Occam’s magic razor

I think rules for magic in fantasy should be as simple as possible, almost non-existent.
I was reminded of this while reading The Magic Three of Soltaria by Jane Yolen yesterday. The title refers to three buttons, each of which can grant a wish; the catch is, “magic has consequences” and whether you wish for good or evil, the universe will balance the scales in some unanticipated way. That’s all the rules for magic we get, and it’s allw e need.
Or take Jack Vance’s “Dying Earth” series, where magicians can only hold three or four spells in their mind at a time, placing a sharp limit on what they can accomplish (yes, this is where D&D took the idea). An effective brake on what wizards can do, but a very simple one.
I’ve read stories that made magic much more complicated: Elaborate rules, restrictions, terminology, maybe because that appeals to readers who want to immerse themselves in a fictional world. Magic like that tends to bore me; it bores me even more when something happens that breaks the rules and the author gets into complicated discussions about why it should be impossible for any character to do whatever they did. There’s something silly about an author trying to impress me by having a character break made-up rules—no matter how much the book insists they’re unbreakable, they obviously are breakable, so what’s the fuss?
When I was writing Questionable Minds, I started making some technical rules and having my villain show his power by breaking them. Then I realized how absurd that was, so I took a simpler route, having him perform multiple psionic operations at once, when everyone else has to work hard to accomplish even one. I figure “concentration” is a basic principle that most readers (if I ever get some) would accept as logical.
I should note I have the same problem with SF. Long, technical discussions about spacewar tactics or the merits of one brand of battlesuit vs another bore me to tears; I’m happy with “This battlesuit is way more powerful, yeehah!”
Like they say, keep it simple.

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