8 Schools of Magic for Bling & Booty





No – we’re not talking about Hogwarts. We’re talking about the ‘schools’ of arcane power, classifying functional magic in fantasy by its type or effect. Now there’s probably as many such schools of magic as there are works of fantasy – black magic, blood magic, white magic, wild magic and so on – but perhaps the most comprehensive are the eight schools of magic in Dungeons & Dragons, which is not surprising for something that attempts to systematically codify the genre of fantasy for obsessive-compulsive rules-lawyering geeks to play as a game.


I mean, dear God, do the rules of chance need so many sides?!

I mean, dear God, do the rules of chance need so many sides?!


In the game, wizards can specialize in one of the schools of magic (at the expense of others), so it is a matter of some importance to pick the more powerful or versatile schools. However, this begs the most important question – for users of magic in the game or the genre of fantasy in general – which schools of magic are best for bling and booty (in every sense of the word)? After all, if you’re going to play with forces that put you at risk of some eldritch thing or otherworldly being sniffing out your magic scent, sucking out your soul with a straw and wearing your skin like a suit, then it better come with fabulous rewards – preferably the fantasy equivalent of the Fortune 500, the city of Abu Dhabi and the Playboy Mansion. (And just remember with the last, magic is equal opportunity – the sorceress Circe in Homer’s Odyssey essentially used her magic to have her own private island equivalent of the Playboy Mansion filled with her favorite manimals). And so we take a stroll through the eight schools of magic, looking at which are the more powerful or versatile, and more importantly, which ones are the best for bling and booty…






This school of magic seems pretty straightforward – it…ah, abjures? Essentially, it is protective magic, and as such perhaps one of the oldest schools of magical thinking in actual history, with our ancestors looking to magic to protect themselves from various dire threats – and the most substantial one surviving into the present day, in all our various charms or rituals for luck. (And remember religion is just organized magic – and prayer plea-bargaining with the universe to break the rules in your favor. Yeah, I went there.) Firstly, it protects from mundane threats – protection spells against arrows, fire and so on. In the Boxer Rebellion of 1899-1901 in China, the Boxers (or the much cooler sounding Society of Righteous and Harmonious Fists) believed their magic or supernatural power would make them invulnerable to bullets. (Spoiler alert – it didn’t).


Secondly, and perhaps more importantly, it protects from magic threats – although our ancestors often didn’t distinguish between mundane and magical threats, seeing one originate in the other – such as the various anti-magic spells in the Dungeons & Dragons game. Although frankly I think the spells in the game don’t go far enough, as they really should make magical creatures such as dragons or giants collapse of their own biological impossibility – a true anti-sorcerer should roam a fantasy world sucking in all and sundry like a magical black hole. Now in the rules of the game, you can of course skip this school in preference for others, but in a world of monsters and magic you’d be better off walking around naked. (Frankly, if I lived in such a world, I’d have abjuration spells tattooed into my skin – or even if they worked in this world). A supreme abjurer could stroll through a pitched battle without a scratch – or sit sipping cocktails in Hell while all the demons drooled uselessly around him or her.





As essential as it is, the school of abjuration is not so much fantasy Fortune 500 material (unless you’re very good or lucky) as it is more the solid high-earning fantasy professional option – the sort where fantasy parents want their children to grow up to be abjurers like we do doctors, lawyers and engineers (although there’d probably also be abundance of crappy cut-rate abjurers just getting by flogging bug-ridden or pirated lucky charms). The primary market would be as security or defence contractors (although throw in some divination and you could double up as a security and insurance provider). As for booty, you’ll just have to rely on the nice suits you wear and good money you’ll make as a professional abjurer. Personally, I’d take the easy anti-sorcerer option of roaming the fantasy world, ransoming dragons of their hoards by threatening them with their own biological impossibility. (The Hobbit would have been over much quicker – just strolling up to the Lonely Mountain and going all Scrooge McDuck swimming in Smaug’s vault).


Of course, in a sense all magic is abjuration – abjuring or suspending the laws of time and space, which actually sounds like an interesting premise for magic in a fantasy story, casting spells by picking which laws to suspend, like gravity or thermodynamics…


Pulling a rabbit out of a hat.




Now we’re playing with power – conjuration is such a ridiculously overpowered school of magic in the game of Dungeons and Dragons that you’d be better off cutting off your own hands than skipping it (as you could always conjure new or better hands anyway). It’s not hard to see why – conjuration is like pulling a rabbit out of a hat for real (or putting it back for that matter), if by rabbit you mean potentially any material thing or any being to do your bidding, and if by hat you mean potentially anywhere in space and time. And in fantasy, space and time can mean any fantasy ‘plane’ of existence – all the heavens or hells, spirit worlds, classical elemental planes (earth, air, fire, water) and so on. Conjuration is one of the archetypal schools of magic in literature. Faust conjured Mephistopheles from hell and Aladdin conjured the genie from the lamp – those beings in turn pretty much conjured up their masters’ every desire or wish. Conjuration would be ridiculously powerful enough even just in our own space and time – imagine wizards plucking dinosaurs out of the past and throwing them at each other (which actually sounds like another interesting premise for magic in fantasy). Throw in other fantasy planes of existence and the multiverse is your oyster – a supreme conjurer could simply conjure up all the demons of hell to serve him or her cocktails…


Because quite frankly, Pitbull must have summoned some demon from hell to get all this...

