Worldbuilding: Nursing the Flame

Everyone loves fire in fantasy and superhero fiction. It’s bright, it’s flashy, it’s explosive. It’s also a nightmare if Reality Ensues, because burns in Real Life are horrific. Meaning fiction that edges toward the harder scale of physics tends to play up the horror, or avoid having good characters use fire at all.

Which means the full potential of fire is vastly underused.

Because someone with a fine control of fire and heat ought to be grabbed by either potters, smiths, or – and this is the one that doesn’t show up nearly enough – the closest healing organization, stat.

A little physiology here. Two of the major threats to almost any organism’s health are microbial infection, and fungal infection. The cooler your body temperature runs, the more likely you are to be prone to both of those. This is one of the reasons you run a fever when sick; your body is raising the ambient temperature, betting on cooking the invader before it cooks the rest of you. Or at least weakening the nasty enough for the rest of your immune system to clear it out.

This also holds for a lot of homoeothermic (“cold-blooded”) critters as well. They just use outside conditions to raise their temperature, when they can. Alligators in particular are known for giving themselves “behavioral fevers” – basking until their temperature is significantly over its regular degree, and keeping it there.

The problem, of course, being the brain, and after that other vital organs. There’s only so long you can run at high temps without doing them serious damage. And this is where the control of heat would come in. If your character can give the rest of the body a fever but keep the brain cool-

Healers would snap that up. Seriously. Especially if you’re in a world lacking antibiotics, this would be a way to treat illness when nothing else works.

Infections. Abscesses. Stopped-up lymph nodes. Other injuries, where a gentle rise in temperature could help ward off infection. Cancer; people are doing work with that today, finding ways to target specific cells with infrared and leave healthy tissue alone. Unwanted magical growths. All of these and more would benefit from someone who can control elemental fire.

Of course it’d have its own set of side effects, and people are likely to feel much sicker before they feel better. Lymph nodes in particular; if you apply gentle heat to start getting the bacteria and toxins moving so your body can kill them and flush them out… well, you now have a rush of formerly stopped-up toxins in your system and the world’s likely to go spinny. And nauseous. Or worse.

And this is where you’d need people with other healing skills, if only on the level of, “give this poor soul ginger water to keep them hydrated”.

Fire is life. Think about how to use it!

40 thoughts on “Worldbuilding: Nursing the Flame

  1. The trick is that fire is cool.
    Main Character cool.

    And Main Characters tend to avoid any kind of healing skills like the plague.
    After all, if they had the ability to actually help people, then people might expect them to help instead of running off to punch people in the nose.

    So if fire magic is depicted as useful, then the MC will never be able to use it!

    Liked by 3 people

      1. What’s really frustrating is when you have a fanfic where the author wants one specific act of healing to save a character they like, but then they spend the entire rest of the story desperately avoiding being pigeonholed into healing ever again.

        “Someone was stabbed! The person who did it ran off!”

        “I’ll go chase them!”

        “Wait, shouldn’t you stay back and heal the guy who was stabbed?”

        “What? No! I’m a (mediocre) swordsman, I should go running through the woods to swing my sword in his general direction!”

        “That sounds really useless. Why don’t we leave the hunting to the people with bows and training in tracking, and you can heal the guy who was stabbed.”

        “…I can’t heal him.”

        “You healed the cute girl who had her heart ripped out. Why not this dude?”

        “I have a papercut. Can’t use healing touch at all. Besides, it’s just a flesh wound…”

        Liked by 2 people

    1. I’m one of those people who would say, “So why can’t they punch the bad guy in the nose and then heal his victims?” But as mentioned below, I’m fascinated with healer-type characters. I’m going to find a way to do both, somehow.

      Liked by 2 people

  2. I’m not sure if this would count, but there are stories from my area about people who could help burns heal by pulling the heat out of them.

    I’ve kind of wondered if the same ability could also help someone with heat exhaustion or heat stroke. They’d need fluids and electrolytes too, but it might be able to help lower their temperature back down to a normal range.

    Liked by 3 people

    1. Oooh, if you can *pull heat away*– then you could also cool someone’s brain, to allow them to have a fever for longer without risk.
      Even ifit’s just putting ice-packs on their wrists or something!

      Liked by 3 people

      1. Never heard of it used in a bath, but pour apple cider vinegar on a washcloth and blot the sunburn as soon as you notice it– it works to prevent blistering and peeling.

        …the “test case” being when someone had a large spot that was missed, after being shirtless all day. Either there was a strangely uniformed focused area on one shoulder, or it works. 😀

        Aloe-based after sun stuff also works to prevent pain and blistering, but I still peel.

