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6 responses to “Magic, Good and Bad”

  1. First, I have to say I’ve never heard of Mandrake. At least, I don’t remember ever hearing of him, but he seems oddly entertaining. Or maybe just odd.

    Anyway, the magic in fiction discussion is a huge one for me! Obviously, I love that kind of thing. I can’t even begin to discuss it here. But yes, why fiction at all? This really needs a long evening with bookish friends and bottles of wine.

  2. Thank you, John, for giving a little boost to my ‘closing down sale’ here. I only just caught this because (as you may have heard) I have suffered a horrible computer experience over the last several days. But now I’m back online again, and as curmudgeonly and antagonistic as ever.

    What I like about the best science fiction (and the best fantasy too, though I’m inclined to think there’s much less of that) is the way it can raise interesting philosophical questions like… why do we tell stories, what is a story?

    However, I don’t think it’s such a surprise, and I think it’s unlikely that any intelligent alien race would be unfamiliar with the concept. We’re telling stories all the time, every day, in every snatch of conversation. OK, most of this is generated from real experience, but we know that real experience isn’t quite interesting enough. It’s a basic human impulse – and probably a basic alien impulse, I would think – to embellish. And so, bare recounting of facts about ourselves becomes – if we’re potentially embarrassed about the details – something that “happened to someone I know”. And if we need an extra layer of insulation, it becomes about somebody that no-one we know knows. And if it’s not quite funny enough or well structured enough, we throw in a few additional little bits and pieces that should have happened. I think this has been happening since caveman days, it’s a very basic function of social interaction and communication.

    So, our tolerance for fictionalizing is high. But our tolerance for magic is limited by our circumstance and expectations. Magic is, as you say, powerfully appealing to children, and hence its prominence in all the classic fairytales. It probably continues to be appealing to adults because of a kind of nostalgia, an emotional connection to that way it affected us as children.

    But I find magic/fantasy is only engaging for us as adults if it succeeds in creating a separate space for itself, where it is not bound by our usual expectations of plausibility. Horror is an interesting intersection, I think, between fantastical and more regular fiction, an area where the stories tend to be grounded in real world settings, but their fantastical premises – vampires, zombies, werewolves, and so on – have become so familiar that we accept them as potentially real even though we know that they’re not. Terry Pratchett and Jasper Fforde’s works gain easy acceptance because they’re obviously not meant to be taken seriously, they are essentially parodies of the fantasy genre. Gregory Maguire’s Wicked was an example where I found the writing good and the concept interesting, but my engagement waned as the book dragged on. I started off with that being willing to entertain the fantasy genre, but… well, it failed to maintain my suspension of cynicism, I suppose.

    Don’t even get me started on ‘magic realism’. That really bugs the crap out of me.

  3. John, I keep going back over this discussion. I sometimes label my writing as magical realism because that’s a label that’s out there and I don’t know what else to use. Fantasy doesn’t seem right either. I’m very bad with labels. But I realize that some readers (quite possibly a lot of readers) like Froog won’t like my work. That’s okay in the grand scheme of things. The world is big and there are room for all kinds of stories. I’ll just never make any money at it.

    Anyway, talking about why we read fantasy or magic or whatever makes me consider why we write such stories. Maybe I’d need psychoanalyst to know, but I don’t think I read or write what I do for nostalgia. I know I can’t seem to write any other way. Stories come the way they do, and I could go through and cut out the parts that are magic, and maybe I’m supposed to so that I can be taken seriously but that feels wrong to me.

    I think I’m rambling far off topic here.

    By the way, have you seen the new “book” Building Stories? Mandrake and this theme of reading reminded me of it. It looks interesting, and I hope to check it out soon.

  4. [...] trying to make a case for or against fantasy and/or science fiction. And the post drew substantial thoughtful comments from Froog and Marta (which I thought might happen). I continued to think about the topic [...]

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