yotg discussion (spoilers)

Tanaqui tweaver at imbolc.ucc.ie
Wed Jan 10 11:14:16 EST 2001

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Time for more tussling with Philip before the next New Year (Chinese):

I wasn't arguing that magic=science. I was saying that the modern branches of
science segregated at Oxford (and more integrated at Cambridge, OK) are
specialist applications of some fundamental rulesets - which apply across the
given divisions. Now, Derk's world is more "primitive" than ours... paper books
are kept in the University Library rather than being stacked in a barely-
negotiable maze in the house of every literate person. Anything not in the Uni
or deep in a dwarf-mine probably got wasted in various raids unless (like the
Book of Truth) it was sufficiently encrusted with valuta to make it inherently
valuable to people who judge by appearances. The world has one specified centre
of learning, which I think is thereby constrained to teach the most elemental
abstractions from "books of the masters, written on the yellowing years" 
(Maccaig). Since one can achieve most anything one wants by applying one's own
imagination to the problem, or what Mr Chesney wants by becoming a happy little
worker unit, there seems little point in teaching something other than the 

There is no "streamed" learning yet because sub-branches of Magic have not
been differentiated and dropped away from the fundamental learning.

I think the University should have the tutorial system, not classes, though.
The Good Teachers in DWJ have tended to be tutors. I think the course will move
towards personal exploration of magic, rather than training-for-a-job, under 

+ I disagree.  Magic is _A_ meta-skill which...

What others are there in Derk's world?
+ In this world, there are plenty of universities that are not "universities of
+ science".  Indeed, they are in the majority.  

Yes, but this world is not entirely predicated on science. Derk's world is
predicated on magic - and what else? You can study literature in our world -
there doesn't seem to be that option in Derk's.

+ And you've shot yourself in the foot with the list of Oxford courses, 
+ illustrating that they _don't_ teach the meta-skill per se!  

I was arguing that a meta-skill lay behind them, and that the meta-skill could
be applied to them. Oxford and Cambridge are quite old (!) and their courses
have grown out of the few fundamentals that used to be offered. They *assume*
that the meta-skill has been acquired before tertiary education is attempted,
but given that we see nothing of schools in Derk's world, they are starting
with primary guidance. So, over Here, there is much more of a basis, while over
There they are just getting started. Over Here, you're expected to have picked
your branch before you even start your tertiary education (I know so *many*
people who've switched courses - and WH Auden dropped Chemistry to read English
when he decided that he was going to be a Great Poet).

Also, magic is NOT science, and seems to have individual vagaries, hues and
direction... so one can see where pop-psych fits as a method of magic.

+ The point I was making is that universities don't just teach meta-skills.
+ There are plenty of other things to teach as well.

If universities are plural, and differentiated. This is going to be a circular
argument: given that the conditions are such-and-such, they can only be thus.

+ I could add that (a) the scientific method is applicable to magic as I
+ understand it and (b) The world in question is susceptible to study by way of
+ the traditional sciences.  Indeed, returning to your original statement, I
+ would put magic _alongside_ physics, chemistry, biology, maths as one of the
+ major scientific branches in a reasonable organisation of subjects in 

If magic works in a magician's way, or according to the hermetic method, why
isn't it as provable/repeatable as science? No one dreams of doing Derk-type
biological experiments, as far as I can see... everyone goes on their own path,
and thus if you're going to teach, you must teach meta-. As the magelight
experiment showed, you can exhort your pupils to do a trick, but you are not
going to have a classfull of chemistry students all getting little volcanoes
out of their chemical combo in a way dependent directly on proportion of
chemicals rather than individuality. Although they all get magelight, it
reflects character.

Although, say, study of literature, reflects personal leanings, one can't *do*
stuff with it as one can with magic...

+ No, I'll take that back.  Polycant's appearance is presented as if it 
+ _ought_ to be the solution to everything.

<grin> Yup: just as we were left with the assumption that the on-stage folks at
the end of _Dark Lord_ would be sorting out stuff. I *am* vaguely uncomfortable
with "ta-daa, Policant" as much as I am with all the pairing-off, but I put
that down to my vague unease with the whole derivative fantasy universe...

I am with you on mistrusting the Ancient Greats and the Higher Powers, but am
prepared to accept that Anscher is at least beneficent. Now, given that the
University is pretty much shown as anything but a centre of learning in _Dark
Lord_, I think it's a good idea to reset the system with someone who has
Authority and a healthy dash of subversive knack... we can hope it will grow
into its own thing now it has the chance. The past helps us in the present to
identify some of the more gross errors of history (albeit only from our own
to-be-discarded perspective).

