The idea of this post comes from Alexander Hellene’s article about magic and world-building in fantasy fiction. Since I share his opinion, this is more an attempt to amplify the discussion and give it a small contribution.
I believe that we’re still in a time where the obsession for magic systems is dominant, and that writers and readers who want something different need to be vocal about their desire. The general taste may change near in the future, and we have to be prepared. Does it make sense?
The systematization of magic has been a total disaster. You may like a couple of series that feature detailed explanation of how magic works inside their fictional worlds, you may find entertainment in building you own system, but the general outcome has left a wasteland in a market that was once way more flourishing. I don’t know if people wanted this (shame on you if that’s the case), but what’s happened is that wonder and imagination have been kicked out of the genre, leaving it without the purpose of its very existence.
The problem is that systems are the realm of science. Every magic requires certain preconditions and instructions, but if you regulate it in a orderly set of schemes and procedures, your wizards are actually scientist (or old-school philosophers, if you prefer).
On one side, you could say that this is exactly how a wizard should regard his art, but on the other, the readers are not practitioners of magic. They want to be amazed and entertained, not educated about a science that doesn’t even work in their daily life. You invoke wonder in them because you stimulate their imagination by offering a taste of something unpredictable and unknown. If you provide too much knowledge about a subject, the same subject falls from the realm of mystery and adventure down into the mundane: it stops being both mysterious and unnatural, becoming as interesting as your daily office job.
The fantasy genre, now more than ever, must bring back wonder, and to do that it has to abandon lenghty and accurate explanations of how things work and plunge itself into Fairyland. People NEED to see a glimpse of what’s beyond their daily boredom.
What do you think?
Cover: Julek Heller, Merlin