Because quite frankly, Pitbull must have summoned some demon from hell to get all this…




Not surprisingly, this school of magic is a licence to literally print money – in that you can actually conjure money, or something to get it for you. Take gold for example – you could conjure it up from the earth’s crust or anywhere in the universe, the vaults of heaven or hell, the elemental plane of earth or for those familiar with the actual periodic table of elements, the elemental plane of gold. Or you could conjure up beings – earth elementals for example – to find and mine it for you. Naturally the rules of Dungeons and Dragons try to place limits on their school of conjuration to avoid these shenanigans so, you know, players actually have to go into the eponymous dungeons to loot the eponymous dragons for gold (you know, like burglars and robbers) instead of conjuring it themselves (or something to go into the dungeons for them – or just conjure water to flood the dungeons and then stroll through them at leisure). However, this is magic after all and the only real limit is your imagination – that and the massive inflation that would result from everyone conjuring their own money. Probably the major problem is that conjuring is kind of a cosmic borrowing, so that when the demons or otherworldly beings come knocking at your door to collect the debt, they’ll make your average knee-capping loan-shark goon look like a birthday strippergram. (Note to self – organize strippergram for birthday). As for your own Playboy Mansion, you could literally conjure up your own mansion (or something to build it for you) – and then conjure up whatever angels or heavenly nymphs, succubi or incubi and otherworldly babes and hunks your heart desired. Of course, after a certain point, you could just rely on whatever fabulous wealth you’ve already conjured, as actual money has a power of conjuration all of its own…


Of course, ultimately all magic is a form of conjuration, in that you’re pulling something out of your own, or the universe’s, ass.






And so we go from the flashy heights of conjuration to the subtle nuances of divination – this school of magic is essentially all about knowledge. As such, it rivals abjuration as one of the oldest schools of magic in actual history, as our ancestors sought magical means of knowing the unknown, from shamanic vision quests through augurs and soothsayers to hopelessly cryptic oracles. And like abjuration, it is the most substantial surviving into the present day, in the form of astrology, psychics and other frauds. (It’s my secret dream to walk in on a psychic, smack them in the head and say “Didn’t see that one coming!” – but I digress…)


What? My dead uncle whose name starts with a consonant didn't see that one coming?

What? My dead uncle whose name starts with a consonant didn’t see that one coming?


There have been (and remains) an almost infinite variety of bewildering and surreal techniques of divination, including animal entrails, bird flights, tea leaves and basically any word ending in -mancy (which alone are so numerous they deserve a list of their own) – from dreamy oneiromancy (reading dreams or Freudian psychology) to the stuff of nightmares like arachnomancy (reading spiders – or dear God get that thing off me!). Knowledge is power and divination is the ultimate source of magical knowledge – so much so that it is the one school of magic you can’t skip in Dungeons and Dragons, although you’d be better off blind than go without it anyway. (Indeed – there’s a long tradition of prophets and seers being blind or blindfolded for their ‘second sight’. And Odin, chief of the Nordic gods, plucked out one of his own eyes to drink from the fountain of wisdom, because the Nordic gods were hardcore – my money would be on them in an all-out smack-down brawl between pantheons). Just knowing the past would be useful, knowing the present (particularly reading people’s minds) even more so and knowing the future would be approaching godlike power, as omniscience is next to omnipotence. A supreme diviner could walk through a pitched battle dodging everything without a scratch because he or she’s seen it all coming – or sit sipping cocktails served by demons in hell because he or she knows all their secret names and sex tapes.


