan of Miir” which supplies a modicum of Turjan’s personality.  Read alone, readers cannot know if one magician is any better than another.  Read as a series, we know beforehand which characters care  for one another (so the reader may guess who the woman is).

Part of the pleasure is that we know things that the POV person does not (Vance departs briefly from Mazirian’s POV into a Twk-man riding a dragonfly, in order to show us that the woman has planned that the Twk-man give her position away). In this way, by tale rubbing against tale and by revealing things that the POV does not know, the series gains strength.

Like  “Liane the Wayfarer”, Vance hands the primary POV position to the antagonist.

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