yotg discussion (no spoilers)

Philip.Belben at powertech.co.uk Philip.Belben at powertech.co.uk
Mon Jan 15 13:17:42 EST 2001

I had actually read Jennifer's reply to Tanaqui, but I had forgotten it when I
wrote my own.  Sorry, Jennifer - you put a lot of it so much better than I...

> Philip Belben:
>+ I think the underlying assumption that <you go to the magical school/
>+ university and they don't teach anything but magic> stood out for me
>>I can't think what other universities might be expected. Magic is the meta-
>>skill which encompasses 'most anything, just as an abstraction of the
>>scientific method would equip people to accomplish stuff in biology or bio-
>>chemistry or chemistry or metallurgy or materials sciences (those headers
>>are all Oxford Uni courses, and each one blends into the ones next to it).
>>And university education is, after all, about Abstraction rather than
>>Skills, which is what used to separate Universites and Polytechnics (of
>>course, elitism came into play because concrete stuff is insufficiently
> But you aren't taught "The Scientific Method"- you're taught how to do
> biology or materials, and you pick up the deeper method from amongst that.
> (Each field of science has different enough techniques - even, between say
> paleontology and physics, different versions of the method- can't run
> experiments to see how tyrannosaurs evolved, it's deductions after the fact-
> that knowing the abstract, questioning, evidential *values* of science isn't
> enough to *be* a scientist.)
> I'd bet that these students are taught magic, not The Magical Method. And

In fact, there is plenty of evidence that that is exactly what goes on.  They
have lectures on various magical disciplines, not the magical method.  At least
Corkoran has the sense to set his tutor group essays on the meta-skills - "What
is magician's magic" for example.  But he doesn't like it when they really get
into the meta-subject.

> magic may be a meta-skill replacing science as the underpinning of the
> world, (although, why wouldn't anybody be interested in evolution, or
> geology, just because the world is magical? I think there'd be room for
> science in a magical world. And engineering. What if magicians can't be

This is exactly what I was trying to say.  Magic doesn't replace the scientific
method as "the" meta-skill.  The scientific method is still there, and useful.

> bothered to spend their time making enough steel for everyone who needs it?
> Wouldn't metallurgists be in demand?) but I bet you still need historians,
> artists, psychologists, designers, even philosophers and literary critics
> and practical theologians, and I don't think knowing how magic works would
> be a substitute for humanities and social sciences stuff.

Hear, hear!

> I also think any university should have people researching and teaching lots
> of different things, so you can communicate, get cross-fertilisation of
> ideas rather than edging deeper into your specialist rut, and widen people's
> views of the world- if only magic is worth studying, what does that do to
> magicians' views of non-magical people?

Well, the bards, and probably the healers too, have their own specialist
colleges.  Perhaps another way of looking at it might be, why is the specialist
college of magic dignified with the title "university" when it is no more
universal than any other specialist college?


Hmm.  Bearing all that in mind, let's have a look at Tanaqui's latest offering:

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

Year of the snake, I seem to recall.  Seems rather appropriate for you, Tanaqui
;-) ;-) ;-)  My life seems to be ruled by Chinese horoscopes at the moment, but
I'd rather not go into details.

While we're still in the year of the dragon (pity there's no griffin in the
Chinese calendar!),

> 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

Fair enough.  But you were _replacing_ the fundamental rule-sets of our world by
a magical rule-set for Derk's world.  (You said magic was _the_ meta-skill, and
compared it to the scientific meta-skill of our world).  And it is that with
which I was taking issue.  I still think the laws of physics etc. apply, subject
to magical constraints; both science and magic are susceptible to study
according to the same scientific method that we know here.

> given divisions. Now, Derk's world is more "primitive" than ours... paper
> 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

I don't see this.  There is little (in fact, almost nothing beyond the argument
from silence) to say that lots of people don't have book collections.  If they
don't it is because of primitiveness, not globally, but specifically in book
mass-production technology.

> 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
> 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
> worker unit, there seems little point in teaching something other than the
> meta-skill.

No.  Not even if there is only the one meta-skill.

People with magic talent can achieve quite a lot with the approaches you
suggest.  There is nothing to say that such people are in a majority.  Are you
denying tertiary education to the greater part of the populace simply because
they lack one talent?

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

No to this too.  There are plenty of subjects other than magic that could
benefit from good scholarship and good teaching.  History; Geography; Did you
mention Literature?  (Actually this might be taught at the Bardic college);
Jennifer mentioned Engineering; to name just a few.  It seems Medicine and Music
are already taught at this level (medicine is arguably a sub-branch of magic, by
your reasoning, but I'd prefer to see it as a science in which magic has
applications) but what about other arts?

> 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
> towards personal exploration of magic, rather than training-for-a-job, under
> Policant.

