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Tuesday 10 July 2001

Screenshot Master of Magic

Pic of the day: Screenshot from Master of Magic, just because it looked appropriate ...

Magical supermen

And now for something entirely different! While writing on yet another piece of fantastic fiction, I came to think about how the magical supermen have been with us for as long as history records.

At the dawn of civilization, they were worshipped as gods. But a quick look shows that they were nothing near the modern Jewish or even Hindu version of God, an omnipresent spiritual being who manifests creation through its sheer will. No, the ancient gods were magical supermen. They were extremely long-lived and practically immune to mortal weapons, but they could be killed by their own and by evil creatures of similar stature, often portrayed as their relatives. (The Norse and the Greek pantheon both descended from Giants and Titans respectively, more chaotic beings of similar power.) These gods did not create out of nothing, but rather ordered what was already there. And they often used magical tools to perform their supernatural deeds.

Another intriguing part is that these "gods" could interbreed with humans, and some of them did so rather freely. In the Bible, a class of beings knowns as "sons of God" did the same, and their offspring were giants. (This rather invalidates the ideas that these were descendants of Adam, as there would be no strange crossbreeding effects.) Also note the chaotic giants again, this time in the younger generation.


In today's comic books from Marvel, DC and a few other publishers, we find the same scenario. Presumably pure fiction, they portray groups of heroes with seemingly magical powers. Some can project energy directly from their bodies, many can fly, and some use tools that seem like magic. In fact, some books have added the occasional ancient idol to their cast. But have they been absent in the meantime? Nay!

After the "gods" had stressed for a long time to establish civilization, they founded dynasties in some key cultures and then snuck away. Being slow breeders, the magical supermen soon found their genetic heritage bred out of the royal bloodlines ... temptations were the same then as now. They observed the new phase of human history from the sidelines as "magi" and "wizards". Usually shunning people, but occasionally stepping in with advice or subtle manipulation (like Merlin did in Britain) they were feared for their supernatural power and held in awe for their extremely long life. They would sometimes show up with weapons or other gifts of power, which would later disappear.

Later the magi fell into further disrepute, and at the end of the middle ages they were known as "witches" and "warlocks". Rumored to wield supernatural powers that could kill people or scramble their minds in the blink of an eye, they were feared and hated by the world. Once again, the similarity to the modern legend of "mutants" is conspicious.


Now I could make this all into an elaborate science and try to trace the gene-alogy of the "gods" down into modern times. I could try to compete with Schroeder's Speculations or the Wold Newton Universe. But no, that's not on the platter today.

What interests me is that, after thousands of years of civilization, we still fabricate the same kind of magical supermen that we did at the dawn of recorded history. Creatures looking like humans, perhaps a bit idealized, or a bit larger than life, and able to interbreed with humans. But also able to fly, radiate energy, rearrange matter or cloud men's minds. Evidently the human imagination now is very similar to then. Could there be some kind of pre-defined slots in our minds for these kind of fantasies? Obviously we don't sacrifice body parts of hapless animals to Superman, but I could probably have bought a small flock of sheep for the money I've spent on super comics through the years ...

You know, it would be too funny if archeologists in the far future find that most of our civilization is rotted away, but they find a well preserved comic book collection ... (Some comic collectors are very very careful to preserve their books as well as possible, to keep them in "mint condition" for their future pensions ... yes, old comics can be worth a lot of money.) Oooh look! The people of the Cola culture worshipped gods who could fly and shoot fire from their hands. Tee hee! They were so primitive!

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