Tuesday, August 16, 2011

Episode 17 - Magic, Muggles, and Morals

Witches, wizards, and warlocks--oh my! This episode Tim and Nick discuss whether the use of magic in fiction is the downfall of modern society. Join us for a meaty discussion of the pitfalls and potential of spells, enchantments, and Turkish Delight for the both creator and the audience.

Also, stay tuned for the premiere reading of Destroyer, a novella written by Nathan Marchand, Timothy Deal, and Natasha Hayden, all Derailed Trains contributors! It's another sensational hour of the podcast devoted to conversations on the art of storytelling.


Show Notes

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  1. This was a fascinating discussion, particularly for me because I wrestled with the issue for a long time. Since going to college, however, my thoughts have been in agreement with you two.

    "On Fairy-Stories" is an amazing essay. There's one part of it I'm surprised you didn't mention (at least, I think it's from this essay. I know it a Tolkien idea). Tolkien first asserts that evil by nature cannot create anything. It can only corrupt and destroy. Therefore, everything that is seen as "evil" or used for evil was created good by God. Therefore, God created magic. He even went so far as to say that the miracles in the Bible were magic. What do you guys think?

    Nick, I understand your frustration with the treatment of religion in "Battlestar Galactica." What about that two-part episode of the new "Doctor Who" where the Doctor encounters the Devil? The very fact that he exists challenges everything the Doctor believes, for he is a man of science and, apparently, sees the Devil as nothing but a myth. At one point he tells the Devil he just an alien who inspired the stories about the Devil. But at the end of the episode when Rose asks him who that was, he says, "I don't know." Is that a cop-out? Would you have preferred a definite answer? I actually liked that ending because it shows how much it shook up the Doctor.

    As a creator, I understand the responsibility of using magic in stories. Admittedly, I prefer science fiction, so I haven't written much with magic outside of our "Revolution" serial. However, a few months ago I finished the rough draft of a fantasy-comedy novel. I use magic frequently. I had several purposes for it: 1) For comedic effect (spells backfire, etc.) 2) To create a fantastical atmosphere. 3) To make some moral statements. Despite being a comedy, I take opportunities to use magic to talk about faith and morality. You've read the story, Nick, so do you think it fits with what you and Tim talked about?

    A few more minor notes:

    Tim, you were off on your timetable for "Destroyer." We started it in 2008 and finished in 2009 (please pardon my inner editor for rearing its head like an ugly whack-a-mole).

    It's not a whole theme park, but Disneyworld and Disneyland have an attraction called Star Tours, an interactive ride that takes riders through most of the major planets from "Star Wars." Google it.

  2. Nathan,

    I think we mentioned "On Faerie-Stories" briefly, but it's been quite awhile since I've read it, so I didn't try my hand at quoting it.

    As for Doctor Who, it didn't seem a cop-out, because the whole purpose of Satan was as a sort of crisis of faith (non-faith?) for the Doctor. What annoyed me about Battlestar is that religion was integral to the conflict and motivation of the series, but in the end they just whitewashed it away. So say we, so says I.

    More later, perhaps.


  3. Great talk, guys. I especially liked where you ended up, with the conclusion about the weaker brother. What is acceptable for me may not be acceptable for others, and I need be aware of that and not cause another to stumble. Your conclusions meshed with mine very well.

    The subject of magic is something I've spent a fair amount of time thinking about, since, as you know, I'm more of a fantasy writer than anything else. Orson Scott Card talks about this in his book about how to write fantasy and science fiction. One thing he says is that magic must always have a price. Without a price, magic is too powerful. It limits the scope of drama and storytelling, much like a Deus ex Machina scenario does. You can't make things to easy in a fictional universe, or it's not fun to read.

    In a talk he gave once, Frank Perretti discussed how the problem with magic in real life is that it is a form of rebellions. "Rebellion is as the sin of witchcraft," Samuel said to King Saul. It's a way of seeking power without price, to control yourself, your situation, and others. It's rebellion against the natural order, against God, and that's what God despises.

    In a fictional universe where magic is something more like a form of technology, where it has limits and a price, this effect is neutered and it becomes a lot more acceptable, in my mind. You still have to take care with it. Like I said, I want Christiand (and non-Christians) to be able to read my stories without stumbling.

    As I've been contemplating how to turn my fanfic into original fic, I hit the subject of magic almost immediately. I'm only 1800 words in and I already have a magic-using character I'm going to have to be very careful with. The big brother is not going to like her much, I don't think, but she'll be fairly minor.

    The show Supernatural actually does a good job of handling magic, I think. Witches are almost universally bad (I only add almost because I can't remember for SURE if there was ever a witch they didn't hate), and Dean in particular despises them. Magic is portrayed as very, very dangerous stuff that should be kept away from innocents and only used as a last resort, and then only by people who are very sure of what they're doing. Power corrupts, and even angels are corrupted by absolute power. It's a continual theme in the show, and one that Sam in particular has struggled with many times.

    As I continue building my world, I think I'm going to keep that theme, and perhaps even strengthen it a bit.

  4. Thanks for sharing these thoughts, Laura; really good stuff. It's interesting to hear what other authors have said on the issue, both in terms of magic being somewhat tricky to use as a narrative device and the deeper, theological significance of what makes magic dangerous in our world. I agree, in a fictional universe where magic is commonplace, it's not as much of an issue. Nevertheless, magic is still a kind of double-edged blade for the writer, one that should be used carefully.

    I know I'm kinda echoing back what you said, but I do that on purpose to say: I concur. :-) Thanks for listening and commenting! Continued blessings on your fanfic-rewrite!