yotg discussion

Philip.Belben at powertech.co.uk Philip.Belben at powertech.co.uk
Tue Jan 16 13:32:23 EST 2001





> [Chinese New Year]
>+ Year of the snake, I seem to recall.  Seems rather appropriate for you,
>+ Tanaqui ;-) ;-) ;-)
>
> I'm a Monkey, dear. Does it show terribly?

Of course.  I should have guessed.  I'm the one that can be translated as either
sheep or goat, FWIW.  (Must make "separating the sheep from the goats" a
difficult phrase to write in Chinese?) (I just looked it up.  Goat is "shan
yang" - literally a mountain sheep)

> I think there is no resolution to this argument: I think magic is the primary
> and fundamental meta-skill in these books, and you do not. Furthermore, most
> of DWJ's books give magic as a central theme to be explored, and do not
promote
> a scientific approach to it, as far as I am concerned (with my adherence to
> repeatable results as part of science... people translocate with differing
> degrees of skill and some cannot do it at all... and Blade himself learns that
> it's at variance with maps but not quantifiably orthogonal or tangential).

Fair enough.  I don't understand how magic can be the only fundamental
meta-skill in any set-up, nor do I agree that DWJ's books don't promote a
scientific approach (the most scientific probably being Power of Three), but if
you want to explain these to me we'd better go off-list...

>+ 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?
>
> Me? This seems even more ad hominem than my invoking the Author as part of the
> book's composition. The answer is "no"... I'd love for there to be plenty of
> books and tertiary education, but that does not happen. There is one Uni and
> it teaches magic. Diana Wynne Jones has said in various books that mental
magic
> is quintessential. You were complaining that the Language Issue is not dealt
> with in the book - well, the Education Issue is likewise missing.

A very good way of putting it.  I'm with you all the way, there.

> Now, I *did* argue that since one can do most-anything with magic, then that
> skill is a pretty important and widely applicable one... and I would still

Which I never denied.

> claim that it is *the* meta-skill for Derk's world. I am not sure that anyone

See above.

> in that world has no magic. If there are such people, it does not make them
> less worthy fictional beings, but it does mean they're sidelined in a Fantasy
> Land story. Callette is seen as a maker/engineer but where *does* she get that
> barrel of blood? There's nothing to say that one has to use the abilities that

_Where_ is explained in the book.  _How_ is more difficult, but I suspect Kit.

> are pretty universal, especially if you have a particular skill, which is thus
> more special.

True.  I have my own thoughts on Callette, which hopefully will surface if I get
time to join in the Nature of Magic thread...

> There is nothing to say that everyone has magic, but there are no non-magical
> beings indicated, and there is the mana-rock making magic ambient.

True.

> Nor should it matter whether one's place of learning is called a College or a
> University. If you have Bard-skills and learn at the Bardic College, how are
> you suffering from oppression? yes, I mentioned Literature... as a personal,
> creative topic. I'm not sure it would be taught at the Bardic College, which
> seems much more of an oral-tradition place at the moment. Music, History, Song
> - I would think. And, yes, you can move Literature in under Song, but it's
> blurring our-world catagories.

I'm with you on that, too.  But I claim it supports my view of the defficiencies
in the university system...

> Your cited meta-skills, likewise, could exist in Derk's world, but there is
> little evidence that they do. "artistic technique" is something that Callette
> (and, I would argue, Derk) learn by practice, not by lessoning. The
experiments

What's that got to do with it?  This _is_ a circular argument - D and C don't
learn artistic technique by being taught _because_ it's not taught! - and has no
bearing on (a) whether it is a meta-skill or (b) whether it should be taught.
Indeed, this came up earlier in our discussion, and my earlier reply still
stands.

> we see do not adhere to scientific method, but are more heftily informed by
> intuition and even pop-psychology than our actual science.

"our" science?  Why should their science be the same as "our" science?

I agree about intuition - not about pop psychology, which is not how I would
describe anything that goes on in the two books - but assert that it is very
important in our science too.

>+ Which reminds me.  Philosophy presumably exists as a discipline, or Polycant
>+ wouldn't have titled his book "The Philosophy of Magic"
>
> er. Possibly. We don't see any evidence of the existence of the discipline: it
> might be a word originated and used only by Policant (like Shakspir, he seems
> the sort).

That did cross my mind, but I don't agree.  I would say that if this _is_ the
case, though, the discipline was on the point of emerging in policant's time or
he wouldn't have needed to coin the word.

>+ 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.
>
> Ah, OK. There's no reason why you shouldn't... except that the world has been
> farmed for magic, not stuff that Mr Chesney's world doesn't need to import.
>
> Here I come to meet your argument: maybe there were once other Universities
and
> a host of Colleges, but Mr Chesney ensured that their funding was immediately
> curtailed and turned the only one he saw as special into his training college.
> Magic Envy! Bards and soldiers similarly needed a bit of practical training in
> order to serve the theme-park.