Clearly James Bond relies on divination for his uncanny luck in games of chance and villainous death traps

Clearly James Bond relies on divination for his uncanny luck in games of chance and villainous death traps




Divination rivals conjuration as the jackpot of magic schools (unless your school of conjuration includes time travel). Again, even just knowing the past would be lucrative (not least in all the missing or lost secrets and treasures of the world), knowing the present even more so (not least as the ultimate insider trading) but knowing the future would be your licence to make money. Even discounting such easy options as casinos, gambling and lotteries (which presumably would be abjured to the hilt in a fantasy world), there’d be the fabulous wealth to be made through markets and other business or political fields. Through divination, you would always be in the right place at the right time and cashing in your compound interest in the present. Basically, divination lets you steal from the future, not only having your cake and eating it but doing both before it’s even baked – like plucking Facebook from the future mind of Mark Zuckerberg, just in time to sue him for copyright as the icing on the cake. As for booty, apart from your fabulous wealth, you would also always be in the right place at the right time – with the perfect pickup line. Otherwise, you can always hang out with the freaky drugged and fantastically gymnastic oracle groupies from 300








There’s no nice way of saying this – enchantment is the school of magic for mindscrewing. It ranges from more benign charms for friendship or infatuation, through various forms of mind control or domination, to metaphorically riding your subjects like rodeo bulls or attaching the furry dice of their testicles to the dashboard of your mind…


Like so

Like so


If your school of enchantment extends to memory, then you can up the ante from brainwashing to complete mindwiping, as you replace the previous inconvenient persona or psyche of your subject wholesale with one entirely of your own choosing – family, friend or lover who’ll do anything for you. In theory, this makes enchantment potentially the most powerful school of magic of all, as you could tell the very gods they should let you run the show.  A supreme enchanter could sit sipping cocktails in Hell served up by all the brainwashed demons. In practice, apart from all the protective abjurations against it (screw you, mind blank!), there is the narrative need for enchantment to be severely nerfed for the sake of game or story, otherwise you’d simply mindscrew your way from one end of fantasy to the other or pilot your dragon like a drone through any dungeon. So this tends to be one of the weaker schools of magic to skip in Dungeons and Dragons or any other fantasy, because anything powerful enough to be game or story breaking is immune or resistant to it. (Otherwise, Gandalf would have just told Sauron to go jump like Gollum).


Dance my mind-puppets, dance!

Dance my mind-puppets, dance!




Obviously, if enchantment is opened up to its full potential in fantasy – or let loose in our world with no resistance against it – then this would be the ultimate jackpot. Even if others conjured more money and divined more profit or power, you’d simply enchant them into giving it to you – just like you’d simply enchant Bill Gates, Warren Buffet and Mark Zuckerberg into doing the same in this world. H. L. Mencken quipped that no one went broke or lost an election by underestimating the taste or intelligence of the average person – with enchantment, you’d just go that step further of making their taste and intelligence for them. And once you have enough of it, fame and fortune have powers of enchantment all of their own. In a sense, the only real ‘magic’ is enchantment, as humanity finds a bewildering number of ways to enchant itself through religion, politics, money, fame, celebrity, love, sex…just take any cult. As for your own Playboy Mansion, you would equally be able to enchant it full of the babes or hunks of your choice. Of course, while you’re doing all this, you may want to enchant away your own conscience…






And so we come to the Michael Bay school of magic – all explosive action, but lacking in depth or versatility. Evocation is the conjuration of energy – fireballs, lightning bolts, cold blasts and various other manifestations of energy or force – so something like the misnamed enchanter Tim in Monty Python’s Holy Grail



While it would be tempting in a fantasy world of hostile monsters and magic to be able to blast fireballs from your fingertips like six-shooters, evocation is actually one of the weaker schools of magic and the first one to skip in the game of Dungeons and Dragons. Even at its full strength, it obviously lacks versatility for anything else that doesn’t involve blasting or blowing things up (although in fairness that would seem to solve most plot problems in The Lord of the Rings) – and in the game of Dungeons and Dragons, it’s severely nerfed by all types of magic resistance so that your most hardcore spells fizzle into a tickle or most a moderate spanking. In theory, however, a supreme evoker should be a walking ground zero of mass destruction and could sit sipping cocktails in Hell served up by shell-shocked demons after nuking or freezing it.


"I am become Death, the destroyer of worlds" - a tenth level spell

“I am become Death, the destroyer of worlds” – a tenth level spell




Like abjuration (and unlike conjuration, divination or enchantment), you can’t simply evoke money and are sadly reduced to working with your magic, which kind of defeats the point of magic as wishful thinking or getting something from nothing. Fortunately, again like abjuration, evocation is the solid high-earning fantasy professional option, like the fantasy equivalent of engineers. Although that may be because I only have the vaguest idea of what engineers actually do…


Um, they do science to stuff?

Um, they do science to stuff?


Actually, evokers are even better placed than abjurers to strike it rich as the entrepreneurs of energy in the fantasy world, particularly if they can replicate their magic in mass produced devices or items – it would be evokers who kick-start the fantasy equivalent of the Industrial Revolution, like magitek or dungeon punk. You know, like mass producing rings of power in The Lord of the Rings (“Precious?! Get over it, Gollum – they’re $39.99 a set at the Shire 7-11…”), instead of the elves hoarding all the magic.


One ring to rule the mall!

One ring to rule the mall!


