Right. I’d planned to have a thoughtful, serious post for my first regular Wednesday post, maybe start a monthly look at source material and where to find new inspiration, possibly even pull down my copy of On Fairy-Stories and talk a little about the “cauldron of story” in an age where we’re bombarded with input from all sides.
But then I spent half of Monday sleeping and the other half plowing through edits, and thus the tasks meant for Monday got moved, and . . . well, for a number of reasons, I’m now writing this Tuesday night and trying to think of something that’s relevant to The Magic District. I suspect this will not be the last time I do this.
So let’s talk about magic. Specifically, magicians and how they use their power.
There are a lot of ways of showing magic in fantasy, ranging from the point-and-zap thaumaturgy that seems to be the general procedure for Harry Potter to the uncanny, archetypal forces at work of Last Call. I’ve just finished reading Territory, and the magic there is different still, much more subtle and evident mainly in the intersections of what’s done and said.
I think that showing magic in these different ways automatically makes a statement about the story itself, changing the mood of the story to match the magic. A setting in which magic is carried out by careful ritual is going to be a little different from one in which it can be triggered solely by the hero’s exertion of will — and if both exist in the same setting, then there’s bound to be some tension between them. (One of the things that really struck me about Jonathan Strange and Mr. Norrell was how English magic was on the one hand this dry, text-bound, academic matter and on the other a chaos of ravens and storms — and how neither side ever canceled the other out.) In Spiral Hunt, while I show a few “magic spells” in action, I wanted to give the impression that they were as much a matter of craft as of knowledge. I’m not yet sure that I succeeded with this, but I hope that the ways I show magic work within the context of the novel.
There seems to be some possible distinction to be made between the different kinds of magic — hereditary, gnostic, elemental, etc. But every time I try to sort them out, I keep running up against examples that don’t want to stay in one category, as well as the question of whether I’m sorting them by source of magic or how it’s applied. So, of course, I turn to the Internet and ask for knowledge.
What kinds of magic work for you when you’re reading a story? What kinds seem better suited to certain subgenres — hereditary magic in a high fantasy setting, for example, or gnostic magic in a secret history? What kinds are we even talking about to begin with?