Raina’s Fantastic Ramblings: A Different Kind of Magic (Or Against Sanderson’s First Law of Magic)

Yep. I’m going up against Sanderson. Or at least contesting his model.

And why shouldn’t I? Why should I have more respect for his opinions and what he likes in a book and magic than my own opinions and tastes?

And, no, I’m not going to give you three laws of writing magic, or one, or five. None. That’s it. None. I think the whole problem is this rule, that rule, the other rule. I don’t believe in rules. It’s not how my brain works anyway. I work in patterns and intuition, never rules.

But I haven’t said anything yet, have I? Let’s fix that.

In short, I think the idea that, only to the degree that a magic system is clearly defined, with defined, understood limits and functions, should magic be used to solve a problem is – well, if you want to work that way, go for it! A lot of people love those kinds of stories and magic. I am not giving you a rule. I am just saying that is not the rule, and I can enjoy a magic system like that a bit, but only so far. Never mind that I usually do not enjoy the loopholes that tend to occur in magic systems of the clearly defined sort. Some people love that. I don’t.

Sometimes, I think that that “law” – how a magic system may be used to solve problems is directly proportionate to how well understood it is – is a shortcut for people who are inclined to use an eraser on all the problems/conflicts, yet don’t really want to read or write a story that is like that. Who write a story for its ending, its conclusion, and not every bit of it. I’m not telling you it is that way for you. Or that it’s wrong. It’s just not how I read or write.

Or it could be that I come to this with a completely different set of assumptions about the world, and I like to read books that reflect my set of assumptions about the world. (Those aren’t the only kinds of books I like; but I do like to see them sometimes.) And there really isn’t any such thing as a story that doesn’t reflect or explore assumptions or beliefs or values. If you think a story is that, it just means that it’s not a particularly thoughtful story, that sets out to think about these things, and it’s written by someone who makes the same assumptions you or almost everyone in your society do, at least on the level that the story is written. They might disagree about other things a great deal.

Well, I don’t believe that we understand how the world works. Sometimes we think we do, but we don’t. We might understand things here or there, feel things on a very deep level, but we don’t really understand how they work. Sometimes, if we don’t try to make it into dogma, our understanding might be right as far as it goes, but it’s not really understanding how things work, just having a sense of them. We might try to find loopholes, and they might even seem to work for a time, but in the end, I think they’ll blow up in our faces. There aren’t any real loopholes to the nature of a thing. And I don’t believe the world works like a labyrinthine legal system. Despite the fact that a lot of “Christianity” has created a god in the image, not of man, let alone the best in man, but of a legal system. But that distracts from the subject.

This doesn’t mean we have no understanding at all, just because trying to understand it like a legal system won’t do. It’s a different kind of understanding. And we both create and solve problems for ourselves all the time. It doesn’t take an engineering mind-set or type of understanding to have solutions as well as dilemmas.

So I want magic that reflects that. And I refuse to believe that magic should be particularly impotent because it’s not been made into an engineer’s manual or a legal system.

But that doesn’t have to result in magic that simply changes to an arbitrary thing the author wants it to be without any rhyme or reason to it. I don’t want magic like that. In my opinion, that’s what happens when you try to mix the two approaches, when you go for a magic that you can’t categorize and measure, but you’re not trying to touch nature, to be in tune with the reality that you can’t bend to your wishes, and then you mix that in with the legal system with loopholes to be exploited if only you are clever enough to figure out how. Or the math problem that has a solution, if only you know the right equations.

Just because you have magic you can’t categorize or write rules to, and yet you solve problems with it, doesn’t mean that your characters never die, or never get into fixes they can’t find their way out of, or that you don’t have a story to tell. That happens if you’re writing to create a neat, pretty package, and not to understand and feel. That happens if you’re writing with an ending in mind the whole way, a goal, a solution that finishes instead of completing, rather than to explore life. What happens if you’re looking for answers to everything all the time. Maybe it’s what happens if you have the modern western notion of a Happy Ending, but I have a different interpretation of that, too.

Not all resolutions are of the engineering or legal kind, either. And that’s what I want.

The magic of the heart. The magic of the soul. The magic of natures.

Well-done, I believe this is the least mutable, the least arbitrary kind of magic you can write or read. The one that’s least amenable to “solving” issues without dealing with them. Or, perhaps more precisely, to erasing issues without resolving them. And I don’t think something that’s resolved needs to be erased.

And please – enjoy whatever you like. I don’t mean that flippantly, at all. I believe in art that isn’t my kind of art, in art that expresses assumptions and beliefs and value systems that aren’t mine. I even want to read and explore such art. But I also want the fact that there’s more than one approach to be acknowledged. For people to understand that the assumptions that are ground zero for them are assumptions, and some of us make different ones, that color the world and our art completely differently, so that it doesn’t fit into any of the categories that are natural for them. And I do, most sincerely and warmly, want to sometimes find art that makes the same kinds of assumptions I do, that reflects the same kinds of values that sing to my heart. That helps me, in a way that’s closer to home, not this time to understand where others are and believe, but to think about and explore where I live.

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