Ancient Book Reviews

Master of the Five MagicsKids, I’m a guy who has a lot of random thoughts on a daily basis. Most of these thoughts aren’t worth indulging; ask my wife The Duchess about it and she’ll launch into a lengthy tale about how I am always suggesting we train our four cats to do circus tricks and then travel the country in a van giving performances, eventually ending up America’s Got Talent and winning it all! So you see I’ve learned over time to ignore most of the things I think of. I could follow the route a lot of people have chosen and tweet my random thoughts, but I suspect that would just erode whatever reputation I still have.

Recently, though, I’ve been thinking about all the books I own. I own a lot of books. A lot. Maybe it’s not a record or anything, but I’ve got a house full of books. I never throw a book away, so I have what amounts to a record of every book I’ve ever read. I even have novels bought for college classes. I have everything. So sometimes I walk around the house inspecting the dusty bookshelves and pondering the books I’ve read. Not the important, classic ones, or even the ones that changed my life. No, I contemplate the forgotten ones. Ones I read when I was 14 and haven’t touched since. Ones I read and literally cannot remember anything about. Books by authors who have disappeared off the face of history.

I suppose part of it is morbid fascination: I am now an author of mass market paperbacks, so trolling my cache of MM paperbacks that are now completely forgotten is … morbidly fascinating.

Anyways, I thought I’d start writing about some of these forgotten books. I won’t re-read them; part of what I’ll write about is whether or not the book made sufficient impression on me to still remember decades later. These will mostly concern SF/F novels from the 1980s, actually, which was when I was reading at a pace of about two books a week and just consuming mass market fiction like crack. When I hit college I slowed down, got all fancy, and started reading classics.

Our first book will be Lyndon Hardy’s Master of the Five Magics. More accurately, it’ll be the trilogy Hardy wrote, including the sequel Secret of the Sixth Magic and the finale Riddle of the Seven Realms.

Now, the point of these Ancient Book Reviews will not be an in-depth analysis, but rather whether I remember anything at all about them. That’s what I find interesting here. 25 years ago I was willing to part with what was then a significant percentage of my cash flow in order to buy these books. I then read them and kept them, hauling from apartment to apartment to house, and still have them. Do I actually remember anything?

What I remember about Master of the Five Magics to this day is the system of magic Hardy created. It’s strikingly elegant. Hardy imagines Five types of magic, each with its own guild, its own rules, and its own paraphernalia: Thaumaturgy, Alchemy, Magic, Sorcery, and Wizardry. What makes the system memorable is that each discipline has its own set of rules. For example, the rules for Wizardry, which is the magical discipline concerned with summoning demons, are The Law of Ubiquity (Flame permeates all) and The Law of Dichotomy (Dominance or submission). In other words, you can summon demons through fire (fires built from different fuels will summon different or more powerful demons) and once a demon is summoned, the Wizard must either dominate the demon’s will , or be dominated instead. Simple and elegant.

Twenty-five years after reading the books, I still remember that system of magic even though a lot of the plot and character details have left my memory. Of course, the books are right upstairs and I could re-read them any time I want, and I just might, someday. Right now though, the interesting part is what I remember.

The other aspect of the books that I do recall is the basic structure of the plot: The main character keeps apprenticing in the different magical disciplines but keeps having to leave one and move on to another without achieving any sort of renown – but by the end of the book, he’s the only person in the world who has studied all five magical disciplines, making him one of the most powerful people in history, the Archimage. The progression of the story is subtle enough (if I’m remembering correctly) that this makes sense even though the protagonist’s powerlessness in the world is established in the beginning.

Considering how poor my memory is, that ain’t bad. I mean, I can’t tell you what I did yesterday, much less what I did 25 years ago, so remembering anything about a book two-and-a-half decades later is pretty impressive. I don’t think Lyndon Hardy ever published another novel, which is a shame; if anyone knows of more Hardy novels out there, send me a note!


  1. Tim of Angle

    Scanner + Hard Drive = Free Shelf Space

    A couple of years ago my wife and I had an estimated 4,000 books, and I’ve reduced that by about 20% through scanning books to PDFs in my spare time, typically while watching movies or listening to podcasts, much as my wife does with her knitting. A device the size of a brick frees about 12 linear feet of wall; I good trade, I’m thinking.

  2. jsomers (Post author)

    Tim: I get the advantages, but I’m actually not complaining about the space and wouldn’t want to scan my books in. Maybe someday. More likely I’ll be replacing a lot of books with eBook editions if they ever sort out the DRM and rights issues to my liking. But I’m one of those weirdos who likes the look of endless rows of dusty paperbacks.

