Sunday, March 24, 2019

Mechanical Versus Mythical Magic

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Corey McCleeryAlexander HelleneXavier LastraRawle Nyanzi and Misha Barnett recently opined on the de-mythologicisation of magic in contemporary fantasy. All five pieces are worth a read, but the thesis running through the heart of the conversation is that de-mythologicisation robs the mystery from magic in contemporary fantasy, making it feel empty. Comparing the works of the pulp-era grandmasters and many contemporary writers, I'm inclined to agree.

Modern fantasy revels in showing off magic systems. From arcane engineering to divine petitions to litRPG rulesets, magic in many modern fantasy stories are built on mechanics and principles that are well-understood by magic-users and revealed to the audience. In these stories, magic is no longer about the upending of the rules of the physical world, the injection of chaos into an otherwise orderly and familiar world, or a climactic event that shapes the story. It is treated as a tool like any other, to be used by appropriately-trained characters to achieve their goals. What was once the province of grand mythology is reduced to mundane activity.