        Liked by 1 person

      2. I do use aloe when I burn myself when it’s just heat or when treating a sunburn, but it doesn’t exactly work when you burn yourself with essential oil’s or cinnamon extract. Hence cold chamomile tea compresses.

        Liked by 2 people

  3. I’ve been thinking about this on-and-off since reading Embers. Also, the Phoenix Force’s potential as a healer is seriously missed here. (I mean, she even outright declares it: “I am FIRE! And Life Incarnate! Now and forever, I am PHOENIX!”) That’s not even going into an article I did on my newsletter for the Scarlet Witch, whose potential in this area has also been severely underutilized….

    As someone with a fascination with healer-type characters, though, maybe I’m in the minority. I need to sit and think about this for a while. There are ways to apply it – it’s just a matter of *finding them*. Er. the characters and worlds, that is. Ideas for techniques are a dime a dozen. The right people to use them and the right situations are harder!

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Missing the Phoenix Force’s potential seems to be a thing. I’m still not over dipping into an issue from the past couple years and discovering that the Earth had been enwrapped in Darkness and Slime (I think it had something to do with a relative of Venom’s) and Jean Grey sensed a Spirit of Fire dedicated to Life approaching!

      … It was something completely different looking for somebody else. Like, I realize her relationship with the entity is to say the least fraught, but Rachel was alive at the time too.

      I think when Rachel founded the Askani in the distant future it was partly as healers, although not particularly fire-focused in general other than symbolically.

      Liked by 3 people

      1. :sighs, rubs face: There’s a reason I ignore almost all comics written in the last ten to fifteen years….

        Modern Marvel has lost the ability to write. If we’re going to salvage anything out of it, it will take a few years and A LOT of streamlining, at least in certain areas. :sighs again:

        Liked by 2 people

      2. On the one hand, yes, okay, it’s a big world and despite appearances not everything can reasonably connect to the Summers-Grey familial agglomeration.

        On the other hand, there is a difference between setting things up to mislead and surprise the reader in a clever way and setting things up to not make a lick of sense.

        Also, their weird mutant resurrection setup is evidently supposed to basically canonize the longstanding joke about a revolving door to the afterlife, to the point they had a weird subplot in an adjacent comic about making Death sick, but the “husks” they are putting people in are alive, moving, and explicitly capable of being comforted before the backup minds get popped in. I am not sure whether to be more perturbed if this is not supposed to be worrying — I think there is precedent for “functional human body but nobody’s in there for some reason” in the universe, and despite having studied chemistry I willingly handwave the “unstable molecule” costumes, so I am not wedded to insisting on realism here, but I still keep flailing in horror — or if the hints that the writers are aware of the problem are real and they really intend to reveal a bunch of the good guys to be serially murdering people to get spare bodies.

        …I’m not buying these, but I was tracking the excerpt pages people posted for a while.

        Liked by 2 people

      3. Unlimited series are not friendly to stories. You can build up, through incompetence or the simple need to churn out more and more, the sorts of problems that it used to take centuries to build up. (King Arthur anyone? Or Robin Hood? Read the ballad “Robin Hood and the Prince of Aragon” or even a synopsis of it.)

        And if you don’t want the static characters of the Golden Age, you have to realize that a line can go on forever, but an arc has to END.

        This is why Astro City works so well. I don’t like all his stories, but switching characters lets him put ends on things.

        Liked by 1 person

      4. I poked at the recent mutant stories, and came away uninterested. Which is interesting because that’s where I first got into comics — it was the X-men vs. Avengers limited series, over the Avengers’ attempt to arrest Magneto.

        Then, I left that off when they made the reformation not stand. This is an demonstration of the need to end character arcs.

        Liked by 1 person

      5. The Phoenix Force has long been a problem merely because it’s simply too powerful. Excalibur was always fudging reasons to take out Rachel.

        This is the other problem with long running stories. You are stuck with bad decisions because without foreshadowing it’s kludgy to fix. Were it a shorter tale, they could foreshadow something like it has to be used for fighting OR healing, so having fought with it, she must pass it on. Or it could have been written off as a mistake in a single tale.

        The psychotic hatred of mutants is another one of too long running. It has been justly described as a persecution complex, but it’s real in story terms.
        There’s a story where minors decide to learn to fight because they know they will be targeted and think it’s better to shoot back. If someone revealed now that it was mental influence by aliens trying to prevent humanity from supporting its best plan of defense, it would be absurd, leaving us with the question of whether the House of M was the best possible outcome.

        Liked by 1 person

      6. On reflection, I feel philosophically moved to notice that missing potential appears to be comics’ big thing. The Fantastic Four is allegedly funded by Reed’s patents, but a tenth of the things they routinely use would have revolutionized life.

