A kind of Magic
By Dave Freer
Magic I suppose lies at the heart of fantasy, at least in theory* Science Fiction has at its core (it is a heartless thing, which merely reacts) science, possibly also only in theory. Well, a nod and a wave at science anyway. However Fantasy always has the magic, even if it is merely confined to magical creatures.
In a way, it’s much easier, because the number of real magicians running around turning authors and publishers into newts because they got it wrong… Oh wait. Much is explained about the publishing world! And some lionesses saying (yet again) ‘15% of 70% is such a good deal, how I am reassured!’ has to… um. I seem to have strayed from my thesis again. Perhaps some kind of mind controlling spell…
So, magic. It ranges from the badly thought out get out of jail free card, to the very structured — A good example of the latter was Lydon Hardy’s Master of the Five Magics, which does as good a job as any of codifying the possible forms of magic (I think this was the first attempt to set this out in fiction, and you see ‘echoes’ of it throughout later fiction. He is a Physicist writing fantasy. It shows.). Of course if you are really determined you can research Bonewits ‘Real Magic, Dion Fortune’s Applied Magic, Starhawk’s ‘The Spiral Dance’ for ‘modern’ takes on this. If you want a lot of the source material for that you wade (and if you thought the above were hard going don’t even start) on Israel Regardie’s The Tree of Life, and the Golden Dawn. I failed fairly miserably with Aleister Crowley although many consider him to be source of much of modern occultism. My own favorite influence is Sir James Frazer’s The Golden Bough (this is an anthropology tome attempting to tie the threads of religions and mythology and the ‘magical’ beliefs derived from these together.
I did eventually conclude that science is a lot less like hard work, easier to understand and more reliable than magic ( so if I show up as Godzilla tomorrow, you know it was the newt that went wrong…)
However, I have my own set of touchstones in writing about it. The principles of sympathy and contagion** are fundamental to a lot of magical practice. As a result symbolism is very much part of the entire process. If a lot of what you read has echoes of High Church practice you’re probably not being fooled by the heavy layer of BS it is plastered with. A lot of the current ‘magical practice’ derived from the only forms of esotericism the founders knew, but rather like Urban Fantasy they they twisted the expected.
Religion – or at least the calling on higher powers, (depends on your point of view: gods, angels or demons, or something in between), or to take another step common to the mythos of many cultures (Greek, Slavonic, Mongol, Norse – to name ones I’ve worked on) which have inanimate (or unintelligent – like trees) – storms, waves, rocks… objects possessed of anthropomorphic ‘spirits’ which can be commanded, often by the possession of the ‘true name’ (an idea I suspect originally came out of India and spread across Europe – but has other variants elsewhere. It’s either an unbelievably old meme, or has arisen independently all over the show.)
A fascinating take on this is of course the Ancient Egyptian one which I wrote about in Pyramid Scheme.
The other area of course is what borders on telepathy and telekinesis or other possible mind-use concepts – which criss-cross from magic to science depending on convenience. Illusion, flying, precognition, mental control over others… I have to admit this is one of my favorite bits of ‘magic to write about. Sometimes it adds bits from the other areas…
Another form of magical ‘usage’ common in fantasy relates of course to magical beings – which has a lot of cross-over into mythology, and some into ‘Just so story’ type interpretations of phenomena like dinosaur bones as ‘dragons’, and of course intelligence seems to go along with these, and some of the ‘mentalist’ powers.
So: tell me about magic? Why does it appeal? What forms of it interest you. What suspends your disbelief. Why?
*Theory is a place rather like Ultima Thule, only more French.
** I am sorry you have caught it.