authors and magicians
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.
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