Note To Neilalien

You mentioned Enitharmon The Weaver. Thank you. You’ve given me an opening to talk about a batty pet theory of mine.

…My theory is, that the Cloak of Levitation does more than just levitate Doc. I think there’s precedent for this: after all, it also responds to his mental commands, behaving (just like the Eye) as a kind of helper/familiar that’s personally attached to him. Of course it can’t do just anything. But it is magic, and not just some sort of technological gizmo. So maybe it’s responsive to environment in a way a gizmo couldn’t be?


You know, it isn’t out of the question that Doc could survive physically in space (isn’t he shown doing just that under Englehart/Brunner?), and if it ever comes up, he damn well better be able to…even though he himself would naturally use his astral form to travel there if he had his druthers. But the hands/words thing would surely arise, if he were ever shoved out an airlock (and you know in your heart that Bendis will arrange this, given only enough time)…so why not just let the Cloak do the work, in such a hypothetical situation? Similarly, I can’t imagine the Cloak allowing Doc to be easily crushed by tidal forces, or heavy surface gravities, should he end up (through no fault of his own) physically on other planets or in other solar systems. “Levitation” clearly already means “protection” in at least some sense, so why not in a few more senses? Carefully chosen, of course…for example, the head must remain fair game: you can gas Doc, you can hit him with a mallet…it isn’t a Cloak of the Shield of the Seraphim. Heck, you could shoot Doc in the chest with a zap-gun, nothing wrong with that. But in Len Wein’s Defenders (and elsewhere of course, but I’m just using the Defenders ’cause it’s right there on the shelf behind me, and it’s a glaring example), Doc is thrown violently against the brick corner of a building (after being superhumanly bludgeoned, no less!), and he’s knocked out, but then he gets up again a few minutes later. Standard comics operating procedure, sure: but would it do any harm to say the Cloak had something to do with it, too? “Cushioning”, as well as levitating…I think that’s defensible. Letting Doc speak and breathe and stand upright without needing to cast spells to do so…Neilalien, why not? The Cloak will never be as useful to Doc as the Eye, but I’ve grown quite fond of it over the years, and I’d like everyone to know it’s pulling its weight even though it doesn’t get the glory…despite not being able to travel with him astrally, I have a fancy that the Cloak likes Doc more than the Eye does: it may not be his Batman, but maybe it could still be his Jimmy Olsen. And add to this, finally, that there had to be a reason the Cloak was neato enough to make a good graduation gift to Doc from the Ancient One…

I mean, sure, you could point out that the Marvel magicians ain’t too good at flying…

Hey, wonder why?

Maybe the spell’s relatively easy, but needs special “flying talent” as well as magical gifts, to make it work?

Or maybe it’s not only a rather difficult spell (Strange/Mordo level), but also absurdly costly in terms of constant concentration when astral travel is so much cheaper? Or when, at that level, you could teleport just as easily?

Or maybe it just isn’t “magicky” enough?

Maybe it’s considered a pretty low-class thing, this flying business…

But whatever, the Cloak is, in fact, already fairly neato. So what would be wrong with making it just a bit more so? As Enitharmon said, there are a lotta Cloaks out there, but this one’s special; this one’s the really primo Cloak. Complicated; difficult to repair. Really beautiful workmanship. Really beautiful artistry. An elegant conception, not just some cheap power-storage artifact out of a D&D manual. Maybe even…

Maybe even, just a bit subtle, in the way it works?

Is that too much to suppose?

As Elder Disciple, you must be the one to judge whether or not this fancy of mine is endurable. Until then, I shall meditate.


12 responses to “Note To Neilalien

  1. Having read a great deal of fantasy novels and played a great deal of Dungeons and Dragons…

    In The Hobbit, Bilbo Baggins finds a standard-issue ring of invisibility. There are, maybe, one or two hints that the ring is more than that, but they’re only visible in retrospect.

    In The Lord of the Rings, this ring is revealed as the One Ring, Sauron’s Ring of Power that must be destroyed, etc., etc.

    Early in the Harry Potter series, Harry is presented with a standard-issue cloak of invisibility. There are, maybe, one or two hints that the cloak is more than that, but they’re only visible in retrospect.

