Magic. For writers, a potentially controversial subject. I’ve been thinking hard about if, and how, to best incorporate one of my favorite fantasy elements into my books. In some cases, it’s reasonable to expect there to be some form of magic (or supernatural flavor). In some, there’s not.
I can still remember in the 2000’s when J.K Rowling’s Harry Potter series was rising in popularity. The Christian community had very mixed, and vocal, opinions of poor Harry. Parent’s were worried about what kind of influence the subject matter would have on their kids. Was it innocent? Targeted? The “pro-magic” camp pointed towards C.S. Lewis and J.R.R. Tolkien’s ideas on magic in their famous series. Hey, these guys were at least influenced by their Christian beliefs, and they wrote about magic, so it can’t all be bad, right? What to do.
I’m not so much worried about whether to incorporate magic into my books (I know I’ll have detractors one way or another. If I’m lucky I’ll have some real vocal enemies that drive more people to read my work!) What I am thinking through is the right approach to magic. I’ve read so many different takes over the years and each offers a unique perspective on how magic is incorporated in their universe.
Robert Jordan: I recently finished (finally) the Wheel of Time series. I know I know, late to the game. But I’m glad I wasn’t waiting on books to be published! Magic plays a pivotal role in the storyline. Men and women manifest magic in different ways. Culturally, there is a difference between how men and women are viewed as magic users; one is a curse, the other a blessing. The magic comes from both internal and external sources. Jordan (and Sanderson after him) spend a great deal of time describing magic through analogies. An interesting approach, but probably too much for the Outremer Chronicles.
Glenn Cook: I continue to be enthralled by The Black Company and The Dread Empire series. Once I start, I just can’t put the book down. Good bye several days at a shot. Cook’s magic is a natural but subtle part of his world. Some have it, some don’t. It just shows up sometimes. No flashy descriptions, no “Oh my goodness, it’s magic!” explanations. Just “Bam, that just happened. Because this kind of stuff happens here.” I think it’s similar to how in 2016 no one would question a smartphone powering up, or a light switch turning on the lamp. Of course that happens.
Tolkien: Magic is certainly played down in Tolkien’s Middle Earth. We know it exists. Gandalf is a wizard, after all. But we don’t see these vast displays of power being thrown about. Oh, there are fights. Like the throw down between Saruman and Gandalf. But mostly it’s something in the background, just kind of there. It’s certainly not the focus of the novels.
Lewis: Most readers of The Chronicle of Narnia would be quick to point out Aslan as the source, or a least focus, of magic in the books. But I’m thinking of several other magic-related characters or events that again, just kind of reside out there in Narnia. Certainly the Stars have powers that Sons of Adam do not. And the White Witch has magic that she is capable of wielding. Aslan does not just “wink” her magical powers out of existence. It’s like magic is part of the laws of Narnia’s universe.
I’m pretty sure that magic, or at least, the perception of magic, will play some role in the Outremer Chronicles. It certainly will be part of the demon host. But how that manifests itself is yet to be seen. But it’s on my mind…
Then again, maybe magic is in the simple things.