Well, Corkoran seems as rotten a tutor as Wermacht is a lecturer!  He picks the
six most interesting students for his tutor group, and refuses to let them think
in interesting ways.  This uni. seems to have larger tutorial groups than the
two or three to a group we had at Cambridge, but a group of six should provide
the opportunities for learning that creative students need.

>+ I disagree.  Magic is _A_ meta-skill which...
> What others are there in Derk's world?

Well, here are some meta-skills:

Experimental method (applies to most sciences including magic)

Artistic technique (applies to Bardic disciplines, Callette-style engineering,
magic again, etc.)

Number skills (applies mainly to physical sciences)

Formal logic (applies to some sciences, mathematics, philosophy)

Which reminds me.  Philosophy presumably exists as a discipline, or Polycant
wouldn't have titled his book "The Philosophy of Magic"

>+ 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.

What do you mean by "predicated on"?

If you are saying that _scholarship_ in Derk's world has concentrated on magic
to the exclusion of other sciences, yes it has, and I don't think that this is
realistic - this is exactly what I'm complaining about!  Why can't you study
literature, for example.

If you are saying that the principles by which the _world_ actually operates are
magical to the extent that other sciences are useless, then I fail to see (a)
why you think this of Derk's world or (b) in what way our own world deviates
from the scientific.

I could accept your view _only_ if this is a property of the generic fantasy
world that DWJ adopted for these books.  But in that case I would regard it as a
_shortcoming_ of the generic world, which one should be looking for ways around,
rather than exhorting people to accept.

> 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.

[rude noise].  Why is magic not science?  Like Chrestomanci, I think that the
theory of magic should be taught more (Tanaqui's meta-skill again!) because it
is susceptible to a scientific treatment.  The law of cause and effect still
holds; experiments are no less repeatable than in (say) biology.

Different researchers will have talents for different sorts of magic - but in
our own world, different researchers have talent for different sorts of science.
In magic, the direction of one's magical talent seems more predetermined than
the direction of talent for the physical sciences in our world, but I claim the
same principles apply.

>+ 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.

The argument shouldn't go in circles - it should go to a deeper level on each
iteration (helical argument?)

This is something that happens to me quite often - not just with Tanaqui.  The
argument may be distilled down to:

Me:  There is something fundamentally wrong.  Evidence is X, Y and Z.

Other person:  X, Y and Z are all inevitable.  The fundamental set-up is
<whatever> and X, Y and Z are the only way of coping with it.

Me:  I know that's the fundamental set up.  That's what I'm complaining about!

It may be something to do with idealism.  I am looking at the fundamental
set-up, which cannot be changed, while other people, if they are looking less
deeply, are at least looking at a practical level where you can do something
about it.

But I (as usual) digress.

On this particular point, Universities don't need to be plural.  My complaint
about Derk's world was that the university is TOO differentiated!  It is not
universal enough for a single university set-up.  (I.e. it is differentiated,
but the complementary institutions seem to be absent)

Mediaeval universities (I hope at least one of our historians is still reading
and can fill in some detail!) were generally set up assuming a single university
model.  They taught, or tried to teach, the entire sum of human knowledge.  In
some sense, this means an emphasis on meta-skills, but this comes back to my
point that magic is NOT the only meta-skill applicable to Derk's world.  It is
even _recognised_ as not the only branch of learning, as witness the specialist
Bardic and Medical colleges.

>+ 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

Isn't it?  Cause and effect still applies.  I think "working in a magician's
way" is more like different people having different skills.  It's not a matter
of the same cause having different effects for different people so much as
different people have a different repetoire of causes.

For example, Blade has a translocation talent.  But Derk, whose talent isn't for
translocation, can still do it.  Likewise Reville learnt translocation from
observing Blade's methods.

> biological experiments, as far as I can see... everyone goes on their own

What's new?  Different people see different problems to investigate even given
the same initial set-up.  I'm sure other magicians could do most of what Derk
does, with training, although they'd find it harder.  Given some of the list's
theories for the origin of griffins, it is quite likely that someone has!

> 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.

True, but this doesn't render it inaccessible to scientific study.  The person
concerned is an input to the experiment - so what?  A scientific theory of magic
would have to take account of this.  That's all.

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

On the contrary.  One can write more literature, for a start...

>+ 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
> the end of _Dark Lord_ would be sorting out stuff. I *am* vaguely
> 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...

Ah.  We are getting somewhere at last.  Polycant's appearance is something that
as far as I can see _doesn't_ stem from the generic fantasy world DWJ's adopted.
On the other hand our whole argument about the university _could_ be put doun to
this.  Do you think that the things I am complaining about, in the uni. set-up
are at the most fundamental level a disagreeable feature of the fantasy world?

If you too didn't like the deus ex machina way in which Polycant turned up to
sort things out, then I agree wholeheardtedly!

(To which I would add that not only were we left with the assumption that the
"on-stage folks" as you call them would be left to sort things out, Anscher
actually gave them the _task_ of sorting things out!)