    In Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows, this cloak is revealed as one of the Deathly Hallows, which is an ancient magical artifact intended to conquer death, and it’s really important, etc., etc.

    You seem to be performing a similar process on Dr. Strange’s cloak.

  2. Well…yes, maybe so!

    Consider, Matthew, that the meaning of “levitation” might just as well be read as “lightness”…the Cloak might keep Doc (passively, mind you) light in the world…as in, the world may only touch him lightly. The Cloak, read this way, could make it so it’s not even does he have air to breathe/does he not have air to breathe, but as long as no one else cares, he doesn’t need to care either. Light: like all the superpowers one doesn’t think of.

    Maybe the Cloak can travel (like the Eye) at “the speed of thought”…maybe it can slip through dimensions. Maybe it can always find Strange, wherever he is…or maybe it can’t.

    Or: maybe “lightness” means “not being touched by the everyday things of this world” — maybe “lightness” is an aid to meditation. Maybe the Cloak is a calming influence, enabling Doc to better keep his head in outrageous situations. Maybe the Cloak helps him orient himself.

    Not that I’m saying that suggests vulgar storytelling possibilities (i.e. the Cloak is stolen from Doc, and it makes a big difference in his effectiveness), but maybe the Cloak could be better understood as one of Doc’s helpers, as the Eye is one of his helpers…

    Well, the Eye is his chief helper, okay. The Eye is his, maybe not soul, but at least his spiritual perfection. Yes, that sounds about right. And then the Cloak is his…


    His spiritual perfection too, obviously. But a passive expression of his spiritual perfection, as the Eye is an active one. Still, passivity covers a lot..

    I mean, even the Aged Genghis can levitate, crazy as he is…

    But, maybe levitation isn’t so easy?

    Or maybe “levitation” says more than it seems to.

    Well, it is magic

  3. Let’s first establish that Dr. Strange exists, from a genre point of view, in the border area between ‘superheroes’ and ‘fantasy’. That’s fair, right?

    But really, the superhero genre is mostly just a subset of the fantasy genre. Where it differs from other stuff in the fantasy genre has to do with a) it’s modern-day setting, b) the typical activities of its protagonists and c) its most commonly used conventions and themes. Where it doesn’t differ is in what’s possible. Sure, sometimes there’s a bit of a science-fiction flavour to the goings-on in your superhero comics, but it’s mostly window-dressing. It’s mostly (not always!) just magic with a scientific mask on, like Jerry Siegel and Jack Kirby took the regular universe and beat the hell out of it with Clarke’s Law. What I’m saying is, superhero-comics science might as well be magic.

    And, in this light, all the stuff you’re speculating about about what the Cloak can do is just making the Cloak remind me more and more of a Legion flight ring, which has had similar capabilities in recent years.

    But when we’re talking about the Cloak this way, we don’t want to fall into the fanboy trap of just coming up with a shinier toy for Dr. Strange to play with as he roasts demons or whatever. Because the mistake too many fantasy authors and Dungeon Masters make when it comes to magic is that they make it too understandable. Predictable. Quantifiable. Superhero-comic science.

    Magic ought to be a) weird, b) eerie, c) disturbing and d) ineffable. Even the Sorceror Supreme ought to have only a partial handle on it.

    You know better than I do (because I hardly know at all) just how Dr. Strange and the Cloak have actually been portrayed; for all I know your analysis is a perfect one. And I’m not sure what I’m really trying to get at here. Maybe it’s this: if Marvel has done what I would consider to be a good job (as per my criteria one paragraph up) of writing Dr. Strange and magic and the Cloak, then no analysis of just what the Cloak is and does will ever really be satisfactory, because it’s magic and therefore you can’t quite pin it down.