Yes, the present must work itself out, but given that the giants who provided
perches for dwarves are there, they get used. We get to defy gods or Plato or
Wittgenstein because there's no way they can pop up and tap us on the shoulder
<spins on typing chair in parody of paranoia>.

+ > that it is for the best. It's the eternal dilemma of Authority: sometimes 
+ > it is OK, often it is horrid.
+ I hope you don't mean what it looks like you mean - don't question the 
+ motives of the gods, just accept that they're doing things for our own good.

no, no: sometimes it is horrid. Someone should have been unladylike at Chesney
long before this. DWJ constantly points out the flaws of Authority, even if
it is working for what it thinks is best e.g. Aunt Maria. Nor did Anscher pop
up to impose solutions - he was called upon, as were the oracles.

The world has just got to the point of using powers not to hold-in-thrall, but
to liberate.

+ You are letting the author be ruled by the book as if she herself was a
+ character.  I seem to recall you took a similar attitude in our discussion of
+ Mary Gentle.

Indeed... I don't know about Mary Gentle (she hasn't said nearly as much about
*how* she writes), but because DWJ is ruled by her characters as they appear
in her head and go their own sweet way, I think this is fair.
+ I certainly believe that an author - like any craftsman - can only work 
+ within the limitations of the material.  

<nod> I wish DWJ hadn't picked FantasyLand.

+ I don't agree that DWJ _needed_ to get her characters into a situation where
+ the therapy session she described was forced upon them.
+ In short, DWJ was not running out of air!!

I think (usual disclaimers here) that they "did it to themselves". DWJ has
consistently said that her character spring things on her. Yes, as an author,
she produces books and has the "moral right" to be acclaimed for her work, but
creativity is a weird thing and what pops into one's head is often quite
unexpected... and apparently a fait accompli.

DWJ was not running out of air: DWJ (as far as I know) still has her travel
jinx. Her characters got into a potentially lethal situation: they got out of
it with some quick, pushed-by-circumstance, redaction.

You blame DWJ for wheeling out Policant, but I am prepared to accept that he
popped up and said "You know, you've never said I'm dead... and there's that
statue of me... and all the prophecies about the Uni's destiny..."

Books are creations... and it's nice when their authors are alive to comment.
+ I think I disapprove on principle of the concept of "people who matter", 
+ simply because of its implied complement, "people who don't matter".

It's a book. You can't describe everyone in the virtual world, or you'd have
something as huge and bewildering as everyday life. Some books do it with more
subtlety and implication - and I'd argue that _Hexwood_ is a (value-judgement!)
better book, any day... but it's not possible to have the random and arbitrary
padding out a volume without making a book no more exciting than real life. &
who would read fantasy then? 

But yes, you get to say "it's unnecessary", and I get to say "but it's OK,
isn't it?", and none of our comments will be printed in the next edition as
vital critical feedback ;-) When something bother me in a book, it either goes
as "I just cannot understand why this happened" or "I think I know why this
was done"... and I think Policant falls into the latter category, for me.
+ Hmm.  God in the image of Man?

I think they have to be. Why else do they come in response to prayer and lug
the world in the "right" direction? What higher powers would actually want to
fiddle about with poor old man? The beneficent, the voyeur, the philanderer?
+ One day I shall post in more detail some of my thoughts about gods in DWJ.  I
+ think I'll have to leave any thoughts on this bit until then.

It's a tricky thought, because she tugs at those universals.
+ Oh, yes, definitely!  But sometimes she has too many things coming together
+ at once.  Not too many for the reader to enjoy, I hasten to add, merely too
+ many for plausibility.  A more concrete example is the way both Gladys and
+ King Rudolf cotton on far too quickly to what Marceny has done to Herrel in
+ SWM.

It's a book... where magic works and can be felt, sensed, induced and deduced.
Given that magic, that gift which works not on rules, but principles and
natural laws ;-), exists - then it is an extension of the sensorium and
creative impulses - all the better for thought in the application, but useable
through will or need as well. Ah reckon.

+ It's almost as if DWJ is saying, I'm fed up with my characters working at
+ cross purposes - whom can I get away with using to bring them together?

Maybe she does lose patience somewhere in that head of hers. Who knows?
<grin> I dunno - we seem to pick on the same bits of DWJ to analyse, and then
interpret them completely differently, which is why we argue these points.

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