> 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

No, no!  I don't mistrust them.  I merely don't believe that they are a
sufficient help that we can ever stand aside and let them take over.  Let me
tell you a well known parable:

A missionary discovers, by whatever means you believe God might speak to us,
that God wants him to travel to some far-off country and do his missionary work
there.  He knows very little about this country, but the only response he gets
from much prayer is simply to trust God, whatever happens, and all will be well.

Alas, he is shipwrecked, or otherwise stranded - most versions of the story I
think put him on a small desert island.  He is trusting in God, so he prays, but
no miraculous deliverance occurs.

A while later, a boat comes by.  He is seen, and a dinghy approaches the shore.
But he says, I can't abandon my journey - I am trusting in God to save me.

Similarly a plane flies overhead.  There is just room for it to land, but he
shouts up the same message.

Later still, a helicopter comes by and lands.  Once again, our missionary friend
says, It would be faithless to accept human help - I am trusting in God to save

By this time his water supply is running low, and the island is too small to
have a spring.  So he dies (a not very pleasant death, I think!).  And, because
of his faith, or his missionary zeal, or whatever, he goes to heaven.

Ariving before the throne he says to God, "I trusted in you to save me!  What
went wrong?"

God replies, "I don't know.  I sent a boat, a plane and a helicopter..."


> University is pretty much shown as anything but a centre of learning in _Dark

I'm not convinced.  You seem to be taking Derk's view on board very
uncritically.  Mara got on much better there, for a start.

> 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).

I agree it needed a good kick, and to re-wind a lot of its recent development.
A revival of the past, symbolised by the return of Policant (whose name I
_still_ can't remember how to spell!), fulfills this, but I would have preferred
something more practical and less symbolic (yes, I know.  That's rich coming
from me!)

One thing that is made quite clear by Flury is that magical learning among the
griffins hasn't suffered in the way it has on the home continent.

Among dragons, I suppose, also.  Scales - another blast from the past! - arrived
at the beginning of Dark Lord, thereby being less of a shock to the narrative,
and had in the long life of dragons a more convincing excuse for being able to
return.  On the other hand, I suppose I shouldn't have much more objection to
Policant.  (But the fact is, I simply like Scales.  Personally, I mean.  Oh

> 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>.

Again you've missed what I'm complaining about.  Of course if Policant is still
around he should take over as chancellor again.  That's not what worried me at
all - it was that he could be there, unknown-about, and pop up all to

>+ > 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.

Oh, I see.  You mean that those in authority often get things wrong, but we need
someone in authority anyway?  I'll agree with that.

> Nor did Anscher pop
> up to impose solutions - he was called upon, as were the oracles.

That is one of the two reasons I cited as why his appearance was a far less
worrying instance of deus ex machina than Policant's.  But he certainly
exercised authority, and not particularly pleasantly, and it was for everyone's

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

Agreed totally, but I'm not sure how that statement fits into our discussion.


>+ 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.

Oh, I see what you mean.  Actually, the therapy session is making a lot more
sense to me now I think about it a bit more.  Blade and Kit are working as a
team - one acts as the psychoanalyst to try and identify the problem, and as
soon as it is found the other dives in with his magic talent and does the quik

The excuse for the therapy session being, as I called it, "too easy" (I don't
recall ever complaining about pop psychology, but I might have taken someone
else's comments on board because I was too lazy to make my own) is because in
this sort of book you don't have time to go into more detail.  Running out of
air is a side issue, I think.

> 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..."

Hmm.  I'll just agree to differ there.

>+ 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
> 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?

Again, I misunderstood you.  I don't like the phrase "people who matter" because
it can be interpreted at the world level as well as the book level.  But I take
back my disapproval anyway.

> 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.

Fair enough.  I think you and I ought to be sufficiently used to thinking along
totally different lines to realise each that different things will bother the

>+ 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?

"What is Man, that thou art mindful of him?"  Except that you seem to be saying
"What is God, that he is mindful of Man?"

I'm afraid I can't answer your "Why" any more than the psalmist could.

However, I do make a distinction, even in fantasy, between god in the image of
Man and man in the image of God.

God in the image of Man is a symptom of the invented god - Man wanted someone to
worship, and endowed him with human attributes.  A lot of the Dark Lord gods fit
this very well, actually.

Man in the image of God is the logical result of a genuine creator God.  I admit
that if you are making a fantasy world, and peopling it with humans essentially
identical to those in our world, the easiest way to endow it with gods is god in
the image of Man.  But, as a Christian, I don't have to like it that way.

There is a school of thought, among Christians, that compares God's interest in
us with a parent's interest in kir offspring.  This is OK as far as it goes -
providing a human concept with which we are familiar on which to hang our ideas
of God - but I have too often seen it taken to its god in the image of Man
conclusion - people saying to me that they know God must take such-and-such an
attitude to us because that's how we feel towards our children.  I'm afraid I
prefer to leave the psalmist's - and your - question unanswered, though.

And with that, I think I'll close.  At last...


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