Concept: Healing in Fantasy

Just some thoughts about healing.

Ever notice that healing magic makes an appearance frequently as a gaming mechanic, but not so often in fantasy literature or film? One needn’t be a highly experienced gamer to understand the need for such a tool, but I find it interesting to contemplate how magical healing works.

It’s no stretch of the imagination to say that our lives would be vastly different if the population had access to healing potions or perhaps some shaman or priest who, with a gesture and a prayer, could mend wounds and re-knit broken bones in a flash of light. In such a world – that is to say, nearly every fantasy game (or at least every RPG) – we are often asked to suspend our disbelief and not ask the simple question: “How does anyone actually ever die with this stuff available?”

Let’s set that aside, as the answer to that question would be the same even if one were to ask the point of gaming. But I’ve gotten really into my games at times, usually in an attempt to truly immerse myself and feel a different world. Even the most immersive of games will require some degree of suspension, however, as that is in fact their very nature. Other factors aside, I find that the nature of healing is among the most universal of these items.

The Elder Scrolls: Skyrim is a good example, as it’s fairly high quality (at the time of this writing) compared to most RPGs before it. Among the more realistic fantasy games, as far as realism can go with these things, there always exists the magical healing potion; not to mention the simple self-healing spell you can learn. But potions can supposedly be consumed by anyone.

Can you imagine being a chemist or apothecary in a fantasy realm? Forget blacksmithing or tailoring. If a man can mix together something that actually prevents death, then a man has found a monopoly.

But the healing itself, this is what I really want to talk about. In all my gaming and reading, it would appear to this humble scholar of fantasy that there are three primary kinds of healing.

Natural Magic: – this kind I imagine encompasses HoT (healing over time) spells, and can most easily be witnessed as rapid regeneration. In other words, a healing spell or effect of the Natural type enhances one’s ability to heal themselves… naturally. Consider herbs that boost the immune system vs. drugs that attack the disease or poison. Natural magic would probably be gained from a spirit of a tree, an herbal poultice, or maybe some alchemical potion made from plants.

Personally I imagine Natural magic to be preventative, rather than restorative, making a being appear much tougher than it actually is – by way of healing as fast as it takes damage.

Spiritual/Divine Magic: – the source of what I call Divine magic is either a diety worshipped by the healer or gained from one’s own “inner light.” Results from this sort of stuff might be what people call “miracles.” The warmth of some divine light that instantly restores a gaping wound or severed limb to its former state. Pretty nifty and likely the kind of spectacle that will make any skeptic a believer.

But how are we expectes to think it actually works? Would restorative magic spells like these return a man’s limb to what it was before it was cut off? If so, what are the guidelines? Is it based off the memory of the limb or the genetic memory of the body? Or is it simply the diety, through the magic, simply doing a “Whoops, you dropped this, lemme just – there you go, good as new.”

What if such a spell were cast on someone who was born without legs? Would they get legs they never had, or would they get no effect at all? What about neurological or psychological damage – do those Cure! Heal! Restore! spells do anything for the target’s mental health?

These are the kind of questions that keep me out of medical school.

Vampiric Magic: – for lack of a better word, the kind of healing “that occurs at the direct expense of another being.” Your classic example would be the vampire or any creature like, that lives off the blood or essence or life force or vim or vitae – whatever – to replenesh its own strength. One usually sees this spell under the name “Drain.” There is perhaps no more insidious a way of healing one’s self than by simply taking it from someone else, and likely the drained is tortured in pain or nightmarishly tormented until the drainer has had its fill. Or the victim dies.

This can arguably be considered a natural means (after all, aren’t mosquitos tiny, irritating vampires?), but I beg to differ. This is the method of bad guys and parasites – no wonder draining or vampiric spells are often in the emply of evil-doers.

What forms of of healing have you encountered, and liked the most? Thinking back, I think my own personal favorite means was as a druid or a shadow priest in World of Warcraft.


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