Do You Believe in Magic?

I wasn’t going to post today, but the thoughts were fresh in my mind, thanks to a conversation with a friend, and couldn’t be ignored. I’m in a rather soapboxy mood, so feel free to tune in or tune out.

Remember in the movie version of The Wizard of Oz when Dorothy, the Scarecrow, the Tin Man, and the Cowardly Lion discovered the “wizard” hiding behind the curtain? This “wizard” tried to play it off by his warning to them to “pay no attention to that man behind the curtain.”

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Too late. He’d already been exposed as a complete sham—a humbug, according to the Scarecrow. He didn’t have a drop of magic within him, and couldn’t really give them what they desired—a brain for the Scarecrow, a heart for the Tin Man, courage for the Cowardly Lion, and a trip home for Dorothy—except through nonmagical means. But there was magic in Oz. The witches proved that. Later, even the humbug wizard gained magic. You have to read Baum’s Oz books to learn how. Yet the man-behind-the-curtain notion is still pervasive in our day and age.

We live in a cynical age. We’re used to reality TV and news reports that take us “behind the curtain” by debunking magic acts or exposing as frauds politicians and authors who claim they’re telling a “true” story while making up key facts. We’re tired of the lies, aren’t we? If there’s a man behind the curtain, we want to know!

Sometimes we take this mindset to the books we read. As adults we learn to “put away childish things” like believing there are fairies in our backyard or that dogs can talk in order to embrace reality. That’s why we categorize fairy tales and other such stories as stories of childhood, rather than for adults. If we happen to pick up a fantasy book, the use of magic is severely scrutinized, slapped with a deus ex machina label, or written off as “convenient” if it doesn’t seem “realistic” enough to suit our adult sensibilities.

Harry Potter and the Prisoner of AzkabanYou know what? I for one have had quite enough of the search for the man behind the curtain. This doesn’t mean I plan to bury my head in the sand and totally ignore reality or reality-based fiction. It means I’m going to continue to unabashedly cherish those stories that take me to magical places or to ordinary places that seem magical, and then try my best to offer that kind of journey through my own writing. The stories I loved as a child I still love as an adult. Grimm’s Fairy Tales has a prominent place on my shelf, not hidden underneath the bookcase out of fear that someone will check my bookshelves and ask about what I’m reading. I’m a firm believer in story magic. I love miraculous escapes and magical derring-do. And many of you do too. I wasn’t the only adult reading Harry Potter’s adventures.

I love the fact that authors like J. K. Rowling, Neil Gaiman, C. S. Lewis, J. R. R. Tolkien, Holly Black, Juliet Marillier, Jaclyn Moriarty, Charles Yallowitz, Caroline Carlson, K. L. Schwengel and many others are unapologetic in the use of magic in their stories. If you haven’t already, you might check out Moriarty’s Colors of Madeleine series; Yallowitz’s Legends of Windemere series; Carlson’s The Very Nearly Honorable League of Pirates series; or K. L. Schwengel’s Darkness & Light series.

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Or consider stories like Charlotte’s Web by E. B. White, Mrs. Frisby and the Rats of NIMH by Robert C. O’Brien, Three Times Lucky by Sheila Turnage, The Tale of Despereaux by Kate DiCamillo, The September books by Catherynne Valente, The Watsons Go to Birmingham—1963 by Christopher Paul Curtis, The Secret Garden by Frances Hodgson Burnett, and other books that remind you of the magic (and sometimes sadness) of childhood. Be willing to suspend your disbelief and leave your cynicism at the door as you take a journey through these pages.

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Do you believe in magic? I do. I still believe in the power of stories to transform us and transport us to unforgettable places. Do you?

Oz photo from takaiguchi.com. Book covers from Goodreads.

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37 thoughts on “Do You Believe in Magic?

  1. Wow. To be mentioned in the same sentence as J. K. Rowling, Neil Gaiman, C. S. Lewis, J. R. R. Tolkien is…inconceivable, and humbling. I’m left..speechless.Which doesn’t happen very often I’ll have you know.

  2. Thanks for the mention and I fully agree. It’s amazing how many people speak against ‘childish stories’, but you find out they read Harry Potter or Game of Thrones. One scary thing (for me anyway) is that I’m seeing a lot of fantasy authors working on making worlds with little or no magic. They want their stories to be accepted as adult and be believable, so they’re removing the ‘immature’ parts. Yet, you grant any of these people real magic and they’ll jump at the chance for it. Guess we’re all ‘adults’ until we’re giving permission to be ‘children’.

    • You’re welcome, and yes, I’ve seen that too–the removal of the magic. I’m fine with magical realism if that’s what they want to go for. But if they’re just trying to appease those who can’t stand fantasy, will that compromise really work in the long run?

      I wish people realized how HARD it is to craft a world! They wouldn’t be so quick to judge. . . . What am I saying? They’ll judge anyway! Well, then fine! They can go ahead. But they’re missing out.

      • People sure love to judge. It’s like a knee jerk reaction and it’s a lot easier to spread such things these days.

        I wonder if some of the fantasy authors who do worlds without magic are trying to alter the genre. At least with a few indie authors (not sure if they were published or not) that I talked to, they spoke about hating how prevalent magic is in fantasy books. They wish to ‘mature’ the genre so it can be taken seriously. I never really understood the point of that. There are plenty of non-magical genres to choose from.

