Thanks to a lot of fantasy-based fiction, including books, video games, movies, and TV shows, most everyone has at least some idea of what necromancy is. The act of raising the deceased, or reanimating them.
Recently, a friend who finished reading Burning Skies came to me disappointed with how necromancy was used in the new novel. The reason? Without giving the plot away, she was unhappy by the apparent hypocrisy of how characters regard necromancy and how they regard what the Staff of Aliz does.
Though she remained unconvinced after I explained the difference, it prompted a great conversation between us, and I wanted to cover the topic here, hopefully generating discussion from you, my awesome readers :D
What is Necromancy?
According to the Oxford Dictionary, necromancy is: “The supposed practice of communicating with the dead, especially in order to predict the future.”
This holds true with my research into necromancy as it is known in the occult. The legend goes that if necromancy is used on a deceased person, the undead may reveal the future. Really and truly, that is what people in the ancient world (and perhaps many still do in occult circles) believed.
Fantasy has taken a different spin on it. There are many, many forms of necromancy throughout the varying fantasy universes. I have not seen many that use it based on the original intent. Most ‘pop-culture’ fantasy merely makes necromancy a form of raising the dead and making them do their bidding. World of Warcraft, Buffy/Angel, and even Game of Thrones (though I don’t know if they call it necromancy in the show, and I have not yet read any of the books.)
This is, without doubt, the most common thread I see in fantasy. There are cases where the resurrected person retains their personality, to at least some extent, but there are others that show it as nothing more than reanimating a body. No soul, no intelligence, no personality, just a mindless automaton.
Necromancy in Burning Skies
So how does it work in the Sword of Dragons universe? Don’t worry, there are no spoilers in this post, beyond the existence of necromancers.
A brief history of necromancy that is not covered in Burning Skies: when the Necromancers of Vestuul first came to be, it was when they had discovered a new magic: they could reanimate the dead.
Though no personality or soul returned to the risen, the magic used to raise them connected them to the Universe, indeed the magic was of the very essence of the Universe. These deceased could be coerced into revealing events to come, predicting the future with startling accuracy.
But the necromancers lost their way. Over the centuries, the magic was perverted, and the most powerful necromancers were able to raise and control armies of undead. With every fallen enemy, the ranks of the undead grew, until nothing could stop the necromancers, and they conquered their world.
How Does The Staff of Aliz Work?
Introduced in The Sword of Dragons, and eventually finding it’s way into the hands of the first Wizard King, the Staff of Aliz controls the very life forces of the Universe. With a disciplined mind, the wielder can literally dispel the very life within any living thing. Or give it back… It can even heal the gravest of wounds.
But it has limitations. As the Wizard King explained in The Sword of Dragons, if a person has been dead for too long, the staff will not work. And in Burning Skies, the staff cannot return the undead back to life.
When a deceased person is brought back to life by the Staff of Aliz, it is truly bringing that person back to life. Their soul, their intelligence, everything they were returns, and their bodies are healed.
What’s The Difference?
The difference is in the definition: someone brought back to life with the Staff of Aliz is exactly what it sounds like: they are brought back to life. Necromancy, on the other hand, only reanimates the body. No soul, no intelligence, nothing of the former person remains except for their body. Furthermore, their body will continue to decompose.
Think of the difference between someone who has been resuscitated and a zombie (think biological zombies, an infection. Walking Dead for example.) While the resuscitated person may have been dead for a very short time, they are still themselves (assuming no brain damage from lack of oxygen.) Zombies are not themselves. They have no intelligence. The only part of their brain that works are base instincts and basic motor skills.
Now apply that to magic (if this were a sci fi instead of fantasy, it would be advanced science that simply looks like magic to the less developed.) The difference between the Staff of Aliz and necromancy is like the difference between a Paladin in World of Warcraft reviving a character and a Death Knight or a necromancer raising a corpse. Is the Paladin using necromancy?
What Do You Think?
I’ve made my case, now I want to hear from all of you! What do you think? Do you think the Staff of Aliz is necromancy? Or do you think they are completely different schools of magic? Is it hypocritical for characters to condemn necromancy but be okay with the Staff of Aliz?
Thanks for reading! :)