Sunday, 30 May 2010

Magic and Fantasy

One feature shared by all Fantasy (or other) narratives predicated upon ‘magic’ is that the magic ‘has rules’. This is so because magical thinking ‘has rules’—psychological rules that is, which have exactly the same coherency and validity as, say, the ‘rule’ that ‘when turning on or off the light, I must flick the switch seven times or my family will die.’

I’d like to write a Fantasy novel in which the magic has no rules at all. That would be bracing. It might bring out this buried truth: million who think they love Fantasy because of the magic actually love it because of the rules.

6 comments:

佳蓉 said...
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mahendra singh said...

Perhaps such a narrative might actually turn out to be a hyper-realistic, linear text, along the lines of some of Peter Handke's work?

Opal said...

I don't think a wholly chaotic magic system would be intelligible at all. It wouldn't even seem like what we mean when we say "magic." We all believe in causality. The question is what qualifies as an adequate causal explanation?

Human beings crave understanding, but their forms of understanding are also limitations, and our modern view of our world can leave one feeling powerless and trivialized.

I thought that most magic systems were based on mythology (culture) and intuition. Magic systems are no more incoherent than religion. Ever read Carl Jung?

If you delve into philosophy and question your ideas deeply (perhaps Krishnamurti is an exemplar, but also Socrates), you might find that many of our assumptions about the world
a) do not make sense on examination (i.e. are something not unlike magical thinking), and
b) are perhaps a priori--not grounded in any explanatory interpretation such as experience or thought, but are themselves the foundation of explanation. But a prior categories of thought are old Kantian idea, maybe I'm out of touch.

rreugen said...

Could be fun. The thing is, the magical world in which the story would take place can have whatever rules. But the pov character must comprehend zero of it :) And (to the shock of the fantasy fan) there would be no voluble, educated and occasionally funny character that attaches to the story at some point.

But ignore the rant. What I wanted to say is that the kapnobatai, the sorcerers that did stuff with mana and dragons some thousands of years ago in the region where I live, they were forbidding any form of writing or recording of their 'rules.' Apparently you had to 'get' how it all worked by understanding the universe.

They died out. Nobody did anything to them. People liked them, really.

They were replaced by Solomonars, generally described as very (to the point of fixation) attached to their huge tomes.

So since the previous commentator has brought the philosophers to the discussion, I want to point out that from a scientific, evolutionary angle, having a big book of instructions when it comes to magic is what Nature requires of us.

Adam Roberts said...

Opal: 'Human beings crave understanding ...'

Precisely so. The thing is, they sometimes don't realise that this is what they are craving. They live a rule-bound, restrictive life, and look to their for 'escape'. But this 'escape' is not into a magic that frees them from rules, but an 'escape' that reinscribes precisely those rules on a profounder (because supernatural) level.

Opal said...

Adam: "They live a rule-bound, restrictive life, and look to their [magical thinking] for 'escape'."

I knew a philosophy professor who studied the craving we have for both security and novelty. I see your point as reflecting those antinomies: we want mastery-predictability-certainty but we also want freedom-chance-possibility. I suppose magic, while initially presenting a means of escape from rigid law must in itself struggle with these opposites. Even wizards seek mastery.

The experience that might come closest to what you're proposing might be a hallucinogenic trip, which, being dreamlike, doesn't follow ordinary physical rules as we know them. Yet those experiences might demonstrate a logic when explored and analyzed ... again Carl Jung comes to mind.

I suppose if you think the world is at least potentially understandable, lack of comprehension isn't a problem, it's just something to be overcome. But if you think that the world fundamentally isn't comprehensible, then crazy things don't matter, and you don't spend energy trying to understand them.