But, but, but - WHY does magic have to make sense? - Epiphany 2.0 (2024)

Ehm… I don’t think that magic SHOULD make any sense… I think magic SHOULD cause a sense of wonder.

I know, that this is about personal taste, just like everything, but right now, it seems to me that we live in an age of quirky and over-explained magic systems, which are the accepted approach (this denomination is not a condemnation on my part, I love quirky magic systems, I just don’t like the notion, that for now, that one branch is good, other is bad).

Instead of arguing back and forth, I just list those works, where magic did not have any real magic system, yet it worked for me.

The Last Unicorn: the character of Schmendrick actually spoofs the concept, that magic has any other role or “life”, than moving forward the plot. But it was cool and funny.

The same goes for Discworld. Actually, there is not any magic system, but clever people – like Granny Weatherwax – can turn the table with using their brains (like headology), not just in the case of magic, but in the case of anything, where preconceptions can apply. Still, when magic appears, it is wonderful.

The magic in the works of Neil Gaiman are not explained, either… they are haunting forces beyond mortal ken. But this is what it makes so enchanting, it heightens the vulnerability of the characters for supernatural power. Yet when for example Morpheus uses his power to reprimand and punish the serial killers, it is freaking awesome.

In The Neverending Story by Michael Ende, Bastian can wish anything to come true, but in turn he lose one of his memories – this is the price, and only rule. If there is a logic behind this magic, is purely metafictional – but TNS is all about metafiction.

Do we know, how the magic works in Osten Ard? The information about the Words of Making, Changing and Unmaking is very vague.

And I also wish to mention a comic book example – despite I would not live in a world where The Authority reigns, I actually really love the magic of the Doctor, which is just changing things like in a whimsical cartoon. Sometimes he uses magic through associtation… but it is not how his magic works, it is how he uses his magic.

Yeah, the above mentioned Earthsea magic also works, because it is imaginative – not the system behind it, but its effect, for example, when Ged learns to cast powerful illusions.

And I also wish to mention, that the magic of the Dying Earth, on which the D&D magic system based, did not have any explained system at all, sans memorizing and forgeting spells after casting. When one of the would-be users, Cugel the Clever screws one, we do not know, what was the problem. But the spells of DE are memorable because of their quirkiness, and because their names reflect the large egos of magicians, who “created” them.

These examples above do not have any real magic system behind them – you can rather feel, than know, that some rules might apply to them. What we might know about them, is the tip of the iceberg.

Regarding films, I love the magic of Stardust and Labyrinth, because of the sense of fantastic, a sense of imagination – a sense, that anything can happen. Is it not the greatest appealling power of magic? To do whatever you want?

Okay, I cut myself short, because I do not wish to anyone bore to tears, but I shall also mention Brandon Sanderson, who popularized the “quirky and over-explained magic system”. I love the works of Brandon Sanderson, because of his IMAGINATION. I love allomancy, not because I know its rules, but because I can feel the imagination put behind that form of magic.

However, note, that there is a catch behind this kind of magic. When you go into that long details to explain your magic system, the reader – or at least me – prone to be acting like a stickler, and not willing to give any real amount of suspend of disbelief. For example, when Vin travelled in a muddy road, leaping great distances with magnetically pushing on horseshoes – or, other times, with coins, which is a more traditional form of “wuxia-leaping – I always wondered, that why not those instruments are buried down to earth due to the magnetic forces pushing them, since they weigh far less than a human being… they would move, not the allomancer. And one of my friends also complained, that he misses the mystic feeling from the work of Sanderson. While another one complained, that she finds those systems too mechanical.

So, all in all, I do not think, that approach is inherently better, it is just different. I love Brandon Sanderson’s magic systems, because they are unique and imaginative, and they make the genre of fantasy more versatile – but if this approach is chosen as the approach that everybody shall follow, then fantasy becomes poorer.

BUT! And this is a major but! Why shall we even argue about this topic*? :) Literature is all about personal tastes and not about what one should do or should not, but what one can do (just like magic)… the best thing about literature is its versatility, and despite there are trends, we all know, that they change like the curse of wind.

I just wish to say with this, that DON’T BECOME FRUSTRATED, if one person does not like your work for one reason, other will do BECAUSE of that reason. What I have written down, it is only my personal opinion of course, I do not hold the Holy Grail or the Philosopher’s Stone. I have not written down this as a person who knows better, only as a reader with his own set of personal tastes. It is subjective, and what I have written is subjective, but I hope, that you can feel that I do not wish to force my opinion on you or anybody.

Do, what you want, write your magic as you feel it. Some people will love, some won’t. But what I love about magic besides imagination is infinite possibilities. All in all, magic shall not be subjugated by a norm or anything – because part of the awe and wonder is surprise. And by the way, a lot of people’s opinion can be changed very easily, no matter, what they say at first. :)

This forum is great to discuss topics like this, but don’t take these issues to your heart… people might sceptic at first, but if you cannot persuade them here, you can also persuade them with your books. :) Do as you wish – just like in TNS – since what I personally hate is, when somebody follows a trend out of fashion, because “it made other people successful”.

So, all in all, that is my highly subjective opinion about this topic. :)

*Rhetorical question, actually. :)

But, but, but - WHY does magic have to make sense? - Epiphany 2.0 (2024)


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