authors and magicians

Nat Case ncase at hedbergmaps.com
Wed May 9 13:02:31 EDT 2001


>I nearly dropped my, err, keyboard reading this.  You see, since, 
>before even Crown of Dalemark was published, My friends and I had 
>been using DWJ's books as a starting point for acting under the 
>belief that certain authors were trying to move this world more 
>ayewards.  (Where it belongs.)  We wrote to DWJ and asked her, 
>pretty much point blank, and she informed us that we were insane, in 
>slightly nicer terms.   The current theory is that there are a set 
>of authors, which we call designated authors, who act as magids, 
>slowly letting out Deep Secrets, often without being conciously 
>aware that they are doing so.

You know, there is something to this, but I think it's a bit more 
complicated, and it in a way is Jones and other authors' fault :-)

All fiction uses a basic pair of premises to create their world 
(Linguistics/Lit theory people maybe can correct me and note official 
terms). On one hand, there are "hooks" that allow the reader to 
identify with characters and situations in the fiction. On the other 
hand are foreign experiences and ideas which make the reader's 
experience interesting and worthwhile.

Amongst the "hooks", a common one is creation of a world an awful lot 
like ours. Adopting, essentially, a world we assume in the context of 
the story IS our own. Many contemporary fantasy writers (and older 
ones, too) use the common-place nature of this "hook" to surprise us, 
placing directly in that context things that simply never occur in 
OUR world. People I know here in Minneapolis do not really and truly 
jump off of high buildings and fly. If people do wave wands and cause 
things to appear before our eyes, it's because they're doing 
something a little more mundane behind the curtain.

This is why a lot of hard-headed people dislike fiction and fantasy 
especially. They are, on one level, lies.

But fiction (and indeed all writing to some extent) also includes 
metaphor. And as Jones has pointed out herself at least a couple 
times, there are some aspects to the world that simply can't be seen 
by looking a them straight on (Why this is, is itself a deep question 
for another day). You must (as I think Emily Dickinson said) look at 
them "on the slant," using metaphor and allegory and fiction.

Jones has to my mind been one of the most probing writers in 
exploring in fiction the metaphorical meanings of magic, which are 
especially interesting in that they often refer right back to the 
nature of fiction, which is the device being used to discuss 
magic.... In WITCH WEEK, she clearly draws a parallel between magic 
and creative imagination, especially writing. In HOMEWARD BOUNDERS, 
she equates attention/presence with "real places."  In FIRE AND 
HEMLOCK and "Sage of Theare," she actually addresses the problem of 
"on the slant" truths stated face on, and how (in the case of F&H) 
direct knowledge of slanted knowledge doesn't necessarily translate 
to ability to control it.

I've always loved Secret Knowledge as an fictional element. Robert 
Anton Wilson is my favorite writer for pushing (and pushing) the idea 
that there are People out there who Know Important Secret Things. 
Using fiction as a tool, he subjects his characters to every known 
conspiracy theory and crazy tabloid-headline situation you can 
imagine, leaving them dazed, sadder but wiser people. His point, 
though, is more that this Secret Knowledge is perversely a kind of 
"knowledge about knowledge." When it comes down to it, the thing his 
characters realize is that the basic idea that there are "facts" and 
"certainties" is itself a product of our human wiring, and not 
inherent in the universe beyond us. Once they really know, they 
realize their knowledge is itself an illusion.

Jones hasn't, comparatively speaking, done a lot with Secret 
Knowledge, because as a metaphorical structure in the general 
literature, it tends toward hierarchies, and Jones seems to find 
power structures an anathema and in dire need of puncturing (think of 
the siblings in ARCHER'S GOON or the Reigners in HEXWOOD. Or the 
reign of Aunt Maria). I think of Mahy's CHANGEOVER or TRICKSTERS, or 
of a lot of Neil Gaiman's work. Or Diane Duane's.

There is no College of Magid Authors. There is a group of writers, 
loosely affiliated, who like what the others are doing and derive 
strength, hope, and ideas from each other. In THIS world, the world 
of this internet message, they deal with agents and contracts, and 
with the physical labor of putting together X thousand words. They 
also derive some satisfaction when they have, in those X thousand 
words, managed to explore the fictional world, which REFERS to our 
world, in which Deep Secrets are explored, slantwise.

What can be frustrating to readers of these books (and I should say 
to be fair I have been caught in this situation myself) is that we 
are missing the knowledge in this world of who these quite human, 
usually quite private people writing these things are, and this makes 
it easier to get tangled in the confusing web of metaphor and 
reference--to go something like: "Jones wrote this wonderful book 
that opened up a whole new set of ideas about the way the world works 
to me. Jones wrote about this with a device where someone like me, 
the reader, meets up with a fictional world... kind of like me 
reading this book! Whoa, so the writer of the book must be saying 
that she is like the Arch mage who made the fictional world, and must 
really be in on the Real Knowledge that the book talks about..."  You 
see where I'm heading.

In any case, exploring magic as a metaphor can be a dangerous thing 
for a writer and reader (just as magic is usually held to be 
dangerous, powerful stuff), BECAUSE it is unknown. In this regard, 
what Jones and a few other people do can be edgy stuff: they are 
offering readers a chance to enter a fictional world which is itself 
insane, in terms of the world in which I'm typing this at a computer 
in my office. What they point out is that parts of that insanity are 
also the source of the wonder, art, love, etc.

Confused? See what talking about this stuff straight-on does? See why 
people use fiction to deal with it?

Hope this helps. I've been meaning to get this all written down for a 
while, and am glad of the excuse to get a start.


Nat Case
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