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Magic as the Unexplained
https://holyworlds.org:443/fantasy/viewtopic.php?f=244&t=9378
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Author:  Riniel Jasmina [ Thu Sep 24, 2015 4:08 am ]
Post subject:  Magic as the Unexplained

In reading Letters to Malcolm, I discovered an interesting statement on magic. Here it is:

C.S. Lewis wrote:
When I say "magic" I am not thinking of the paltry and pathetic techniques by which fools attempt and quacks pretend to control nature. I mean rather what is suggested by fairy-tale sentences like "This is a magic flower, and if you carry it the seven gates will open to you of their won accord," or "This is a magic cave and those who enter it will renew their youth." I should define magic in this sense as "objective efficacy which cannot be further analysed."
Magic, in this sense, will always win a response from a normal imagination because it is in principle so "true to nature." Mix these two powders and there will be an explosion. Eat a grain of this and you will die. Admittedly, the "magical" element in such truths can be got rid of by explanation; that is, by seeing them to be instances of consequences of larger truths. Which larger truths remain "magical" till they also are, in the same way, explained. In that fashion, the sciences are always pushing further back the realm of mere "brute fact." But no scientist, I suppose, believes that the process could ever reach completion. At the very least, there must always remain the utterly "brute" fact, the completely opaque datum, that a universe---or, rather, this universe with its determinate character---exists; as "magical" as the magical flower in the fairy-tale


Since he is speaking of the real world, he speaks of sorcery in a certain way, which happens to be our preferred method of using magic in our stories. Our magic systems, our very way of writing now, can be a scientific exposé in some regards. We like sharing what we know, so we infodump, or at the very least, keep very few secrets. We are used to understanding things, or having a reason for it, so that is the way we write.

Have you writing anything with an indescribable magic? Do you think our desire to explain hinders our sense of wonder? What are your thoughts on the topic?

Author:  Andorin [ Thu Sep 24, 2015 4:13 pm ]
Post subject:  Re: Magic as the Unexplained

It is funny how C.S. Lewis so often is able to say what I am thinking in such a concise and clear fashion. It is also so beautiful to think about the wonders and magic that surround us everyday. All of the people, all of the wild trees and grasses...

I can't say that I have written anything where magic is the inexplicable, but I've never had a huge focus on explaining it. I usually use it in kind of the same as what I see in Lord of the Rings. There is no need for Gandalf to explain how he wields the secrete fire; he just does.

Sometimes I'll have origin stories for how a particular person can do a particular thing. For example, Thanguis's people, the CobrinIt is pretty bad when you are not sure of the spelling of something that you made up..., were once men that were transformed, magically, into snakes by an evil sorcerer type character. Then he transformed them halfway back into humans. Now they have the ability to transform into giant snakes at will, but they don't want to because they want to be human. They also have the ability to bite someone and turn them into a Cobrin, but they usually don't because they consider it a curse. It would only be the most severe punishment for an outsider. But it still remains that these phenomenon cannot be further analyzed.

It might be interesting to create a world where two competing views on magic existed: one of them more scientific and pushing the explanation of magic, the other more...relational/mysterious(?) where they focus on understanding the greater truths of magic through various means (experience, rational/metaphysics, relational, etc.).

The tricky thing about defining magic as the inexplicable portion of reality is that it become very difficult to talk about it (whatever it may be). Even Lewis only really described the results of the "magic" in that it opens gates or makes you younger. What or who this magic is is completely out of our reach. I think this is okay. There are plenty of things that are out of our reach with our finite understanding. Even infinity is horribly incomprehensible. Our only definitions include negatives. It is never ending. It is limitless. It is infinite. Having a bit (in actuality an infinite amount) of mystery and awe in our lives is good for us. Makes us humble.

Author:  Riniel Jasmina [ Fri Sep 25, 2015 1:34 am ]
Post subject:  Re: Magic as the Unexplained

The evil sorcerer is still controlling nature though, whether by scientific or mystical studies. The first thing I thought of when he spoke of magic in that way was the deep magic from the dawn of time and the deeper magic from before the dawn of time. You understand their rules, but the processes by which they came to be, or are suited to the world, have to be accepted as fact without much deep explanation. Traitors belong to the witch. To pretend otherwise would tear the world apart. A substitution can be made. That sacrifice is so powerful that life is restored without the destruction taking place. You can see that some rule is in play because they work in exact contrast to one another, but as for saying why or how, there is no answer (for the sake of the story, anyway. Of course it is a theological point)

I miss Thanguis.

That would be a really cool world with which to play. :D

Author:  Varon [ Wed Oct 14, 2015 3:54 am ]
Post subject:  Re: Magic as the Unexplained

I get a little tired of Sanderson-style scientific principles of magic. They're cool and all, but they lack the sense of mystery and wondrous awe I look for in fantasy novels. So, I'm trying to push back and go for a more inexplicable magic.

In Ainaan, the magic is predominantly manipulated through music. Music of course is a mathematical and scientific system, but that is not the direction I am going. It's meant to be a more individual, subjective form with effects that are relatively unpredictable and difficult to learn.