Yes, but I don't think you can blame Chesney.  It is less than 50 years since he
arrived, and more than 500 since Policant's day.  What funding, anyway?  No, I
think it was a mistake the _world_ made in _not_ developing other areas of
learning but relying on magic, which made it vulnerable to Chesney, who probably
had technological products to tempt them with - and highly developed marketing
skills!

(BTW, don't forget Healers as well as bards and soldiers)

This is fun - we've turned an argument about what DWJ should have put into her
books into a discussion of the history of the fantasy world.  That's real
progress!

>+ If you are saying that the principles by which the _world_ actually operates
>+ are magical to the extent that other sciences are useless,
>
> Not useless. You can achieve the same effects with magic, if you just want to
> Do Stuff, or combine physical skills with magery to great and wonderful
effect.
> The power-objects of _Crown of Dalemark_ reflected smith-talent as well as
> magical gift, and the cwidder likewise was a union of magic and instrument-
> making. Maybe Derk's world will move towards such creation now its magics
> aren't just employed as stage-tricks for tourists.

Hear, hear!

(This is the way in which I meant magic is not the only meta-skill.  I think
such examples as you cite - I might add the book of truth to this, which is
reminiscent of the Adon's cup - involve magic _and_ other skills on equal terms,
not with one as meta-)

> I like the idea of helical argument. After all, Philip has forced me to think
> about issues that didn't occur to me as I read the book. And, yes, I was
> justifying. ooh, but I am so an idealist! Just one with different ideals (as
> might be expected).

:-)  That makes two of us!  Justifying as well as idealists.

>+ 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)
>
> Fair enough. The University did not try to be all things to all people, but
> served Mr Chesney. Once freed, it could have degenerated into a mass of
> Corkoran-projects, with all the tutors trying to secure the resources.

Good descripton.

>+ 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.
>
> er, which employ magic, right? Round and round... these ould be branched-off
> practical applications.

Ooh, difficult one.  I think I shall not argue here.

> I think by expanding the definition of science to include the personal effect
> within the experiment, you are moving away from what I would recognise as
> science. Is cold fusion real even though people can't replicate P&F's results?
> What about parapsychology?

Cold fusion doesn't seem to be.  The effects that P&F attributed to it were
explained by Pauling or someone umpteen years earlier, weren't they?

Things are not clear cut.  Some experiments are very repeatable, others less so
- a whole continuum with one-offs at the other end.  Where do you draw the line
and say one side is science, the other isn't?

Parapsychology is suffering, not from unrepeatability, but from a lack of the
application of scientific method.  The scientific study could very easily take
human abilities into account there.

Parapsychic abilities, if they exist, seem to be something most people lack, but
a few might have.  There are plenty of other abilities that most people have,
but a few lack - the ability to distinguish musical pitches is the one I'm
probably most familiar with.  I'm prepared to believe that there are other
abilities elsewhere on a scale of population-pervasion.  No-one asserts that
because a few people are tone deaf, or because some people are more musical than
others, you can't do a scientific study of how people perceive musical pitches!
Again, it's simply a question of where you draw the line.

>+ 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?
>
> Quite possibly. I really am not as easy with these books, because they have
> embedded assumptions that DWJ has explicitly mocked in the Tough Guide, and
> then incorporated in her writing.

Ah.  I see your problem.  I like them for precisely that reason - I enjoy the
way she takes a stereotyped fantasy concept and deconstructs it.  These two
books are for me an exercise in "what if it was really like that?"  OK, I plead
guilty to jumping in and saying "it wouldn't really be like that" - which is,
after all, beside the point.

> Still, if everyone has magic, then it makes sense to have an institution which
> will help to guide that skill... and it would deserve the "uni" prefix.

True.

>+ (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!)
>
> That's where I got the assumption: but in _YotG_, we don't see it happening!

Dare I say it again?  "That's what I'm complaining about!" :-)

> Where are those transport vehicles from the God? Did he send Policant?

I wonder.  Perhaps Policant is a facilitator who will help the major characters
in their task.  But I saw him more as someone who pops up and takes over just as
the major characters were beginning to feel their way forward.  Like when a
teacher won't let you work on a problem before presenting the solution.  (Sorry,
not clear.  Policant = solution, not Policant = teacher).

>+ 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.
>
> Sweet. Perhaps I should say "player character" in future? - that leaves no
> implication that I'm talking about our consensus reality as well as a book's.
> It implies the bounded, constructed mini-universe.

No!  Please, no!  That would be almost as bad as when my brother got his RPG
addiction (he got it really badly - I couldn't even get him to appreciate
Homeward Bounders until after he'd got over it).  Piers Anthony's phrase, "major
character" is better, because it doesn't presuppose the existence of a player as
well as a game-master (= author).

> There is no proveable magic in our world, after all. Even if you are a mighty
> mage, able to call fire from the heavens, it will be erased by our rationalist
> tides... consigned to forteana or forgotten/explained.

That is what _Nick_ was complaining about.  And rightly so.

Philip.







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