(Don’t get me started on the elves – they showed Sauron how to make the ring in the first place, then spend their time prancing about in forests or pissing off ‘west’ leaving men to clean up the mess. “I have no faith in men.” Shut up, Elrond – who’s manning your frontline for you, you smug elven prick?). As for booty, you will just have to rely on your skyrockets in flight for your afternoon delights…


Of course, evocation is just the poor man’s conjuration anyway – it’s just conjuration of energy, people! Ignoring that matter is energy (E = mc2? I conjure thee from the elemental plane of uranium…), is there any real distinction between evoking fire for example and conjuring lava or molten metal or plasma or hellfire or elemental fire or so on from the myriad planes of fantasy? The only real distinction is that the game of Dungeons and Dragons split off the conjuration of energy as evocation so that the school of conjuration didn’t become even more ridiculously overpowered…






Use your illusion – the school of magic for special effects or fantasy generated imagery. Quite simply, illusion is all about the magical control or manipulation of perception or sensation, so as to hopelessly blur the line between image and reality. Between the image and the reality falls the shadow of illusion… (O yes – that’s paraphrasing some T.S. Eliot, bitches!). And invisibility or images are only for starters – with illusion, you can effectively trap your subjects in their own head, like a drug trip or the Matrix or scientists juicing up rats through the pleasure centers of their brains. (Unfortunately my dungeon-master banned my spell for casting mass orgasm. Hang on – was that even a game of Dungeons & Dragons…?)


In other words, illusion can be virtually as effective for mind control as enchantment, given the fine line between our perceptions or sensations and our emotions, thoughts or memories. You can use it to assume the appearance of a close friend, family member or lover. The supreme illusionist could sit sipping cocktails in Hell, served up by deluded demons thinking they’re serving their infernal master – or just look like they’re doing it. I don’t know – my head hurts and I can’t tell what’s real anymore…


Although I'm pretty sure my life is real because no one would make an illusion this pointless and boring

Although I’m pretty sure my life is real because no one would make an illusion this pointless and boring


Sadly, this is why illusion tends to be nerfed like enchantment in fantasy games or stories, although it is somewhat less game or story-breaking and has more potential for plot devices (as well as clichéd it-was-all-a-dream sequences). So once again, there is an abundance of protective abjuration against it (screw you, true seeing!) and anything powerful tends to be immune or resistant to it. And given that illusion is all style over substance, you’re more screwed than the Wizard of Oz if they start looking behind the curtain


From the webcomic Oglaf - check it out through the link in the text or the sidebar - it's hilarious but mostly NSFW

From the webcomic Oglaf – check it out through the link in the text or the sidebar – it’s hilarious but mostly NSFW




However, if illusion is opened up to its full potential or let loose in our world with nothing to resist it, then you could effectively use it to enchant your way to fame and fortune – especially in a world where life is essentially a beauty contest anyway. At very least, you could have a wild ride as a con artist – using ticket stubs or toilet paper as money or winning lottery tickets. Alternatively, you could use your illusion as a solid high-earning fantasy profession or business, particularly if you could mass-produce it – the fantasy equivalent of advertising (“Your ad on every dragon’s ass”), cosmetics and cosmetic surgery, entertainment or anything involving appearance or imagery. Personally, I’d use my illusion for the fantasy equivalent of internet porn. (“She was an innocent young paladin, pursuing her quest in the Hot Tub of Doom…”). As for your Playboy Mansion, you are the ultimate photoshopper, so you can give you or your housemates any appearance you or they choose…


Of course, all magic in our world is ultimately only illusion – sleight of hand or smoke and mirrors. Or if we’re going to get philosophical, all our perception of reality is illusion, as in the Hindu concept of maya. (Sometimes, I believe my whole life has all been fantasy and lies). On the other hand, the fantasy school of illusion is really just enchantment – or vice versa. Is there any real distinction between controlling perceptions or sensations and controlling emotions or thoughts, given how they each influence the other? For example, is there any real difference between turning invisible by illusion – or enchanting people that they don’t see you?






Come to the dark side of the Force or the Slytherin school of magic. Technically, necromancy is divination by talking to the dead or their spirits (hence the name). However, necromancy has accrued wider meanings of dealing with the dead or death – typically animating the dead and creating or controlling undead. Funnily enough, in the game of Dungeons & Dragons, it is generally observed that because of the mechanics of play, clerics or priests make better necromancers than wizards, which would certainly make for far more interesting church services. Necromancy also tends to involve magic to do with souls or spirits (as in taking or trapping them) and ‘negative’ energy – blight, curse, fear, hex, paralysis, poison and just outright draining life energy like siphoning gas. So it may not be particularly versatile but it does tend to be powerful, and of course, evil – as in EEEVIL (although arguably it could be neutral, like death itself, or even a weird form of good – but where’s the fun in that?). Sauron wasn’t just the Necromancer in The Hobbit for kicks. A supreme necromancer is a walking ground zero of zombie apocalypse or god of death – and could sit sipping cocktails in hell because the demons think he or she is cool. And old necromancers don’t retire, they become undead themselves – vampires are the popular choice, although the true necromancy geek goes lich.



