12 March 2017

The Quest for Magical Realism

The quest is everything. Each morning to arise and seek fortune in whatever form it may be found - that is a quest, is it not? To make hay while the sun shineth! That, too, is a quest. To live life in the fullest, if you can, and if not then to strive for such as best you can. For it is the quest which drives us on each day, not the petty amusements of good friends sharing jokes or poor road food we pretend is gourmet fare. Everything comes down to the quest. The quest is real. The quest for magical realism, however, takes more effort.

When I was challenged (yes, challenged, I say!) to write an epic fantasy with further stipulation that it must include dragons, my first thought was of a desert canyon where someone much like a gamekeeper in a park was tasked with culling the herd. That seemed suitable as an opening scene. 

Then, a few paragraphs down the page, my hero needed to move, so I typed 'horse' and immediately stopped. I thought to myself: 'Why does he ride a horse?' Everyone rides horses in fantasy! In fantasy worlds there must be more interesting animals to ride, so I imagined a stockier sort of beast and in my mind's eyes a hippopotamus appeared. I envisioned Mongo riding an ox from Blazing Saddles. All right, I said, let us go with that for now and see how it develops. Later, when the fantasy world that was blossoming slowly transformed into a far-futuristic America (though I would never have admitted it at that time), the hippo became the product of the "Clona Arts". There were no more horses to ride. For an epic fantasy, the stipulation to include magic was automatic.

And here our tale turns from fantasy to...well, something a bit more scientific. Is that allowed in an epic fantasy? In my less-than-humble opinion, if the persons at hand believe it is magic, then it is magic; for what is magic but science which has yet to be fully understood as science? Purists will disagree, yet allow us to inquire of a true magus. Joragus, the magus of Metta, explains how he does what he does magically by describing the nature of things in layman's jargon. Because magic nevertheless relies on rules which a magician would understand innately, it could be explained to anyone and thereby understood. It would be similar to a scientist explaining something complex to a simpleton - or a child. To whit:

“You must understand the workings of everything—everything seen and unseen in the world—before you can learn magic.” [said Joragus]
“Teach me, Joragus!” the boy shouted.
“As you wish.” The magus gave an annoyed glance at Corlan [the dragonslayer] who was happy to grin like a thief. “Everything is made of dust—very tiny dust, so small you cannot see it. The dust of the earth is solid so you can see it when it comes together in large enough piles. The dust of the air is thin so you can see through it even when it comes together in large piles. It is these tiny particles of dust which magic can move.”
“How does playing with dust stop a spear that’s thrown at you?” Corlan asked, a little more curious.
“Ah! I see your plan. You also want to know how to stop a sharp spear amidst the air.”
“That would be a good thing to know,” said Corlan with a nod at the boy. “Wouldn’t it?”
“Oh, yes,” said Tam.
“Have you ever seen lightning strike down from the sky?” asked Joragus. “That is the same fire-root that runs through every living thing. People, too.”
“If that’s true, how are we not destroyed by it?” asked Corlan.
“What is inside us is much smaller, not enough to hurt us. And yet, some people—a trained magus, for example—can draw together all of that fire within him and send it out just like lightning.”
“But I didn’t see anything like lightning when you held up your hand to stop the spear.”
“No, it is still invisible. Just as the air is invisible.”
“I think your magic is all in your words, old man,” said Corlan.
“I told you there is an ocean of tiny particles, like dust, that make up all the air around us. When I use my magic power to gather all the fire within me, I charge those particles with the fire. It’s like black and white. Everything is either black or white. The particles in the air are white—you can see through them and throw spears through them. When I send my inner fire out to those particles, they turn black—although they are still invisible to our eyes.”
“So these tiny dust specks turn colors....”
“No, it is merely a tale to explain to you what happens, to show you. A magic lesson for the boy...as you suggested.” He turned to Tam. “You follow my tale, don’t you?”
Tam nodded eagerly.
“When those particles turn black,” the magus continued, “they become tight to each other and nothing can come through them. They become like a shield, even though you cannot see it with your eyes. You must remember that our eyes do not see most of the things in the world—and what we do see is most often a mere trick of light. There is much more we do not see than what we do see.”
“So that’s what you did back there to stop the spear?”
“Yes, in brief.”
“Though not quick enough to keep the speartip from cutting your palm, eh?”
“As we say in magus school, it is better to be late than to never be ready at all.”

The goal in writing anything of the fantastic is to make it seem accurate and true, plausible at worst. The reader must believe in the possibility of the magic actually occurring. And in the extreme nature of a dragon attack, a good magus is good to have. You see, no matter how brave the dragonslayer may be, no matter how strong his will, how tight his belly, there may come a moment when nothing more can be done to ward off death. It is at this moment when a magus, even one in his fourth iteration, might step forward to save the day - and thereby be rewarded with yet another day. Another quest. For each day is a new quest, seeking forever the horizon, a new meal, and ultimately the final chapter.

For more pearls of wisdom, read on!


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For a different view, check out my interview on author Connie Jasperson's blog.

(C) Copyright 2010-2017 by Stephen M. Swartz. All Rights Reserved. No part of this blog, whether text or image, may be used without me giving you written permission, except for brief excerpts that are accompanied by a link to this entire blog. Violators shall be written into novels as characters who are killed off. Serious violators shall be identified and dealt with according to the laws of the United States of America.

1 comment:

  1. My friend KvizeeDoug was turned into dust by a weapon I thought, and after I mourned, Naztko informed me that he was teleported away at the last moment. Naztko is an annoying elder. He promises to tell me where Doug is, but I'm afraid of his magic, though he says it's a device of the Gods. He wants me to learn many odd meditations before he is willing to communicate his secrets. I can't see that he could be that powerful if he doesn't have any dragons at all, nor hippos. But he does have a machine that makes tsunamis, so that's something I suppose. His wisdom sometimes seems only slightly above the fortune cookie level. Fantasy alludes me sometimes, and I laugh like a phantom.