  4. That’s a good point, about it being weird and hard to grasp. It would be kind of crazy and creepy if the cloak would protect him in a vacuum, but he didn’t know that it would, and if it happened then he wouldn’t know if he could necessarily get it to do that again…

  5. I couldn’t agree with you more about magic needing to be magical, Matthew…and it’s always a great disappointment to me to read something where it’s not. Tolkien springs to mind with this for sure: one of the things about his world-creation that I think usually gets overlooked is that magical power is also natural power — not that magical power stems from its connection to “Mother Nature”, necessarily, but that the elves are intrinsically Elvish, the dwarves are intrinsically Dwarvish, and so on and so forth, and that means something. Middle-Earth is just plain not rationalizable according to (ugh) Clarke’s Law — it just doesn’t work: how come Feanor can’t just make some more Silmarils? Has he forgotten how to do it? Did he not write down his process? Clearly not; clearly his knowledge is not that sort of knowledge, and his “skill” isn’t teachable in the ordinary way. Same with the “skill” used to make the Rings of Power: Sauron “instructs” the Elf-smiths, but in what, exactly? Is the relationship of the Rings of Power to the One Ring really analogizable to power circuits and computer programming, just building stuff in? I’d suggest not, if only because very little else in Tolkien’s world works that way either. Innateness is everything, and qualities themselves create their own paralogical force. When they feel like it: the Elves “wake up” the trees by talking to them, but do they all wake up? No, they don’t: it’s a one time deal. Glorfindel fights off the Black Riders by being Elder and ethereal and Good, but what does that mean? Clearly, it doesn’t mean anything…unless you buy it. Tom Bombadil is simply impossible, and can’t be explained; Aragorn can lay hands on people and heal them because he is the True King, emphasis on true…but where does this “true” stuff come from, in the first place, and why should it matter? I could go on. The elves of Mirkwood that Bilbo encounters appear and then disappear…but how? By being elvish, is how. By being magical. True, there’s some logical through-lines in Tolkien: particularly in the Silmarillion, where we’re repeatedly told from whence power arises. But if the through-lines are there, they’re still only going through all the other stuff that doesn’t answer so well to logic, which is what Tolkien’s High Fantasy successors mostly missed, by treating magic as a mere instrumentality.

    I’ve actually got a whole thing on this, somewhere around here…

    Comic books do partake of that, even when they’re not expressly “magical”. Just look at the Silver Age Superman and his special vulnerability to magic: like the absolute, unquestionable indestructibility/efficacy of Kryptonian super-this-and-that (super-perfume, super-hypnosis, super-shoe leather), it doesn’t make sense. For a while there, you could beat Superman silly with a feather-duster, so long as it was a magic feather-duster, because he’s vulnerable to magic

    But, what is magic?

    Well, for that matter, what is “super-ness”? What is “invulnerability”?

    Well, magic, as you say, but also not-magic at the same time. This is an ingredient of the superhero that’s probably essential: over at Marvel, they had the same sort of thing going on, only instead of calling it super-ness they called it “mutant energy” instead. And yes, sometimes it gets pretty silly. But the silliest it gets is when it accretes too much rationale to itself. What is “mutant energy”? We’re actually much better off not knowing…

    Doc escapes problems like that, though, because he inverts the relationship of magic to super-stuff. But that’s why it’s just dumb for Quesada to worry that Doc needs “de-powering”. Because that’s the last thing he needs! A de-powered Doc (he’s actually not “powered” anyway) becomes just a tally-sheet of attributes and capabilities and “charges”, not unlike the standard-issue D&D magic-user claptrap you reference. And that’s no good! Because that’s not interesting! Because it just isn’t magical enough. Which is a pretty bad thing when your character’s a magician. Not a magic-user…feh. Who the hell wants to see anyone just USE magic? Where’s the fun in THAT…?

    I guess I’m saying: yeah, I want analyses of the Cloak to fail, too. Because I don’t want it just to be another magic ITEM.

    Gee, that took me quite a while, to bash that all out…!

  6. Oh, hi Dan…

    Yeah, I agree, it kind of would be weird and creepy if the cloak was explicitly said to have protected him in a vacuum…

    Maybe I’ve got myself back-to-front on this.

