Wednesday, May 23, 2012

Faith and Trust in Pixie Dust (or: Why Magic in Literature is Both Awesome and Necessary)

     I love fiction. I love it so much. Especially magic. My entire childhood, including the parts that were supposed to be spent in school or doing chores or sleeping, were spent inside the world of magic. I read and loved the Chronicles of Narnia, the Magic Treehouse, Redwall, Inkheart, Artemis Fowl, and Harry Potter. Oh, how I loved Harry Potter. Also Disney. I was raised on Disney movies.

     And I thought that one day I would grow out of this. Getting your head out of the clouds is supposed to be part of the whole “adulthood” deal. But I haven’t. I still watch Star Wars, I still read Harry Potter, and I still love stupid children’s shows like Avatar: The Last Airbender and not-stupid adult shows like Once Upon a Time. And fairy tales! I am a connoisseur and collector of fairy tales (though I would not recommend this career to anybody else. It appears that almost every fairy tale is the depraved nightmare of a misogynist drug addict). At this very moment I am in the middle of writing a new version of Rumplestiltzkin which stars an ex-witch hunter, a werewolf, and the witch herself. Magic is a part of me. I’ll never lose that.

     I didn’t even come close to losing it in my family’s experience in an abusive church, although I was strongly encouraged to. It was one of the few hills I was willing to die on. You can take my soul, but

you absolutely cannot take my magic.

     The rejection of magic by conservative Christianity (or, alternatively, of any magic that does not involve Chronicles of Narnia or Lord of the Rings) is one of those things that just infuriates me beyond belief because it is just so blind. Honestly, there is not one legitimate argument against magic in literature (or just in fiction in general). There’s not even an argument that looks legitimate. People see the word “witchcraft” and they absolutely freak out. To prove this, I will list the most popular ones, and I will refute them in a manner that would involve a lot of scoffing if I knew how to write a scoffing sound. Also, I hope you all will chime in in the comments and list arguments that I forgot. Especially if you yourself are against magic.

     *Note: These are generally the arguments I hear against Harry Potter, but I think they apply to the wider realm of all fictional magic.

     Okay, here we go. Argument Number One. “Any power that is not stated to come from God must come from the Devil. All magic is therefore satanic.”

     All right, so fine. God is not usually mentioned in books about magic. But neither is Satan. Why is the assumption that anything that doesn’t scream GOD GOD GOD is automatically of the Devil? Haven’t you people ever heard of subtlety? The book of Esther doesn’t mention God’s name once, and fiction doesn’t have to either. There are plenty of excellent and redeeming stories that have nothing to do with Christianity. I know this because I have read them, a thing which, in the matter of this particular debate, puts me one up on the people who avoid all non-Christian fiction on principle.

    Also, a general rule about fiction is that the rules of reality do not apply. That’s kind of the whole point. I concede that “witchcraft” in the real world is not a good thing, but is Harry Potter the real world? A clue: no. Fiction can get away with things that reality cannot hope to. That’s why we need it. Magic, harmless magic, exists in the fictional world because that’s the whole reason we created it in the first place.

     Another argument I’ve heard is that magical— or godlike, if you prefer— powers put the character who possesses them in the place of God. And that’s just terrible.

     This one is ridiculous on two levels, the first of which is that it’s mildly insulting. Meggie from Inkheart has the power to read people in and out of books. Just because that’s not something you generally see people doing in real life doesn’t mean that it’s a function that is sacred to God. God doesn’t use the Force. He doesn’t have to say Lumos before the sun lights up. And I doubt very much that he dresses scullery maids in ball gowns and glass slippers and tell them to be back by midnight. Do you honestly think that God cares if we give fictional characters more powers than He gave us? I don’t. I absolutely do not.

     This is the last one I can think of at the moment (and again, if I’m missing any, please comment): Magic in books encourages actual witchcraft. And that’s, you know, demonic and stuff.

     All right. I will refute this with a testimony from my own personal experience. As previously stated, I absolutely grew up on magic. I love it. I love it to the point that last summer, at the age of eighteen, I was almost reduced to tears at the realization that I would never be a Waterbender. And guess who has not grown up to become a practicing witch? Hint: it’s me.

     I’ll be the first to say that fiction has great power, but some people overrate that power to the point of utter ridiculousness. These are the people that say reading Harry Potter will turn you into an actual, child-sacrificing witch, and watching Mad Men will turn you into a corrupt womanizer, and reading about crime will turn you into a serial killer. I do all those things. And to date, I have not become a corrupt… man-izer? Would that be right? Anyway, I’m not a witch either, and I haven’t killed anybody so far. I guess you could say that, while fiction played a large part in shaping my character, it did not work alone.

