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“The Magician of Karakosk” by Peter S. Beagle
Card picked: Seven of Hearts
From: David Copperfield’s Beyond Imagination, ed. by David Copperfield and Janet Berliner
Once, a very long time ago, in the land I come from, there was a magician who was too good at magic.
The name of this magician is Lanak. He’s an unassuming man, a bit dumpy, and, unlike most wizards, married. He is quite happy in small out-of-the-way Karakosk, but he’s too good at what he does. His reputation draws the attention of an evil Queen who will settle for nothing less than knowing everything that Lanak knows.
Peter S. Beagle always does a magnificent job of using telling details to give his characters depth and personality. Concise details are needed when presenting a “long” short story, especially when using a very conversational voice. The set up of this story is an older, wiser man sharing a late-night tale about Lanak which is, of course, a fable about the nature and use of power. Lanak is an interesting contrast to Beagle’s more famous magician, Schmendrick. Schmendrick is tall and lank, often incompetent, and wishes for fame and grandeur. Both have to deal with the ultimate consequences of power. Generally the results are melancholic at best.
I own most of Beagle’s books, but I hadn’t read this story before. The reason for that is because it’s set in the same world as his novel The Innkeeper’s Song which I’ve been meaning to reread before I read the associated anthology, Giant Bones. This story doesn’t require knowledge of that setting, but there are mentions of things that are not of this world.
About the Author: Peter S. Beagle has been one of my favorite authors since I learned that the animated The Last Unicorn that I loved as a kid was based on a book! It was years before I tracked down a copy and read it. (What a different world it was before the internet hooked up readers with All The Books.) Despite The Last Unicorn being his most famous novel and the literary origin of Schmendrick, he’s won most of the major fantasy literature awards for other works.