A Magical Feeling

After reading Delaney’s blog post on “Magic Systems: The Restricted Section,” I reflected back on my childhood and the abundance of fantasy series and mythological lore that made up for the majority of my adolescent reading history. Apparently I’m not the only one either, as others in our class have brought up D’aulaires Book of Greek Myths and Lord of the Rings in their posts as well. Delaney brings up and comments on N.K. Jemisin’s frustrations of the system/rules that fantasy writers sometimes place on the magic in their works.

In her own blog post “But, but, but — WHY does magic have to make sense?,“ Jemisin retorts “whenever I see fantasy readers laud a work for the rigor of its magic system… I wonder: why are these people reading fantasy? I mean, if they’re going to judge magic by its similarity to science, why not just go ahead and read science fiction?” Delaney argues that the limitations and rules on these magic systems are exactly what propel the plot because otherwise there would be no story in, for example, the Harry Potter series “if Harry could have just snapped his fingers and killed Voldemort, and then snapped his fingers again and brought his parents back to life” and I agree! I understand Jemisin’s annoyance with the rigidity behind the methodology of some magic systems because there has to be a line somewhere between fantasy and science fiction but there also has to be some basic guidelines to separate one magic from another in different works.

As a child, what probably made these fantasy series so exciting to me was the fact that the impossible seemed possible and that the power of my feelings, and therefore my belief in the fictional world, mattered. The brains of most eight-year olds are usually not attentive enough to figure out the specifics and break down of the magic that’s occurring; or at least mine sure wasn’t. All we had was the good faith that the good guys would always conquer whatever evil they’re faced with. In fact, when placed in life-or-death situations, most fantasy protagonists’ go-to power move is to “cross their fingers and wish really hard” as Jemisin puts it because in a world where feelings matter, you can’t help but cross your own fingers and do the same to help contribute to the hero’s battle.

As adult readers, however, I came to an unsettling realization about the (usually more mature) fantasy novels that Jemisin refers to in her post. The process of turning magic into an experimentative science reminded me of the pleasure that comes from those who experience Christopher Columbus syndrome, as coined by Spike Lee. According to Urban Dictionary, Christopher Columbus syndrome is “A mental defect that makes you think you have discovered a place that already has people living there” in the context of urban gentrification. Rather than replicating the syndrome itself, these fantasy novels provide the same type of voyeuristic pleasure from the “exploration” and “discovery” that the reader makes from the fictional world of the text. Since the characters are usually figuring out the truths of their world as seen in both science fiction and fantasy (Jemisin’s The Broken Earth trilogy and Rick Riordan’s Percy Jackson series, respectively), the reader may experience a certain type of satisfaction in believing that they are the one to piece together the full picture first.

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