My problems with magic

By , 22 December 2006 6:57 pm

One of the great problems I have as a writer is that of identity. When people ask me what sort of thing I write I often mutter, ‘well, fantasy’ or ‘science fiction’. (Actually I sometimes worry that I have slipped down the gap between the two terms. I have too much science for the fantasists who want the occult to ooze off every page and too much supernatural for the scientists who are desperately allergic to any hint of the paranormal. I think the phrase speculative fiction is much better, but it hasn’t really caught on.) Anyway, one of the problems with using the word fantasy is that it is assumed that magic is a major element.

Now,I don’t really do magic. There are no witches or benign wizards in my books. (Actually in Dark Foundations magic does occur, but it spectacularly backfires in a manner that I would like to think would get me undying praise (and purchases) from the Christian Right.)

But why don’t I do magic? I have three objections; theological, scientific and literary. The theological objection is pretty mainstream; magic is manipulation and God is not a god who we can bend to our purposes. The scientific objection – and I am a scientist – the fact is that successful magic rarely occurs in this age of the world. God in his wisdom seems to me to have largely restricted its use: we are pretty much left with those forces governed by the so-called ‘laws’ of physics. And I think that is for our good. A world with magic set loose would be a pretty terrifying place for the weak.

My main objection however, is literary. For me, the problem of magic is that everything is possible. And if everything is possible, the one thing that is not possible is tension. In order to create tension, there must be some sort of resistance, some kind of challenge. And unless you make it (by creating laws of magic etc) there is no such resistance in worlds steeped in magic. In this way magic corrodes reality. Why plough fields to make crops when you can create bread by a spell? Why work to learn medicine when you can heal all ills with a whisk of the wand? Has anyone ever seriously considered the mechanics of say, Hogwarts? Why bother even learning when knowledge could presumably be instantly transferred by magic? Authors of such books get round this by creating various laws and rules of magic so that the very things the hero needs to do cannot be done magically. Consider Lord of the Rings. The Chris Walley Shorter Version has Gandalf turning up on page 20 or thereabouts and saying to Frodo: ‘You have a magic ring that needs destroying but I however have found the Famous Item Transporting Spell.’ And with a few arcane words and a wave of the wand, the ring is transported into the heart of Mount Doom. End of book. I think actually Tolkien realised that this was a problem. Have you noticed how rarely Gandalf uses magical powers? He is far more a prophet (in biblical terms) than a sorcerer. Interestingly, the same principle is at work with Superman, who because he can do almost everything, is actually far less interesting than some of the superheroes with inferior powers. So I don’t do magic. Or even the sufficiently advanced technology (such as matter replicators or transporters) that achieves the same purpose as magic.

As this is Christmas it might be worth pursuing these thoughts in a theological direction. In the Bible, the miraculous is really rather uncommon and when it does occur – it is rarely – if ever, ordered from below, as if it were magic. There are no good wizards in Scripture. The miraculous is only granted by God on his terms and in his time. I like to think that in being wary of magic I am in good company.

Have a good Christmas!

4 Responses to “My problems with magic”

  1. theplainstate says:

    Yes, magic has a few set backs. Another one of them being that there are allready a zillion “wizard takes farm boy on a quest to destroy evil orb” books. There are also alot of books where magic only exists in the form of science and mystery.

    God Bless, this was my favorite blog so far.

  2. GuardStar says:

    Cheers! I love your stories. I don’t think I have ever read any other Christian Science-Fiction that has such a way with helping us take a good hard look at ourselves, our attitudes and how we respond to others as well as cue us in on the fact that we here, in the real world who know the Lamb Slain and Risen among the Stars, to focus on personal holiness drawing on Him for all knowledge and righteousness. He is our only source and an ever present help in time of need. I am truly blessed to have found your books. The scriptural truth spoken of in them shows they are anointed and inspired and have helped me see things very differently as well as encouraged me thru the day as I pursue His way.

    God Bless,
    Richard Szczepanski
    Warriors of Light Ministry
    Bradenton, Florida

  3. Chris says:

    Thanks Richard,
    This sort of comment makes it all worth while. But do spread the word! Everyone these days talks about ‘viral marketing’: what we used to call ‘word of mouth’. I guess with a new author in a new genre that’s what we have to do!

    Blessings

    Chris

  4. Benjamin says:

    I think Lewis explained it as thus: The world had refined since the age of Merlin. Perhaps there were creatures truly independent of the cause of good or evil, working their own whims within teh world. However, now reality draws to a point where one cannot stand on his own, but must choice between God or Satan…this is a paraphrasing from his book That Hideous Strength. The quote reminds me of what Christ spoke, “At one time the Father overlooked them [the gentiles] in their ignorance, but will no more.” And, so, we notice how magic (at least, it’s effectiveness) has fled from the earth.

    I’ve been toying with another idea, though…I figure we shall see the occult’s strength reinforced nearer the end of the Fall. God warns that the Serpent’s thralls with receive his perverse strength…sounds like an ominous and interesting time (tornado-bearing-straight-at-you intersting). Another point of approval about the trilogy: LatS shows this hideous strength–and its limitations.

    All in all, a well thought post.

    Cheers,
    Benjamin

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