Once thou goeth lich, one never goeth...back?

Once thou goeth lich, one never goeth…back?




Let’s face it – if you go with necromancy, you’re looking at a career in supervillainy or at least doctorate of evil, and chances are you’re in it for love of evil lulz rather than money. So while there may be other more imaginative ways of making money from necromancy, the most easy or obvious is as the fantasy equivalent of Blofeld in SPECTRE (bonus points if that involves actual spectres), stroking your mummified cat. And again, there may be more subtle nuances of necromantic villainy, you just can’t beat the fantasy classic of threatening to unleash your zombie apocalypse unless the kingdom pays you one M-I-I-I-LLION gold pieces – or you know, actually unleashing your zombie apocalypse as you carve out your unholy roaming empire. Sadly however, necromancy is not the school for building your own Playboy Mansion, with the exception of the sexier ghosts or vampires – although at least your undead minions will always be, ah… thin?


More Oglaf - check it out through the link in the text or the sidebar

More Oglaf – check it out through the link in the text or the sidebar






Finally, there is transmutation – a ridiculously overpowered school of magic to rival or even exceed conjuration. Instead of conjuring material things or beings (potentially including yourself) through space, time or fantasy planes, this school of magic transforms (or transmogrifies – whoa!) material things or beings (potentially including yourself) into other material things and beings of your choice. Like conjuration, it is one of the archetypal schools of magic in literature. Zeus showcased it by turning himself into animals to pick up chicks. It totally worked too, although you have to admit it would be pretty impressive if you could pull it off. Zeus’ one night stands read like a menagerie of seduction (as well as the entire genealogy of Greece) – bull, eagle, goat, snake, swan and on one particularly kinky occasion a shower of gold. Speaking of which, transmutation has had a long-standing reputation in actual human history, as the humanity saw the best minds of many generations destroyed by the madness of alchemy, or trying to transmute lead into gold.


Because Leadfinger just doesn't have the same ring

Because Leadfinger just doesn’t have the same ring


So transmutation is almost limitlessly powerful and versatile – a supreme transmuter could sit sipping cocktails in Hell, because otherwise he or she will transform all the demons into frogs or little lambs or Playboy bunnies (or himself or herself into the biggest, baddest demon of all). Or just sit around anywhere – turning everyone else into demon cocktail waiters and waitresses.


I gave it the Midas touch but it's a bit to type on...

I gave it the Midas touch but it’s a bit to type on…




By now, it should be obvious that transmutation is as much a jackpot as conjuration – or more so, as it’s without the cosmic borrowing (or loan-sharking). Like King Midas, you can turn whatever you touch (or look at) into gold – or whatever you choose. Or for that matter, it knocks illusion out of the ballpark, because you can change things in reality not just appearance. What more do I need to say? Again, naturally the rules of Dungeons and Dragons try to place limits on their school of transmutation for the sake of the game, but it is magic after all. As for your own Playboy Mansion, you could literally just transform any slum into your mansion – and anyone or anything into your Playmates. Indeed, people would probably line up to pay you for it and you could make your fortune from cosmetic transformation alone…


They were all actual bunnies just a moment ago...

They were all actual bunnies just a moment ago…


All this goes to show that the wizards we actually see in fantasy are lazy bums at best or complete fraudsters at worst, since they are so much more pathetic or useless than even just any one of these schools would suggest. Of course, any true wizard would wrap up your average fantasy story in the first chapter. If Gandalf was a typical Dungeons and Dragons wizard, he would have divined the one true ring and teleported to the Crack of Doom, before spending the rest of the trilogy smoking pipeweed and creepily hanging about the Shire. Also, real wizards would have pimped out pads, instead of wandering about like stoned vagabonds like they all seem to do in Middle-Earth – except for Sauron of course…he had some pimped-out evil style.


That's one blinged out eyeball Sauron - but you need more elven Playmates

That’s one blinged out eyeball Sauron – but you need more elven Playmates


As much as I love Gandalf, it is hard to resist the conclusion that he had little actual magic, except for a few cheap light tricks or smoke and mirrors. (I suppose he did defeat the Balrog by making it forget it had wings). His real ‘magic’ power seemed to be some sort of magical human resources management, riding or rushing off to find someone who was actually useful, usually some sort of eagle. Ah – eagles! Is there anything they can’t do? Except, you know, actually fly to Mount Doom before the ring was destroyed or the Lonely Mountain before the dragon was killed. Man, those lazy birds were almost as useless as wizards


I couldn't resist one last Oglaf strip - the real reason you don't use eagles...

