Friday, June 29, 2012

"Magic Isn't Supposed to Make Sense!"

I wrote a post a while ago that, really, was supposed to be about the plausible impossibility of interacting with any sort of "parallel universe", if one were to exist and going there were possible.  So if you found a passage in to Narnia in some old professor's mansion, likely you'd find Narnia very much the way Digory and Polly found it - empty, lightless, and with nothing in it (not even the singing Lion).

However, while going there, I stopped to comment on fantasy fiction, which is how the thought struck me.  Parallel worlds are pretty common, after all.  Sort of in the vein if The Gods Themselves by Asimov (or more like it The Ring of Truth by Lake) I tried to think of a parallel universe that had an entirely different set of physical laws.  Where things behaved totally differently.  I guess it would have been a sort of partial ingress into Level IV multiverse theory?  I don't assert such a universe would actually exist, just that modeling one would be neat.  The goal was that the emergent behavior of these laws would make magic work.  Or something so totally different that we would see it as magic... whereas the inhabitants therein would look at a light bulb from our world and cross themselves to ward off evil spirits.

So contained therein was this idea of "hard magic", analogous to "hard science" fiction.

The only comments I got about it (on facebook where I shared it) were bluntly dismissive.  Not even dismissive enough to respond to it, just "no, you missed the point of magic". (None of them touched on the larger point, sadly)

If magic has rules, then it isn't magic.  The point of magic is to be wild and supernatural and overcome the known and the normal.  Making magic work by scientific principles ruins it.  I was actually linked, in comments, to two blogs that were written recently by prominent speculative fiction authors commenting on this.  There aren't supposed to be rules and systems to magic - it's just magic.


So, going off of that then, I have decided to re-write The Lord of the Rings on the premise that there are no rules or systems to magic.

Here it is:
When Mr. Bilbo Baggins of Bag End announced that he would shortly be celebrating his eleventy-first birthday with a party of special magnificence, there was much talk and excitement in Hobbiton.  Gandalf arrived, and he used his magic to learn the origins of Bilbo's ring.  He found it belonged to Sauron.  So then the old wizard used magic and destroyed the One Ring.  Then Gandalf used magic and destroyed Sauron, too, for good measure.  The rest of Hobbiton enjoyed the fireworks.  And they all lived happily ever after, to the end of their days.
What do you think of my re-write?  No more of this "the only way to destroy the ring is to throw it into the fires in which it was forged"-magic-has-rules garbage.  Gandalf just uses magic to resolve the entire plot because magic works however it needs to.  There aren't any rules that would keep him from doing this because magic isn't supposed to have rules.

So obviously that's a silly example, but it's to make the point that magic has to have some sort of limits to it, otherwise it just becomes a plot device whose effectivity is determined by the needs of the plot.  When the hero just casts some random spell that the audience couldn't have even thought possible to solve everything at the last minute, that isn't other-wordly and wondrous powers overturning the precepts of normal; it's lazy writing.

You can use magic to make fireworks, but you can't use it to transport 13 dwarves and a hobbit a year's journey across the world.
You can use magic to trick some trolls, but not to kill a dragon.

Why not?

Because magic doesn't work that way.  And that is good.

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