On magic, fantasy, escapism, and literature

Well, all fiction is escapist, of course.

We need vampires because we no longer think aristocrats are sexy.
We need werewolves because we don’t want men to be animals.
We need zombies because we can’t dehumanize the real enemies.
We need evil wizards because there is no clear right and wrong side.

And the very best science fiction and fantasy is the kind that uses its sci-fi/fantasy element to tweak the situation minimally into one that couldn’t be gotten at, within the confines of reality, in order to observe what the characters will do.

I started Dark and Deep with that premise. One tweak: my modern-day characters are now in an uninhabited wilderness. After that, no more magic. I wrote all of D&D with no idea of where they were or how they got there; Possible Worlds and transportation to them were an afterthought, when readers were so sidetracked by the lack of a clear setting that it took them out of the story. Futurama was an afterthought. I frankly couldn’t give a rat’s ass about that part of the story. Also, I think the question “why would people choose to do it?” (which is the second most common objection readers share with me) doesn’t take into account the fact that people have always done it. People have always taken ship for new worlds. People have always gone out into the world to seek their fortunes. It’s a relatively recent development that there are no longer any unknown places to go.

A theme that I, as a literature major, feel strongly about is the idea that myth and legends are only distillations of history. Everyday life is magic, you only have to choose to see it that way. You can live in a world with goblins, with Borrowers, with fairies or elves or krakens. You just have to see the clues. You can believe in omens. You can believe in heroism and causes. Choose to do it.

Thus, in The Settlement, Alex does become a hero, not just a violent man with a slightly demented sense of his own importance. He and Anna are skin-changers, not just two people with particular physical characteristics and occasional behavioral patterns to match. Anna, Myra and Ruth are witches, not just herb-grinding ladies with sick senses of humor. Arthur is evil incarnate, rather than an off-kilter human being with a well-nursed sense of grievance.

Technology is magic. Words are magic. Music is magic. Food is magic. Empathy is magic.

Some people hate that idea, of reducing Magic to magic. If it’s something they can do, then it isn’t exciting. To which I reply, well, I guess Harry Potter is damnably bored with his life.


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