      • Hope you guys don’t mind, I’m going to jump in as a writer who is currently working on low magical fantasy. There’s no desire to mature the genre on my part or appease a readership, I just happen to want to explore an alternate, fantasy world based on a non magical premise, magic isn’t a focal point so it only plays a background role in the story.

        I don’t think non magic fantasy is necessarily a bad thing, nor does it mean a desire to be taken seriously (in fact parts of my fantasy culture / world are pretty silly and fun). It’s just yet another branch of fantasy – and what I love about fantasy is its ability to stretch out and encompass all manner of things, both magical and non magical.

        That being said, I’ve also got another story in the works featuring talking foxes that wear gloves and waistcoats, are incredibly prim and proper, and the world features magic quite heavily.

        I don’t think either story is better than the other, or more serious, or worthwhile than the other, I just want to explore different things with each one.
        Oh and creating a non magical world is just as tricky as creating a magical world – any form of world creating is tricky, if the world is to be convincing, well rounded and interesting. I wish non magical was easier, would have made my life a lot easier and I’d probably be further along in the book than I currently am now!

      • There’s room for nonmagical worlds and magical and I don’t mean to imply otherwise. Magical realism also is a great subgenre. Did you see the movie Chocolat? I love that movie. I love to escape into a good story, period.

  3. I am totally with you on this! Writing and reading is escapism, if there is magical or something fantastical in a book, I don’t care how it works, I just liked to be wowed by it 😀

  4. Well said, Linda! I guess that mocha kicked in. 🙂 People would probably have less stress in their life if they escaped to magical places more often. Ugh…reality TV…makes me cringe.
    Have a great holiday weekend and enjoy the time with your family!

    • Thank you, Jill. Yes, the mocha helped. And tomorrow, I think I’ll have another. Yesiree! Hope you have a great weekend. I spent some time with my mom, my brothers, and my sisters-in-law today. We had great fun!

  5. Tales of magical places, and of otherworldly transformations are among the oldest tales that we tell. From shamans and bards to the authors on here-the words and worlds are still being woven. We should continue to tell them, to share them.

  6. Reblogged this on disregard the prologue and commented:
    Fantastic (ha!) thoughts on not leaving magic behind when we grow up. I know I prefer a book with a little magic in it, and I’ll take a true adventure story over a book about real life any day. 🙂

    (and I second the recommendation for KL Schwengel’s books. They’re fantastic. Dark, rich Fantasy stuff, not for the faint of heart, but worth a read. Full disclosure, she’s one of my valued critiquers. She kicked my ass, and I thanked her for it. OK, I’m done.)

  7. YES. I just agreed so hard that I almost choked on it. If preferring stories with magic and adventure in them makes me immature, so be it. I never want to grow up. I’m trying to get into general fiction more in my reading, but I miss the magic.

    I think when people criticize Fantasy, it’s because they think “I don’t want to read about magic, I don’t get it.” Well, it’s not usually about that. Take KL Schwengel’s books (since they’re the ones I’ve read most recently of the ones you mentioned). Yes, there’s magic, and it’s interesting. But the story is ABOUT the characters, not magic tricks. It’s about human experiences and emotions and hardships and growth. Fantasy’s not so different from anything else, really. It’s just more fun. 🙂

    • I had the feeling you would agree. 😀 Let’s be Peter Pan together and never grow up, Kate!
      By the way, Bound’s cover is awesome!!!! Looking forward to that book release!!!

  8. I go back and forth between “reality based” fiction and high fantasy when I’m reading. I love them both for different reasons. But I have noticed that since we ditched cable and only watch tv on Netflix, I only watched sci-fi and fantasy shows, such as Doctor Who and Supernatural. I can’t stand “reality” or even reality based tv. I want to be transported somewhere else.

  9. I do believe in magic and in God. Which oftentimes intermingle. It’s so good for our souls to get lost in the mystical of stories/movies and escape from the real and heavy. You go girl!! Enjoy! 🙂 And have a magical weekend!

  10. Allowing ourselves to wonder and believe helps us be happier, to enjoy things more. Sometimes, people can be cynical for the sake of being cynical. This is losing out on all of the fun to be had by dabbling in magic and fantasy.

    • I totally agree! As I wrote this post, I watched The Wizard of Oz. I still love that movie. It is whimsical with a capital W. And I realize that maybe fantasy isn’t everyone’s cup of tea. But surely there is wonder enough in the world.

  11. I love how unapologetic you are about your love for what you love, Linda. And thank you, thank you, thank you for reminding me about “The Rats of NIMH”!!! I loved the cartoon movie adaptation as a kid.

    Can’t wait to read your magical books, Linda.

  12. Reblogged this on Kelly's Adventures in Writing and commented:
    Great post on the power of magic in stories. I wholeheartedly agree. I too was one of those adults reading Harry Potter. I prefer fantasy, supernatural/paranormal type stories. Ones that transport you to a different place or time. If I want reality, I’ll watch the news. 🙂

  13. I agree. We do live in a cynical time–and a falsely-manipulated ‘reality’ age–but I also believe in magic. Especially the magic in stories…and good blogs. This is an excellent blog! Thank you.

  14. Pingback: they said it | Ellar Out Loud

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