I'm playing with some new ideas about this, but one of it is the development of a fairly influential twist on the religion of the world, one that is highly organized, ritualistic, and the like. I think they'll try to explain/ritualize away the magic, which leads to its breaking down in ability and ability. Not entirely sure how that will all work out yet though.

Author:  Riniel Jasmina [ Thu Oct 15, 2015 1:51 am ]
Post subject:  Re: Magic as the Unexplained

That's a really interesting approach. :D

Author:  Varon [ Sun Oct 25, 2015 6:27 pm ]
Post subject:  Re: Magic as the Unexplained

Oh, thank you. I appreciate that.

Author:  Riniel Jasmina [ Mon Oct 26, 2015 1:09 am ]
Post subject:  Re: Magic as the Unexplained

Magic as a concept of the unexplained would probably beneficial to a society. Since the Enlightenment, belief in the soul has dwindled or simply become something that people want to explain away scientifically. I wonder if thinking about it "magically" would make the soul and the mind more compatible in the logic of a modern setting.

Author:  Varon [ Mon Oct 26, 2015 1:17 am ]
Post subject:  Re: Magic as the Unexplained

I would definitely agree with that. As a society, we've begun to lose our hope and appreciation for the abstract and mysterious. Materialism has cultural ideas to such an extent we've forgotten to dream and how to keep a sense of wonder. Those are what I'm trying to hearken back to with this concept.

It definitely could do that, I think.

Author:  Riniel Jasmina [ Mon Oct 26, 2015 3:48 am ]
Post subject:  Re: Magic as the Unexplained

I love reading stories like that. I enjoy the scientific approach, but I also like the mysterious.

Author:  kingjon [ Sat Nov 14, 2015 4:58 am ]
Post subject:  Re: Magic as the Unexplained

The reason I'm so fond of systematic worldbuilding when something like "magic" is introduced (the same sort of thing as Sanderson has, I think, but since I've found myself unable to get through only about one of the three or four books of his I've tried, I'm not sure ...) is that if an author starts with "magic is the unexplained!" and puts in whatever "neat ideas" pop into his or her head, the resulting world doesn't ring true. I'm all for a world that is numinous or mysterious, and can accept not knowing "why," so long as I feel that I can trust that the author knows---in other words, I can live with "magic" being the explanation of the moment, if I feel that I can trust that there is a deeper explanation that fits together with everything else about the world.

Author:  Riniel Jasmina [ Sat Nov 14, 2015 9:04 am ]
Post subject:  Re: Magic as the Unexplained

Well, I think there's a difference between magic being unexplained and unthought-out. With magic being explained, you can fall into the writerly problem of exposition of a science at the expense of the plot narrative, but leaving it unexplained can be seen as synonymous with deus ex machina. Just because there is an air of mystery about an aspect of cobha doesn't mean it has permission to act outside the parameters of good writing. There are just complex ways to handle both.

Author:  kingjon [ Sat Jan 02, 2016 1:43 am ]
Post subject:  Re: Magic as the Unexplained

Lady Kitra Skene wrote:
Well, I think there's a difference between magic being unexplained and unthought-out.

Yes, of course. Which was one of the points I was trying to make.

Lady Kitra Skene wrote:
With magic being explained, you can fall into the writerly problem of exposition of a science at the expense of the plot narrative, but leaving it unexplained can be seen as synonymous with deus ex machina.

You have to explain enough for the reader to trust that you could explain anything else, and little more.
Lady Kitra Skene wrote:
Just because there is an air of mystery about an aspect of cobha doesn't mean it has permission to act outside the parameters of good writing. There are just complex ways to handle both.

The thing is, most of the advocacy I've seen for "magic as unexplained mystery" or "an unexplained, mysterious/numinous world" has seemed more consistent with (and some, though I think not here, explicitly promoted) "write it however you like here, and however you like there, and they don't have to be consistent, because it's Fantasy" than with "write a consistent world, just don't waste the reader's time with explanations."

And most of it has, in fact, been less about what we here call cobha than about "the magic system," advocating magic that serves the author's immediate purposes without having an underlying consistency or system ... not just without the author explaining what that consistent system is, but without there being one at all. (Much like the SF that Damon Knight (if my sources are right; I'd thought it was James Blish) excoriated when he wrote that if you have a long-legged long-eared short-tailed furry rodent indistinguishable from a rabbit, "you call it a 'smeerp,' because that's science fiction.")

So I wanted to make clear that while leaving it to the reader to discover, uncover, or deduce things about the world instead of stating them can be a valid and admirable world-expository technique, that's not an excuse to skimp on worldbuilding.

Author:  Riniel Jasmina [ Sat Jan 02, 2016 2:27 am ]
Post subject:  Re: Magic as the Unexplained

Agreed. Based on Lewis's statement, magic could also be used as a form of ethical expression rather than scientific. The same still applies for consistency though. An ethical system has to be properly developed and not thrown together for the sake of moral convenience.

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