The Magic Goes Away

The Magic Goes Away

The Magic Goes Away is a fantasy short story written by Larry Niven in 1976, and later expanded to a novella of the same name which was published in 1978. While these works were not the first in the "Magic Universe" or "Warlock" series, they marked a turning point after the 1973 oil crisis and Niven's subsequent transformation of the series into an allegory for a modern-day energy crisis; the novella was also the first work longer than a short story. Niven's approach to fantasy (as with his approach to science fiction) is relatively logical and somewhat distinct from the high fantasy normally associated with the genre. The setting was later used as a backdrop for a series of full-length novels, The Burning City (2000) and its sequel, Burning Tower (2005), which were co-written with Jerry Pournelle.


List of works in the series

This is a list of publications based on the setting of The Magic Goes Away.[1]

Title Sub-series Published Original publication
Not Long before the End Warlock 1969 Fantasy and Science Fiction, April 1969
Unfinished Story Warlock 1969 Fantasy and Science Fiction, December 1969
What Good Is a Glass Dagger? Warlock 1972 Fantasy and Science Fiction, September 1972
The Magic Goes Away (short story) Warlock 1976 Odyssey, summer 1976
The Magic Goes Away (novella) Warlock 1978 Trade paperback, Ace Books
The Magic May Return (compilation) 1981 Trade paperback, Ace Books
Talisman (none) 1981 Fantasy and Science Fiction, November 1981
The Lion in His Attic (none) 1982 Fantasy and Science Fiction, July 1982
The Wishing Game Warlock 1989 Aboriginal Science Fiction, May/June 1989
The Portrait of Daryanree the King (none) 1989 Aboriginal Science Fiction, September/October 1989
The Burning City Golden Road 2000 Hardcover, Pocket Books
Chicxulub (none) 2004 Asimov's Science Fiction, April/May 2004
Boomerang (none) 2004 Flights: Extreme Visions of Fantasy
Rhinemaidens (none) 2005 Asimov's Science Fiction, January 2005
Burning Tower Golden Road 2005 Hardcover, Pocket Books
Burning Mountain Golden Road in progress in progress

Plot summary

The Warlock, whose actual name is both unknown and unpronounceable,[2] is a powerful sorcerer in excess of 200 years of age.[3] He observes that when he stays in one place too long, his powers dwindle and will return only when he leaves that place.[4] Experimentation leads him to create an apparatus (now known as the Warlock's Wheel) consisting of a metal disc enchanted to spin perpetually.[5] The enchantment eventually consumes all the mana in the vicinity, causing a localized failure in all magic.[6] The Warlock realizes that magic is fueled by a non-renewable resource, which would cause great concern among the magicians, as it was through their magic that nations enforced their wills both internally and abroad. The widespread diminishing of magical power in The Magic Goes Away triggered a quest on the part of the most powerful of the magicians of the time to harness a new source of magic (the Moon), resulting in the events described in the book.

It was eventually discovered (in The Magic May Return) that mana was originally carried to Earth and the other bodies of the solar system on the solar wind, replenishing mana slowly over time. However, at some point in the "recent" past (a few thousand years ago) a god created an invisible shield between Earth and Sun that intercepted the solar mana and caused the eventual decline of magic on Earth.

Traditional fantasy creatures inhabit Niven's Magic universe, but devolve to normal animals when deprived of mana. For example, a unicorn becomes a simple horse.

Main characters

  • The Warlock - One of the world's foremost magicians. He devised a simple experiment to explain why a magician's power would fade over time, a device called the Warlock's Wheel.
  • Clubfoot - The Warlock's apprentice. A Native American named after a deformity of his foot that he could have cured long ago but it would have cost him half his power.
  • Wavyhill - The first Necromancer. Exploiting the mana inherent in murder, he invented necromancy. His name comes from his practice of building his houses under magically supported overhangs; when the local mana is depleted by a battle, the hillside collapses, trapping his foe and eliminating the evidence at the same time.

Minor characters

  • Orolandes - A Greek soldier, survivor of the sinking of Atlantis.
  • Mirandee - A powerful witch, formerly Warlock's lover.
  • Aran - A werewolf who assisted the Warlock in defeating the necromancer Wavyhill.
  • Roze Kattee - The God Of Love And Madness. Its power lies in the taking away of love or madness. Enemy Berzerkers are suddenly rendered sane, those who do not worship Roze Kattee never find mates, etc.
  • The World Worm - Its spine composes all the world's mountain chains, the Andes, Himalayas, Rockies, etc. It consumes its own tail, along with anything that might be living on it.
  • Yangin-Atep - A fire god.
  • Coyote, Loki, etc. - A trickster god for many cultures.
  • Zoosh - Once a powerful patriarch.
  • Left-Handed Hummingbird - A Mesoamerican god (Huitzilopochtli).


Richard A. Lupoff reviewed the 1978 novella unfavorably, saying that although the story "bristles with amusing devices," the writing itself was unsatisfactory: "Niven doesn't make any of it real for me; there's hardly a spark of humanity in the book. . . . [Niven uses] flat, dull, sterile narrative prose."[7]


In her afterword to the novella, Sandra Miesel identified a number of influences on the setting: "The Wheels of If", The Incomplete Enchanter, The Blue Star, Operation Chaos, Too Many Magicians, Dragon and the George, as well as Niven's earlier works, "All the Myriad Ways" and the Svetz series.[8]

There are also several references to the works of H. P. Lovecraft, such as the reference of a mad magician named Alhazred and an amorphous god called the Crawling Chaos.

Graphic novel adaptation

The Magic Goes Away was adapted as a graphic novel, the sixth in the DC Science Fiction Graphic Novel series, by Paul Kupperberg and Jan Duursema in 1986.

In popular culture

  • The collectible card game Magic: The Gathering has a card called Nevinyrral's Disk, which is a reference to the Warlock's Wheel. This card roughly has the effect of removing the effects of players' spells from play, while leaving their lands intact. 'Nevinyrral' is 'Larry Niven' spelled backwards.


  1. ^ Known Space Bibliography
  2. ^ Niven, Larry (2005). The Magic Goes Away Collection. New York: Pocket Books. p. 98. ISBN 0743416937. "We will call him the Warlock, as his name is both forgotten and impossible to pronounce." 
  3. ^ Niven, Larry (2005). The Magic Goes Away Collection. New York: Pocket Books. p. 102. ISBN 0743416937. "'Everyone in the village knows your age,' said Hap. 'You're two hundred years old, if not more.'" 
  4. ^ Niven, Larry (2005). The Magic Goes Away Collection. New York: Pocket Books. p. 98. ISBN 0743416937. "He found that when he had been ten to fifteen years in a place, using his magic as whim dictated, his powers would weaken. If he moved away, they returned." 
  5. ^ Niven, Larry (2005). The Magic Goes Away Collection. New York: Pocket Books. p. 99. ISBN 0743416937. "His last experiment involved a simple kinetic sorcery set to spin a metal disc in midair." 
  6. ^ Niven, Larry (2005). The Magic Goes Away Collection. New York: Pocket Books. p. 107. ISBN 0743416937. "'The disc? I told you. A kinetic sorcery with no upper limit. The disc keeps accelerating until all the mana in the locality has been used up.'" 
  7. ^ ""Lupoff's Book Week," Starship 35, 1979, p.76.
  8. ^ Sandra Miesel, "The Mana Crisis", The Magic Goes Away, pp. 196-97, Ace Books, 1978.

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