Magic: n. 1. The art that purports to control or forecast natural events or forces by invoking the supernatural.
2. Exercise of slight of hand or conjuring for entertainment.
2. A mysterious quality of enchantment (the magic of exotic lands)
Many fantasy/sci-fi writers are big into science—and this makes sense, especially in terms of writing science fiction. Research into these realms separates a good sci-fi, or steam-punk novel from the mediocre. But when science becomes the foundation for fantasy writing as well I wonder—is this becoming the norm?
Is it myth versus hard science that is the issue here or does it run deeper than that? We live in a masculine, action oriented country—there is no arguing that. Our government is run by men--men make more money than women doing the same job. We are constantly busy, men and women alike, with little time for reflection or just being. Achieving our goals becomes paramount, not the journey. Even yoga has turned into a power exercise, asana done quickly with no regard for the deeper meaning, which is a preparation for meditation. The feminine principle becomes lost and ignored in our rush.
From my viewpoint a fantasy is a fantasy—unexplained phenomena—suspension of disbelief. But there are those who above all want to be correct in how their animal, plant or alien characters relate. I don’t mean to denigrate them; we all want to explain our character's strange and wonderful abilities—it adds depth and breadth, but my question is: what has happened to magic?
With magic anything is possible, with magic a character can move from place to place through the ether—there are no scientific manuals to explain how this is done. Time travel can be accomplished with a snap of the fingers, or holding an amulet, or going through standing stones into the past like Diana Gabaldon’s books. To communicate with a being outside of our sphere of understanding can be accomplished easily with magic. If fantasy lacks this element then where might we find it? In a children’s story? Fairytales are full of magic as is Tolkien’s work. Harry Potter? Lots of magic.
I may be way off base here, writing about apples and oranges, but I get the feeling that some writers are reluctant to acknowledge the unseen, the part of us all that is not explainable—hearing the phone ring and knowing who it is before you pick it up, or feeling a connection with a person you just met for no particular reason you can put your finger on. Communication with dogs, cats, birds or horses that we shrug off, saying it can’t be. Many fantasy stories seem to go for the horrific, the shocking and gruesome rather than the more subtle elements which can be even more frightening—for example: The Picture of Dorian Grey, Edgar Allen Poe—ghosts and things that go bump in the night.
I worry that magic may be going the way of the adverb. I refuse to exclude adverbs from my writing although I do pay attention more closely to how many I use and whether they’re absolutely necessary. And I must embrace the magic, the mystical, the mythology that isn’t tangible, explainable or seen. It’s what keeps me going as a person and a writer.
If you write sc-fi or fantasy do you use magic or do you rely on science as your foundation? I’d love to hear your thoughts!