I couldn’t resist one last Oglaf strip – the real reason you don’t use eagles…





Stark Ravings – Days of Future Past




For the days of future past, I continue to dream of fantasy and science fiction in all its forms – from Lord of the Rings to Dungeons and Dragons, and from H. G. Wells to Star Wars (as well as how fictional characters dropped the ball and how I take fictional events way too seriously).





As for upcoming features:

  • Roll up the best fantasy classes of character for bling and booty
  • Look at fantasy punk, the mancies of magic, the evolution of dystopia, the twisted timelines of Terminator (and the machinations of the Matrix) and the apocalypses of Mad Max
  • Ride tripods and time machines between evolution and deep blue entropy in H. G. Wells and see how the world of science fictions is still full of Morlocks and Martians (or Alien and Terminator)


Fantasy Girls – Top 10 Girls of Fantasy & SF: (10) The Girl with the Hungry Eyes





What would my Fantasy Girls feature be without looking at, you know, the girls of actual fantasy?

Accordingly, these are my top 10 girls of fantasy and SF – I’m talking literary fantasy and SF (although potentially including screen adaptations of literary fantasy and SF – and open to special mention for original fantasy and SF film or television).


Kate beckinsale




My wildcard tenth place entry is not so much iconic in herself, but is representative of a recurring female fantasy figure and one that is perfectly encapsulated by the titular character of this Fritz Leiber short story – the vampire girl. Indeed, I have such a soft spot for vampire bad girls that I strive to find a place for at least one in each of my top ten fantasy girl lists – and might well compile a list purely for my top ten vampire girls.




A particular favorite is the eponymous vampire girl in Fritz Leiber’s modern vampire story, The Girl With The Hungry Eyes. She and her story may be somewhat elusive in circulation these days, but the very title of her story captures the essence of vampire girls, girls with hungry eyes. Of course, Leiber’s short story has a modern spin (not uncommon in modern vampire girls) – the hunger in her eyes is not for the classic vampire archetype of blood, but an equally vampiric hunger for an equivalent life force.  The protagonist photographer narrates his encounter with The Girl as he calls her, a glamor model who mesmerizes millions of Americans from magazines and billboards, particularly with her eyes that speak of desire, longing and “a hunger that’s all sex and something more than sex”. She is his model, insisting upon working one-on-one in person – somewhat thin and waiflike, but for her magical eyes, her preternatural senses and the occasional dizzy flashes the protagonist feels in her presence. He begins to be fascinated by her, to follow her after shoots, until one day, he takes her by the arm and walks with her, as she takes him into a deserted park to sate her hunger, not for blood, but for his life force itself, in its entire sweep of emotions and experience – “She’s the smile that tricks you into throwing away your money and your life. She’s the eyes that lead you on and on, and then show you death. She’s the creature you give everything you’ve got and gives nothing in return. When you yearn towards her face on the billboards, remember that. She’s the lure. She’s the bait. She’s the Girl”.


The protagonist flees from her temptation, forewarned by having linked her previous victims to news of mysterious deaths, and perhaps fired by the youth of his author at the time. Yet, I can’t help but feel The Girl continued to haunt Leiber, into his older years of alcoholism, financial strain and world-weary widowhood – so that when he effectively reincarnated her in his story Horrible Imaginings, his protagonist, so similar to Leiber himself, instead embraced her as a beautiful death. And goddess help me, I’d be sorely tempted to go with her as well.





Fantasy Girls – Top 10 Girls of Comics (Special Mention): (4) Spiderwoman





Spiderwoman is yet another special mention as a derivative character from a male superhero. Marvel Comics’ major domo Stan Lee even admitted her creation was to secure the copyright for a Spiderwoman character. Like Supergirl and Batgirl, Spiderwoman has had various incarnations – indeed, there has been a bewildering proliferation of Spiderwomen and Spidergirls, including alternate versions of both Spiderman’s most famous love interests, Mary Jane and Gwen Stacy (Spider-Gwen!).




For that matter, I don’t want to alarm you kids, but there may be a Spiderman or Spidermen in the house – there has been a bewildering proliferation of Spiderpeople in general, a virtual Spiderverse that makes even the ridiculously expanded Kryptonian world of Superman and Gotham family of Batman look positively restrained. At least Superman and Batman tend to consistently be Kal-El (or Clark Kent) and Bruce Wayne respectively except in weird Elseworld stories), but Spiderman isn’t always Peter Parker, even in the ‘mainstream’ Marvel universe – not to mention the abundance of Spiderclones. And that’s not getting into the arachnophobic nightmare of spider-themed characters or superheroes throughout comics.


Although I was very disappointed by the film Kiss of the Spider Woman. Where the hell was Spiderwoman?

Although I was very disappointed by the film Kiss of the Spider Woman. Where the hell was Spiderwoman?


