Dyslexia in Fantasy

Everybody likes to cheer for the underdog, the unexpected hero.  However the truly unexpected hero of Spellwright is Blake Charlton, the author.  I don’t know how bad “severe dyslexia” is, but the fact that he wrote a novel is impressive.  It’s not a perfect book, but most aren’t.  Still, I respect that he was able to do so, and in a fashion that is a very different take on fantasy.

In the world of Spellwright, magic is done with words.  Not strange words that must be pronounced, but text.  A spell can be a simple sentence or many paragraphs and hundreds of thousands of words.  The words are crafted from runes that the spellwright produces within their body.  I’m not entirely clear on how that works, just that spellwrights tend to bare their arms to write, though they can use just about any muscles in their bodies.  The implication is that there is some form of physical movement going on.

There are many different magical languages in use.  Some languages are primarily for physical use and others for mental use, so a construct would be made up of both types in order for it to react and move.  There’s also more specialized languages, such as one used only by pyromancers to, well, set things on fire.  There’s also the Language Prime.  It is the most powerful of all magical languages, and the conflict in this series is essentially to be able to use Language Prime while the other side can’t.

Language Prime is where the concepts for Spellwright really grip me.  For you see, Language Prime consists of only four runes.  Four three dimensional hexagonal runes that define everything and everyone.  Anything living is composed of Language Prime.

Essentially, Language Prime is DNA.

Now, magic that is capable of affecting people on creatures on such a level is hardly new.  But the fact that magical language is just that, language, and that DNA is a language that can be used the same way as others?  That is utterly fascinating to me. Of course, the knowledge of Language Prime is rare, and it’s part of why the protagonist is important.  He is, by birth, a legacy of the old Imperial Family which had an inborn knowledge of Language Prime.  But the family was broken and scattered centuries ago when humans fled the ancient land to their present homes.  Now the ancient land is filled only with demons who would love to escape their prison.

But very little of this is known to and understood by Nicodemus Weal as the story begins.  He’d mostly just like to achieve the rank of Lesser Wizard, no mean feat for a boy like him.  He is dyslexic, though the book uses the term “cacographer.”  Not only is he prone to misspelling words by mixing up his runes, but his very touch can misspell whatever he’s in contact with.  Dyslexia is not uncommon, as Nicodemus is just one of several cacographers in the magic academy.

It’s explained later in the book that the two spell languages that we deal with for most of the book, Numinous and Magnus, are illogical languages.  Contrast this with Wrixlan and Pithan, which are logical.  Essentially, the first two have spelling much like English; it doesn’t have to make sense to be right or wrong.  The second two are always spelled the way they sound.  The contrast is where my mind is blown.

I’ve never really thought about how dyslexia works in languages other than English. I’m only partially fluent in one other, and that’s Hebrew.  Hebrew does have a wildly different alphabet than English, and yes, some letters do resemble each other or differ only by the placement of a dot.  (Though the dots and such aren’t always used…but I’m not even going to get into that.)  The point is, I don’t know how common dyslexia is in langauges that are far less bastardized than English, nor if there are any truly “logical” languages in our world in which it’s impossible to misspell if you write it how it sounds.

As you can see, I find the entire concept of language as magic to be rather compelling, and given that the rest of the book is solidly average for fantasy, this is almost certainly what keeps me reading.  There’s nothing wrong with Spellwright and it’s far from the worst first book I’ve ever read, but it’s not great either.  It wouldn’t be anything special if not for the magic system and I do appreciate that.

The other books I’ve read that make a point of dyslexia are Rick Riordan’s, but his approach is different.  Most of his Greek demigods in particular have dylsexia, but in their case it’s because they instinctively understand Ancient greek.  It’s a perfectly logical explanation for his world, but it lacks the depth and understanding that Charlton presents.

And then there’s JourneyQuest, by Dead Gentlemen and Zombie Orpheus Entertainment.  That would be a webseries available on youtube.  The wizard there is also dyslexic, but in a very different way.  His spells not only tend to fail because of it, they tend to have the polar opposite result of what he meant to do.  It’s another different way to present dyslexia, and one I think worth mentioning.  Also JourneyQuest is pretty funny and I love ZOE productions.  So, that’s my plug for the day.

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