Today, I’m going to talk about magic.
No, I’m not going to rant about Harry Potter. Magic has been a staple of the fantasy genre, if not THE staple of the fantasy genre ever since people stopped believing in fantastical things and it came into existence. For those of you who have no idea what I mean by magic (obviously no-one, I’m covering us for if they unfreeze someone from the Neanderthal ages and show him this blog), the Oxford Dictionary (website) describes it as: “the power of apparently influencing events by using mysterious or supernatural forces”.
One of the intriguing aspects of magic is how it fuels a narrative. The Harry Potter series (okay, just a small rant) just wouldn’t work without magic. “Come and study at a school under robed men and women” is more likely to land Hagrid in a prison cell than the role of loveable giant. Pratchett’s “The Colour of Magic” would be a lot less colourful. The Lord of the Rings…well, would be a much happier place considering the magic ring was never forged but I’m getting ahead of myself. While these are ridiculous examples, the point I’m trying to make is that the narrative framework of these and many other fantasy stories is built on magic. There’s interesting character development, sure, but it all boils down to the same point of origin.
Magic isn’t limited to written fiction (understatement of the century), also appearing in films, video games and con artists. Each “realm” of fiction that utilises magic may change the rules, but there are some concrete facts about using magic in fiction that must be obeyed, unless you’re trying something really far out:
1) Magic has rules as to how it operates – despite the volatile and unruly nature of magic in most examples, magic must follow a framework. If characters in the story are capable of wielding magic themselves, this is extra important.
2) Magic has laws governing it – similar to the first point, but if there is no wise wizard or “Ministry of Magic” to govern how it’s used, then it can spiral out of control – and not in the plot driving way.
3) Magic must not be perfect – this accompanies earlier posts about narrative requiring conflict to progress a story.
4) Magic must never be spelt with a ‘j’ – seriously. Stop it.
I’ll be coming back to this topic next week.