Anyway, the original Spiderwoman remains the classic character of that name – the costumed alter-ego of Jessica Drew with her comics debut in 1977. In her first appearance, she was to be an actual spider evolved into human form. Eww! Fortunately, Marvel decided that would simply be too implausible for comics readers – as opposed to, say, Spiderman’s origin from being bitten by a radioactive or genetically engineered spider. (Let’s face it – we’re talking technofantasy magic spiders here). Spiderwoman’s origin story has varied between a spider-blood serum experimental cure and her mother’s womb being hit by a laser beam containing the DNA traits of several different species of spiders. Wait – what? That makes Spiderman’s origin seem rigorously scientific by comparison. Just…forget it. Jessica’s Spiderwoman powers are similar to Spiderman’s powers (and equally as variable), except that she also exudes pheromones that attract males (well – more than her skintight costume and figure) because of course she does. She can also fly or glide, which may or may not be related to her weird web-like wings.




Jessica Drew’s Spiderwoman has had a fluctuating history of publication, with the character being resurrected like every true comics superhero for a revived solo title – unfortunately not without controversy, as Marvel engaged artist Milo Manara (better known for his erotic art) for the cover, resulting in a strikingly sexual superheroine pose that broke the internet. She has also been an Avenger – so it will be interesting to see if the Marvel Cinematic Universe includes her in their roster. Black Widow could do with the skintight-suited spider-themed superheroine company!



Fantasy Girls: Top 10 Girls of Comics (Special Mention): (3) Batgirl





Like Supergirl, Batgirl earns special mention as she was originally a derivative character of Batman – and of similar vintage in 1961 as a female counterpart of the latter.


Again like Supergirl, Batgirl has had various incarnations, albeit more in different hair colors than different costumes. The most iconic Batgirl and certainly my Batgirl of choice is redhead Barbara Gordon, daughter of Batman’s ally Commissioner James Gordon.




As Supergirl represented the start of Superman’s Silver Age silliness and proliferation of Kryptonian survivors, Batgirl similarly represented the start of Batman’s Silver Age silliness and proliferation of the so-called Batman Family. Batman readers have always had to deal with a proliferation of Robins (since the original Robin dated back almost as old as Batman himself, mainly to give Batman someone to talk to instead of interior monologues). Batgirl started to expand the Batman Family in a way that directly echoed the expansion of the Superman Family for obvious commercial reasons – Ace the Bat-Hound instead of Krypto the Super-Dog, and even Bat-Mite instead of Superman’s Mr Mxyzptlk. Just like Superman gets to the point where I wonder if everyone from Krypton moved to Earth, Batman gets to the point where I wonder if anyone in Gotham is not aware that Bruce Wayne is Batman. (I remember a comedy sketch where Batman is talking to an informer in a pub and when the informer asks where the Batcave is, the whole pub yells out “Bruce Wayne Mansion”).


However, I see Barbara Gordon’s Batgirl as a more engaging character than Supergirl. I mean – the Joker shoots her in the spine and renders her a paraplegic in Alan Moore’s canonical The Killing Joke, and she’s still badass, becoming the Oracle, computer genius and leader of the Birds of Prey team of female operatives. Although she – ah – got better (due to advanced surgery and therapy) and she returned as Batgirl with her own title. That was not without controversy – but I tend to agree with Batgirl writer Gail Simone, who sees Barbara Gordon as “one of the smartest and toughest women in comics”, even more so for overcoming the trauma of her experiences.








New Page – Top 10 Comics

This always reminds me of work. Or life for that matter.

This always reminds me of work. Or life for that matter.




I’ve added a page for my top 10 comics.

There’s a method to the madness. With my top 10 fantasy books, top 10 SF books and top 10 comics all set in pages, I’m now placed to add to them with my long and ongoing roll call of special and honorable mentions for classic and new works in my predominant areas of reading.


New Pages – Top 10 Fantasy Books (Fantasy Stories, Special Mention & Honorable Mention)





As announced, I’ve created a new page for my Top 10 Fantasy Books, as well as ‘seeded’ my pages for Top Fantasy Stories, Top 10 Fantasy Books (Special Mention) and Top 10 Fantasy Books (Honorable Mention) – Cult & Pulp. (I’ll add to these pages with regular weekend posts).

I should also add pages for my Top 10 SF Books and Top 10 Comics this week.






These are the pages for my top tens of comics

Stark After Dark is predominantly concerned with fantasy and science fiction, which extend into the medium of comics – indeed, I would estimate that the majority of comics are fantasy or science fiction. Superhero comics almost by definition involve some fantasy or science fiction in their superheroics.

