authors and magicians

Philip.Belben at Philip.Belben at
Mon May 14 13:10:09 EDT 2001

Nat, quoting I can't remember whom, but it might have been Ven:

>>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.

This touches on another issue that has been bothering me lately.

There is a sub-genre of (usually children's) fantasy in which the resolution of
the story generally carries with it the assertion or implication that the
fantastical elements are confined to the characters' minds.

It may be that the writers are trying to say (if we look at it head on):  Look
inside your own mind - you'll find things there just as fantastical as ever
happened to characters in a story.  This is certainly true.  But whenever I read
such a story, the message I get is more along the lines of:  Well, actually,
folks, the world is all mundane and humdrum - if you want wonder and adventure,
you must find it in your own imagination.  And this I find depressing, not least
because I believe the world _is_ a wonderful place.  While I admit that I read
fantasy from an escapist point of view, I also see it as a metaphor that is
saying, Just as fantastical things happen to characters in a story, equally
wonderful things can happen to anyone.

[secret knowledge and things snipped]

> 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.

I've always thought of the author's work in terms of the labour of putting
kilowords on paper.  But yes, my one contact (so far) with the world of agents
showed me that there is a lot of work there too. [*]

> 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?

Not very confused, but Hallie's reply suggests that your remarks are open to
interpretations that I wouldn't agree with.

What I think is the danger is that fiction in general, and fantasy in
particular, relies a lot on imagination.  The reader has to construct a fantasy
world in his or her head, and put the action in there.  And though we may step
in there ourselves in identifying with characters, or even in daydreaming
extensions to the story, the world into which we have stepped is our own - NOT
the author's.  As soon as we start confusing our fantasy world (constructed for
reading the book) with the author's (constructed, or even deconstructed, for
writing it) we are in difficulties.  And that I think is the "insanity" that
Jones herself imputed to the original suggestion.

My own way of thinking tends to be analytical.  I can spend hours speculating
(for example) about climate change in Dalemark, and why the Little Ice Age
should have made people migrate from the Shield to the Dales; but this is for
me, and others with whom I have shared my own fantasy world (usually my family).
I have to keep in mind that my way of thinking about such things is not
necessarily the author's.

That said, please do not take it that I think (as Nat almost implied) no
fantastical things happen in this world.  Jones has her anecdote of the
microphone.  I (as a Christian) can testify to three miracles that have been
granted to me (when I least expected them...).  But I wouldn't claim that these
occurrences would _necessarily_ defy explanation within accepted laws of nature.
In many cases it is more Sychronicity, and the notion that "there is no such
thing as _mere_ coincidence".

As a (fellow-techie) friend of mine said, "Improbable things do occasionally
happen."  When they happen just as you need them it is Synchronicity, and looks
like magic (or divine intervention).

> 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.

Well, looking at it head on gives me strange feelings, but is probably good for
me.  Don't stop, anyway.


[*]  I had set to music some words by Tanith Lee.  I needed appropriate
permissions for submission to a competition and later publication.  Least
helpful person:  the agent.  Most helpful person: Lee herself, closely followed
by my publisher.

Two or three years ago I set to music some words by the late Fritz Leiber.
Penguin books acknowledged my enquiry, and then did nothing, so I don't even
know who the agent is.  It is now a year after the first performance, and I
still can't even send the damn' song to my publisher, unless I get of my rear
and do some legwork.  Ugh.  Oh well, Colin (the publisher) e-mailed me recently
asking whether I still existed, so perhaps I could ask him to investigate...

Sometimes I toy with the idea of musical settings for some of the Adon's poems.
But I think I'd need to be Osfameron to do them justice :-(

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