thinky thoughts on magic
superversive has a lengthy and thought-provoking post up, asking why we hanker for magic. It’s many things in passing, including a deconstruction of ceremonial magic and a literary analysis of several founding fathers of fantasy, but for me, the two most interesting bits are further in.
First is the summary of Steven D. Greydanus’ “seven hedges” which “serve to divide the magic of fantasy from the magic of curses and occult powers.” I find these fascinating, honestly, because they seem to arise out of a set of concerns that, well, don’t concern me. Greydanus (and superversive) are writing in the context of Catholic theology, and more broadly Christian theology; it’s the same context Tolkien was writing in, and he, too, had to address those concerns. What does it mean to write about magic when you believe magic is either real and bad (because then you are circumventing God) or fake and bad (because then you are wasting your time on a delusion)?
And I find that I’m not concerned with that question. Maybe I should be, and it’s a failure on my part to ponder the deeper implications of fantasy. I read the summary of the seven hedges, and found myself irritated by them. Why should I limit magic to non-human, already-trained wizardly supporting characters in another world where magic is entirely known, and lard the tale with cautionary road signs? I don’t think superversive thinks I should, but it might be that Greydanus does. (I didn’t have the enthusiasm to read his piece myself.) But those restrictions are predicated on a certain assumption of the connection between magic-in-fiction and magic-in-life, and while I haven’t thought through all my feelings on that matter, off the cuff, I’m fairly sure my feelings are not his.
Anyway, that’s one thing I’m chewing on. The other is the excellent Old English proverb superversive quotes: Man deþ swa he byþ þonne he mot swa he wile. “A man does what he is when he can do what he wants.” Magic as a means of dipping human will in myth . . . that’s a mode of thought I can get behind. Looking at my own writing, I can see how some of the magic-facilitated turning points in my stories are expressive of the characters’ inner selves, more directly than mundane action could show. (In fact, I’m tempted to write an essay explicating some examples of that, but it would be spoilery as hell — especially since one is drawn from Midnight Never Come.)
So. Thinky thoughts on magic. Go forth and think!