Greetings once again and welcome to the blog. Last week’s discussion of Discworld and all its fantastical nature caused me to reflect on another element of fantasy- magic. While not all fantasy stories have this directly, there is usually a hint of it or it is part of the reader’s suspension of disbelief. However, magic is often portrayed as the ‘answer’ to various questions in these novels. This is understandable since magic is undefined and can really do anything. However, stories that use magic do need to have rules that define it, or magic simply becomes another dues ex machina.
Magic in Books
Because magic is imaginary, it can be bent to serve many forms. Wizards and sorcerers generally can use magic for anything they desire, or there are specific types of magic (fire-magic, for example) that can do certain things but not solve all problems. It also serves a difficult balance of not always needing to be explained. For example, if Merlin the wizard casts a spell, we accept whatever he does because he is Merlin and an established wizard. But at the same time, if a character was somehow affected by, let’s say, a healing spell, and then developed the ability to stop time, then we are left wondering why a spell would have such a different reaction on this person. An example of this kind of magic comes from a parody from The Simpsons, in which actress Lucy Lawless responds to fan questions with “A wizard did it’. This causes issues because it makes magic a blanket answer that also means that it has no rules and can answer a question without establishing why.
Many books do establish severe rules for magic. In the Dragonlance Chronicles, it is explained that magic requires not only innate talent, but perfect recitation and writing of spells. The use of magic also drains the user, until he or she must rest and regain their strength. This explains why wizards do not take over the world with their power. There are also divisions in the ranks- three distinct orders that focus on good, neutrality, and evil. While they are different, all orders are bound to magic and its preservation, and will work together when the need arises. However, not all examples of magic are so heavily regulated. Many fairy tales use magic in simpler ways that do not require a lot of detail. We can all remember the witches of Sleeping Beauty and Beauty and the Beast that could use magic. But since these characters are generally established to have power by designation alone and use it for evil, an in depth explanation is not required. However, this example proves that simply having magic is not enough.
This brings me to one of the reasons I chose to do this blog- a series of discussions I have had with a friend over Disney’s Frozen, which is based on the fairy tale of the Snow Queen. While I generally liked the film, I was disappointed that no explanation was given for the cryokinetic powers of Queen Elsa. When I brought up this point, my friend countered that this was clearly a magic land (as it had trolls that used magic) and that I was overthinking the matter. While that may be true, I still found this blanket answer an issue, as the trolls do not show the powers Elsa displays nor do her parents (nor do they have an encounter prior to Elsa’s birth that would explain it, as seen in the film’s predecessor Tangled). It paints magic as random and unpredictable and while it is conceivable that any of the reasons I mentioned might have happened, it is a blow to the film to not show them, especially as Tangled managed to do so in a two minute segment. Because while magic can do anything, it requires proper logic and rules behind to function, or it simply becomes the tool of a lazy writer to explain without actually explaining. And that is something no magic wand can wave away.
On a side note, I will be hosting a book signing at the Westfield NJ Town Bookstore this Saturday from 2-4. If you are in the area, stop by, meet me, and pick up a great book.