magic/science et al (some general YOTG spoilers)

Nat Case 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 
everything.

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 
rock-solid proofs...

Am I making any sense?

Nat

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