  7. Surely I donn’t need to tell anyone who reads this blog that in the Howard the Duck Marvel Treasury Edition, when Howard briefly assumes the mantle of Master of the Mystic Arts for a temporarily incapacitated Stephen Strange, he’s able to use the Cloak to ensnare and restrain Doctor Angst. For some reason, this made me think of the Cloak as not so much an object — much less one with a single function, a unitasker if you like — but rather as a manifestation of the will of the magician. If the magician has the will and imagination to fly, then it’s there to be flown with; if the magician instead needs an adversary swathed in thick fabric, then by golly it can do that as well.

    (And really, isn’t this what the tool is in ceremonial occult stuff? The athame isn’t a special magic knife, it represents the incisive cutting power of the practitioner’s intellect. The grail isn’t a special magic cup, it’s all about the compassion of the holder. That’s where Arthur went wrong, see?)

    But what if that’s not quite it either? What if the Cloak is Stephen’s familiar? What if it flies itself, but is willing to go where Stephen wants to go most of the time?

  8. I agree with some of your points.
    THE CLOAK should, indeed, offer more than just flight to it’s wearer.

    Some sort of almost “bullet-proof” nature to the cloak WOULD be beneficial. Almost like a D&D +9 (or whatever) garment that could act as a pseudo body-armor.

    However, it shouldn’t get to be TOO much of an all-purpose asset.
    It’s PRIMARY function is flight.
    Not that it is NEEDED for flight.
    Doctor Strange had mastered Levitation spells when he was still a novice. (Oddly enough, in the Doctor Strange / Dr. Doom : Triumph & Torment” graphic novel, he finds himself levitating IN HIS SLEEP.
    Something that he states he hasn’t done since his earliest days of learning.)

    The act of levitating (and flight) are physically taxing upon the spell-caster.
    The Cloak merely allows for more advanced flight (and some protection) so that no personal reserves are spent in the act.

    It is also empathic in nature, responding to his thoughts and wishes.

    I wrote an expansive “dissertation” on the subject of the Cloak, back in September, in reply to NeilalieN’s comments about it’s astral nature (or lack thereof).

    It can be found here:

    Happily, it is a NeilalieN-approved piece of writing.


    Check it out.


  9. Oh, I forgot to mention that obviously, any “protective” nature to the cloak would be in addition to Doc’s already existing (and supposedly CONSTANT) protective spells.

    He has been written in the past as having a “permanent” personal protective field about himself (which is what usually prevents him from being pulped by HULK-level blows).

    Sadly, however… it isn’t always written as being “activated”, since Doc gets brained by “thugs with hammers” (or any baddie proffering a “clud” to the back of his head) all the damn time.

    I only wish that there was some sort of protection against the frustration this causes any long-term (and fairly basic common-sense wielding) Doctor Strange fan.
    Perhaps the “All-powerful Antacid of Antioch” or the “Pink Puddles of Pepto”?



  10. I think a constant protective spell would protect against magical attacks. A thug with a hammer is a decidedly non-magical threat. I think Strange could handle it if he were aware that the threat was coming, and stop the hammer if he saw it or detected its pressence.

    Unfortunately, there’s no spell that protects Dr. Strange against *plot* hammers…

  11. RAB: a nice magicky way of looking at it…and wow, yes, what if? Put that together with Dan’s idea of the Cloak just suddenly doing something damn unexpected, and you may have fertile ground for another one of the old Englehartian “Doorways…can it be I’ve opened too many of them?” kind of things…

    S-S-C: I’m replying at greater length in a further post, but I’ll just say…hey! Very nice stuff at that link, and folded together with the ideas of others that I just mentioned…hmm, interesting possibilities. I always liked that undercurrent in Englehart’s run, of a somewhat chthonic side to Doc’s magical ability. Enlightened, to be sure! But chthonic. Real Seventies “magick”-type stuff: in the fan-fic in my head, what makes Strange Mordo’s superior is that he knows that all control is an illusion anyway — well, what else does his origin story teach him, for heaven’s sake? Whereas Mordo always seeks mastery through magic, and so therefore magic always bites him in the ass when it all comes down to basics…because after all, to be in tune with the universe is to be in tune with oneself as the universe in microcosm, right?

    Glad I put up this post; I’m getting all kinds of new fan-fic in my head, because of it…so thanks, all!

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