Magic is the lifeblood of Alagaësia. But why can some access its power while others seem to lack the ability, perhaps entirely? Christopher sheds light on this complicated topic in his response to a fan’s question below.
“I was wondering how people gain the ability to use magic in Alagaësia? I know that Roran tries at various times to get a pebble to float but can’t seem to. Is it a gift given at birth? Does one have to inherit it from lineage?”
That’s a very tricky question. The ability to manipulate energy with one’s mind—which is what magic is—seems to be present in every creature in Alagaësia to a greater or lesser extent. In some people it’s so atrophied as to be nearly nonexistent: someone who can receive telepathic messages but not reach out with their own mind to another being’s consciousness, for example. In others, it’s present just enough to allow a person to both send and receive thoughts and maybe, with a great deal of concentration, cast a spell or two. And then there are those people for whom the whole endeavor is naturally easy, like an elf.
Complicating the issue are three other factors. One, even if individuals have the ability to use magic, most don’t use it because they don’t know about it and have no training in it. Two, the difficulty most encounter when they try to cast a spell is a mental difficulty and has nothing to do with the actual amount of energy the spell will drain from their bodies. Angela the herbalist is a skilled magician, but she’s not considered very powerful because casting spells is extremely difficult for her (and sometimes she can’t even do it) regardless of how much energy the magic will require. That’s why she augments her ability with potions and enchanted objects. Three, one’s innate talent can be improved over time with a variety of methods: practice (this is ridiculously hard, but it does work), becoming a Rider (not an option open to most), becoming a Shade (not the smartest choice in my opinion, but that’s never stopped anyone), and one or two other tricks that I’d like to keep up my sleeve for the moment.
It’s because of all these difficulties that most people and creatures (yes animals can use magic as well) tend to cast their first spell when they are under extreme duress, as Eragon was in Yazuac. And once you’ve cast your first spell, it’s usually—though not always—easier to cast another one.
So, as you can see, there are any number of reasons why Roran might not be able to use magic. That’s not to say he couldn’t if he were pushed hard enough or if he had the right instruction, but until he learns to find that little place in the back of his mind and reach through it to feel the flow of energy within his own body, he’ll never be able to lift that darn pebble. Ultimately, it’s a question of talent, discipline, desire, and, one would hope, knowledge of the ancient language, although that’s not a prerequisite for casting a spell.
(As a side note, since most people think you need the ancient language to cast a spell, if they don’t know it, they never even try to work magic. This in and of itself limits the number of successful magicians in Alagaësia.)
I know, it’s complicated, but all these factors give me a range of magicians of varying strength, which is useful for storytelling purposes.