     I will now explain my theories about The Awesomeness of Magic, which I believe to be considerable.

     I think we need magic. We’ve always had mythology, folklore, fairy tales… just stories. Magic is part of our race. It’s in our blood; a primal memory from Eden, from when we had uninhibited access to true perfection and unlimited, inhuman power. Magic is the what-if we all have deep in our secret souls. What if our ordinary lives became extraordinary? Sorcery takes us beyond reality. And that’s not a need we can ignore.

     I honestly believe that children raised in a nonmagical environment are at a disadvantage. Their imaginations are stunted. It’s more difficult to comprehend the hypothetical if you have not been exposed to real fantasy. Magic prepares you for a world that is not what it seems. It teaches you that fairies live hidden inside ordinary flowers and the train that takes you to Hogwarts is behind a nondescript brick wall. And as an adult, you use this training to discover the hidden devil or unseen angel in the plainest of plain people.

     Magic is not an escape from reality. It is reality, just bigger. Fairy tales are not about magic; they’re about us. Our mistakes, our triumphs, our joys, our heartbreaks; magnified so that we can understand. Reality lies hidden within Meggie’s voice and Martin the Warrior’s sword. We’ve all met witches or witnessed the transformation from man to werewolf. Some of us even have fairy godmothers. Magic is the missing component we need for reality to switch from black-and-white to color.

     So I guess what I’m saying is that magic— the magic we know and love from books and movies— is… well, it’s not evil. It’s awesome. It’s a part of who we are, and it has been since the beginning. It’s not something that needs to be dissected and analyzed. It’s something you feel. Who can deny the deep-seated thrill that travels through your body when Aang goes into the Avatar State or when Harry learns for the first time how to cast a Patronus? I certainly can’t.

     Therefore, it is in honor of all that is magical that I propose to go to sleep, because I am up ridiculously late and I have an orthodontist appointment tomorrow.

     Dreams are a different kind of magic.


  1. Yes! I agree! Magic is very necessary for developing the imagination. Sounds like you've read all the most amazing books too =)
    Have you ever researched the Harry Potter controversy? I have. One of the original reasons people freaked out over HP was because someone forwarded a "news article" that quoted children who said that HP taught them that witchcraft was real and Jesus was weak and stupid. The forward went viral and people really freaked out over it. But it turns out this "news article" came from the Onion which is known for posting stupid hoaxes just for fun. After I read about that, I decided to read Harry Potter :D And now both my brother and I like HP. A lot.
    And seriously. Inkheart, Artemis Fowl, HP, The Chronicles of Narnia, Redwall . . . they're pretty much the best ^_^

  2. Andrea,

    You would love to sit around our dinner table and listen to our kids talk.

    I have instilled in them a very healthy sense of "fairy-taleness" when it comes to their lives in the Kingdom. They have been told, from their very earliest ages, that they are princesses and princes' in God's Kingdom and their life is full of Kingdom Adventure. (Well for the longest time Abram insisted that he was a princess also, but I digress.)

    Anyway, their eyes of faith are so much more open and perceptive because they don't see the Bible as a rule book, but as a love story fairy tale! I love watching them listen to my renditions of certain Biblical stories and hear how they connect it to the larger story of God's love.

    Keep up the good work. I really enjoyed this post.


  3. Andrea, do you know why magic is a part of you??? Because YOU ARE MAGIC! (I've been missing you)

    I really enjoyed you points; and, yes, people have actually used those arguments in conversations with me and, YES, I did respond in almost the same way. Except, your responses were cooler.

    Can I copy-cat you on this? Tee, hee...

  4. I love this post so much I can't even.

    I too was totally enraptured by fairytales and fantasy growing up. My family was highly skeptical about fantasy though, even Narnia was suspect (CS Lewis was too libaral of a Christian after all) and sneakily read all the Wizard of Oz books and Grimms fairytales etc while at the library so my parents wouldn't know about it. Never grew out of it either, and am still a total fantasy/magic geek.

    Tales of magic still send thrills down my spine. ;)

  5. I relate to this post in a lot of ways, as a fantasy lover who grew up in an abusive church. You have a lot of good points, but I wanted to bring up one misconception--that of witchcraft being 'a bad thing.' Witchcraft is a religious path for many people, and has nothing to do with Satan or harming others. I'm a witch myself--that's why this is important enough to me to mention it. :)


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