magic/science et al (some general YOTG spoilers)
ncase at hedbergmaps.com
Mon Jan 15 13:22:37 EST 2001
If I may be so bold, I think maybe we're leaning too heavily on the
wrong place in exploring Fantasyland. As constructed by DWJ, it seems
to me it started with "so what if real people actually had to live in
this stereotypical made-up world." The rest of the universe kind of
falls out from there. Certainly DWJ has put a goodly amount of
world-building into her universe, but the fundamental axioms of the
world are predicated on this tension between cliche and real life.
As the idea of this world has progressed, the realness has come to
overtake the made-up-ness, but even in YOTG, what we see is a
conflict not between science and magic (or magic and anything else),
but between an artificial warping of society and the needs of the
real people living in it.
I think the whole question of science vs magic in education depends
on the education being a whole body. What Policant and the young
protagonists do is try and take what is a severed limb of an
educational system (just as the planet as a whole has been mutilated
by Chesney), and from it construct a whole-person education. It may
be successful, but not because any one world-view is successful, but
because the institution is changed from having a world view into
having a "liberal arts" viewpoint, where the deeper goal is to
simultaneously challenge everything (even to set up conflicts between
the scientific viewpoint (I think the narrow focus of Corkoran is
itself a parody of a kind of blindered scientism) and a more
artistic, poetic standpoint) and to learn to respectfully work
As I was saying off-list to Anna, to me, magic is by definition that
which is beyond ordinary comprehension, so setting it up against
science with its presumption that everything is knowable (even, in
Heisenberg's case, what can and cannot be knowable) makes an
interesting tension. That "beyond" is a large part of why I prefer
the lever method of explaining magic (magic users aren't bringing
power out of themselves, but are using levers to manipulate and
direct what is outside them); if magic can be explained and
understood and is fully within our grasp, it stops being magic (and
becomes, for instance, psi powers, which mostly look to me like an SF
way of sneaking in magic).
And what magic references in our "mundane" lives is a variety of
forces and processes we live with without fully understanding them.
To me one of the real valuable lessons from modern fantasy is that
"knowing" in the modern sense is not always the best way of dealing
with the world. To me the presence of magic-like forces is a sensible
kind of humility, the acknowledgment that most of the time we're
working on hunches and muttered, hopeful incantations rather than
Am I making any sense?
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