        Liked by 1 person

      7. Marion G. Harmon’s *Wearing the Cape* series is interesting if you want to see a world where real change occurs even though there’s a reason why superhero inventions are not mass-produced.

        Liked by 1 person

  4. So that bit about alligators and “The problem, of course, being the brain, and after that other vital organs. There’s only so long you can run at high temps without doing them serious damage.” Reminded me abut cheetahs. Cheetahs do their high speed thing for short periods of time, in part because they heat up, and if they kept going they would give themselves brain damage from getting too hot. Given that they are already stupid critters (I say this with full love having gotten some one on one time with a cheetah expert) they can’t really afford that for a multitude of reasons.

    Though I do remember reading a Naruto fanfic that centered on the Uchiha clan pre Konohana existing. The point being that all Uchiha use fire, it’s their heritage, even when you’re a civilian. So you have civilian Uchiha’s using their fire based chakra to metal smithing cooking knives to combat wire, making charcoal, pottery, and in wood carving. All sorts of domestic uses.

    Liked by 4 people

  5. A huge problem with fantasy is that it’s very often set in a variant on Medieval Europe… and if it’s one thing Medieval Europe is famous for, it’s its… questionable… medical practices. So I think this carries over to a lot of fantasy settings on an unconscious level. At least when it comes to the *feel* of the place in general. It has to be gritty and people need to be in danger of dying from common colds!

    Healing Spells are a whole ‘nother ball game as they tend to very often work more like plot devices to get fixed from all the fighting stuff really fast without touching on the “we have Medieval-level medical practices” feel of the setting. Make the healing magic work *too well* (or have the medical practices be very well informed) and you start edging into the setting feeling more modern in a way people aren’t used to.

    Not that it wouldn’t be cool to do the fantasy version of a medical drama… but just thinking about how much extra world-building would have to be done on the side so that whatever fantasy ways of fixing medical emergencies feels/sounds logic rather than contrived makes my head hurt. Part of why medical dramas work is because everyone knows someone who has had crazy medical issues of some type similar to the medical issues in the drama. And everyone is familiar with enough of how hospitals/doctor visits are *supposed* to work to notice when something fishy is going on or when obvious risks are being taken. Start moving too far away from that level of familiarity with the setting and I don’t know how well it would work. You’d need a *really* good team of writers who are better than average at both medical research and fantasy world-building at the very least… and neither of those kinds of writers grow on trees.

    Liked by 2 people

  6. And don’t forget the absolute moral boost of warm toes. I was in the hospital over the weekend (apparently after spending a week trying to bleed to death slowly. Given my hemoglobin level was 5 when I finally got to the ER, I was doing a good job) and my absolute favorite thing was the blanket warmer. Oh my gosh, heated blankets, warm toes, hot water…

    And having access to hot foods is so, so morale boosting. Even just having hot water with lemon can be cheering when you have a sore throat. Who hasn’t warmed up some applesauce in the microwave for a hot apple treat? (With a bit of whipped cream on top, it’s absolutely like eating apple pie with no crust. This is homemade applesauce so, can’t speak for other experiences though.) Warm blankets in winter.

    I remember using a hair dryer to warm up my jeans as a kid, because the insulation in the room was just that terrible and I hated getting out of my warm bed and putting on freezing cold pants.

    Warmth, heat, fire. Used responsibly it is absolutely the stuff of life.

    Liked by 3 people

  7. Actually if I remember right the elementals series by Lackey had a fire magic using doctor. He and a water mage teamed up to pull the poison out of the other main character. The water mage brought the poison to a cut, and the fire mage used his fire to burn it away, something about using the flame to make a vacuum?

    It’s been ages since I read it so that’s all I remember, but yeah, more people using fire for things other than combat would be nice to see!

    Liked by 1 person

  8. Fire-lighting spells.

    Really, folks, people had special tools just for the purpose of visiting your neighbors for lit coals to bring them back to your hearth, so you can relight your fire were you so careless to let it go out overnight. (Which was why you had to put the cat out. Cats in the house could light themselves and then the house on fire.)

    But you are not going to be able to light a fire quickly in a swamp for the purposes of demonstrating the swamp gas is combustible UNLESS you have fire lighting magic.

    Liked by 2 people

  9. As always, Townsends has some very on point information about 18th century lifestyle! Just released today.

    They’ve also got a video up about how they hand dug a well on their homestead, and how they lined it. They do have a safety comment about how you can’t see all the precautions they took off-screen to be able to do so safely, but it might be relevant to some background fluff. Either here or in After Midnight.

    Liked by 1 person

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