The casual reader of Stark After Dark might get the impression that I follow more comics than I actually do (perhaps because of my girls of comics?). Now it is true that I am aware of a wide range of comics – and that I read about (or read up on) comics, particularly with their cinematic or screen incarnations. (As for the latter, it’s my quip that I’ll see any film that’s adapted from a comic – or could be made into one). I have a love of the medium and will have a look at anything in it, although I actually read only a few comics and I actively follow even fewer of them, almost entirely outside mainstream DC Comics or Marvel – notably 2000 AD, which is not even American but British, published by Rebellion Developments and which I diligently read in digital editions each week.

It’s probably not necessary to state what comics are – although it is difficult to provide a definition that encompasses or captures the essence of all the medium – but perhaps it is necessary to state what comics can be. Comics are typically identified as being childish or adolescent, and indeed they often are – but then, what form of entertainment isn’t? To quote Sturgeon’s Law, 90% of everything is crap.

However, even at their lowest common denominator, comics have always been mythic – particularly superhero comics, which have virtually created a modern pantheon. I’d venture that the basic details of the character of Superman or Batman are better known than most founding religious figures (as well as embodying many of their characteristics) – and certainly better known than figures from classical literature or mythology, which until recently used to be the distinctive hallmark of Western education. Indeed, it would be a simple matter to swap the Justice League for the Olympian pantheon.


Or just use actual gods

Or just use actual gods


And at their highest, comics have matured, particularly in the quality of writing – notably from about the 1980’s (although that is not to discount quality writing before then), such that the term graphic novels tends to be substituted for comic books.


As a special feature, here’s an index of my pages for my top tens of comics (which can also be accessed through my blog menu):


Top 10 Comics

Top 10 Comics (Special Mention)

Top 10 Comics (Honorable Mention)

Fantasy & SF





This is the heart of Stark After Dark, a blog that’s predominantly concerned with fantasy and SF – and these are the pages where Stark After Dark pins its fantasy colors firmly to the mast, with its top tens of fantasy and SF.





As for my definition of fantasy, I tend to play fast and loose with it – which is only fitting, as like many genres, it is notoriously difficult to define as a genre. Sure, the core of the genre or high fantasy (like its SF equivalent, hard SF) tends to be clear enough. However, there is no succinct definition that encompasses it all – and the boundaries with science fiction or horror are particularly ambiguous or slippery.




As a general rule, I tend to define fantasy by the presence of magic or the supernatural (although there are exceptions), so that also tends to include dark fantasy or horror that involves those elements.




However, you define it, fantasy is my genre of choice. Indeed, it’s my reality of choice. Frankly, I feel it is everyone’s reality of choice – that none of us live entirely in reality as such (if there is a reality as such), but our fantasy (or fantasies) of it. Do any of us know truly where fantasy ends and reality begins – or vice versa? To quote the movie Harvey – “Well. I’ve wrestled with reality for 35 years, Doctor, and I’m happy to state I finally won out over it!”


That's big talk for a man whose best friend is a giant rabbit (or pooka)

That’s big talk for a man whose best friend is a giant rabbit (or pooka)




As for my definition of science fiction, just like my definition of fantasy, I tend to play fast and loose with it, as it is similarly difficult to define as a genre. Of course, hard SF, like high fantasy, tends to be clear enough, but as you move away from this hard core of the genre, the fuzzier and softer things get.

As a general rule, like I tend to define fantasy by the presence of magic or the supernatural, I tend to define science fiction by its extrapolation of science, technology or society (so again that tends to include horror that involves those elements, such as alien body horror or zombie apocalypse). In a more general sense, whereas fantasy is the fiction of meaning, science fiction is the fiction of possibility – or possibilities. The Twilight Zone’s Rod Sterling famously distinguished fantasy from science fiction – “Science fiction is the improbable made possible. Fantasy is the impossible made probable”.




However, I prefer Ray Bradbury, who defined science fiction (while cheekily defining himself as a writer of fantasy) as “the art of the possible” – “It could happen. It has happened”.


Or better yet before I die, so I can download into the Singularity

Or better yet before I die, so I can download into the Singularity

Whereas fantasy is my genre of choice. science fiction is society’s genre of necessity. For without it, and all the other dreams of possibility, where would we be? The twentieth century was born from science fiction – and even more the twenty-first century, where new dreams of possibility seem to be born every day. And yes, there may be as many nightmares as there are dreams, perhaps even more as science fiction seems to thrive on the apocalyptic and dystopian. Yet we will not defeat our nightmares by denying their possibility, but by finding new and better dreams.



As a special feature, here’s an index of my pages for my top tens of fantasy and SF (which can also be accessed through my blog menu):


Top 10 Fantasy Books

Top 10 Fantasy Books (Special Mention)

Top 10 Fantasy Books (Honorable Mention)

Top 10 SF Books

Top 10 SF Books (Special Mention)

Top 10 SF Books (Honorable Mention)