  3. Sarah W

    My husband thinks the cover looks familiar and is now digging towards the ‘eighties strata in our own book collection.

    I hope he finds this series — I’d like to read it and it appears (quelle surprise) to be out of print and out of Worldcat’s reach.

  4. Patty Blount

    Please remember me in your will.

  5. Damaso

    He’s still alive and on Linked in, I think you should do a video interview with him…

    check Amazon, he wrote a bunch of other books…

  6. Mark State

    Hardy’s books are more erudite and realistic in their approach to the fictional realms of arcane and esoteric knowledge than a decades-long spate of popular horror and adventure films about children living through a series of high adventures in which with congenital abilities and/or the educated use of a wand and spoken spells, amazing feats of magic were able to be produced, and the story’s antagonists (sometimes the children themselves, especially in the horror film genre) defeated.

    Unlike the treatment given to the story lines in those kinds of stories, Hardy treats each aspect of his imaginary world’s arcane arts practitioners with a professional respect, breaking each aspect of their esoteric and obscure skills down into its component parts and assigning them to guilds of practitioners divided into masters and various apprenticeship levels. The research and imagination required to produce a fictitious world where these practices are possible and meticulously described for the reader’s understanding is nothing short of remarkable.

    A Lyndon Hardy film series is long overdue.

    The series of films that might be made from the three Hardy books could begin with each of the adventures its hero encounters on his way to becoming the rarest master practitioner of all: an Archimage, or master of all five magical arts. The film series ought to continue on into the following novels as well. I believe that the public may be better served by being introduced to a realm where –as in the real world– it takes different specializations of any field of study to create the whole, rather than just one overall branch of magical art, and I’m very much looking forward to an extremely well-produced film series based on Lyndon Hardy’s three novels.

    I’d also like to see more from Hardy in the form of fiction novels, as the books were well-written and very enjoyable reads. Although he covers the gamut of mastered arcane skills, he has not explored their application around the world in either ancient or modern times, and he has not yet written about other ‘magical’ arts; for example those that derive from knot-tying, such as weaving and navigation, which can make for a plethora of other potential sources for his brand of fictional realms.

    In each of the arts that Hardy writes about, we see the mythical and evolutionary beginnings of our modern arts and sciences ranging from all branches of physics through pharmacy and modern medicine (perhaps derived in Hardy’s kingdoms from folk medicine and organized into categories through witchcraft), psychiatry and NLP (including forms of mind control like brainwashing, voodoo, Stockholm syndrome and forms of leadership and world-creation such as Shamanism and government) and architecture (including Feng Shui), and even less-favoured areas of study like telekinesis and performance magic.

    A new series of heroes, like the Connecticut Yankee in King Arthur’s court, could tie the new and the mythical together in modern times, and might even be presented as an introduction to the original series.

    I believe the original books along with any others Mr. Hardy cares to add to this trilogy should be released in a mighty advertising build-up to the film series; perhaps produced by a strong fantasy film production house such as Industrial Light And Magic; and I for one would be a huge and happily-paying fan for every one of the films produced for the series.

  7. Mark

    the first book of the trilogy remains one of the best magical stories I have ever read. I too read this in the early 80s and have never forgotten it. I did manage to find a copy of the second book which was not as good and never knew of the existence of a third.

    The MO5M should be re-released as it is an excellent book and certainly better movie fodder than many of the stories out there today. Alodar ( I think is the Archmage’s name) was ahead of his time and is much more real than ether Harry Potter or Isabella Swan.

  8. Greg

    A highly enjoyable series. strangely enough it fuelled my career planning. Inspiration strikes us in the most unusual ways.

    Somehow i dont think Mr Hardy will be putting out any more books. But what he did is much better than most – and yes, stays with me still.

    Btw – did you read about his Caltech Rosebowl prank? priceless.

  9. Lyndon Hardy

    Hi Jeffrey

    Edited and revised editions of Master of the Five Magics and its sequels are finally back in print, and I want to thank you (and your commenters) for helping to make that happen.

    More than once along the way I would get the urge to yell, “Why am I doing this?” and just quit. But when I was egosurfing and found the kind words on your blog, it helped motivate me to keep at it. I especially liked your comments the plot structure. Most of the other review I have read just talked about the magic system.

    I would like to make that thanks a little more tangible. If you are willing to send me a USPS address that works for you, I will send you gratis the revised trilogy.


    Lyndon Hardy

  10. jsomers (Post author)

    WOW! Thanks for stopping by, and with such great news! I’d be delighted to get copies of the new editions, so rest assured I’m emailing you right now!

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