What if magic is real and we just don’t know about it? This is the question we are given in many fantasy books set in modern-day Earth. Wizards and demons and other creatures of supernatural or paranormal origin do battle right in front of us, but somehow out of sight. I don’t really understand that. I mean, I get that in order for you the reader to believe you’re reading about modern day Earth, magic can’t be readily accessible or visible, but so far as I’ve seen the authors who work in this field show a startling lack of concern over why all this mystical activity needs to be constantly hushed-up.
Is it like Bilderberg? Are all the wizards and witches keeping an exclusive and secret club just simply because they can? Or maybe magic is like corruption? Does magic shrivel up and die under the harsh light of journalistic investigation for some reason?
Rowling’s Harry Potter series at least had a semi-plausible explanation for it. I confess I only read the first book (liked it, but felt as a reader that I had already traversed the ground Rowling was covering) but I got the impression that Hogwarts, in cooperation with other magical schools, worked to stay secret to avoid persecution from the Muggles. It wasn’t so much that they feared the Muggles (although they were greatly out-numbered, the wizards had indisputably the greater firepower) but it was the fact that they couldn’t afford to fight Muggles while also fighting the evil-that-dare-not-be-named. Okay. I get it, but it seems to me the amount of effort they put into remaining undetected could instead be better channeled into fostering a relationship of mutual understanding and defense with the Muggles against Volde-face. But I admit I’m being a little nitpicky.
The Harry Potter books were followed by a rash of entries into this whole “magic exists in the real world, BUT NO ONE CAN KNOW” fantasy sub-genre, but even the more notable entries have had less than satisfactory explanations as to why this sort of condition exists. Butcher’s Dresden Files, for instance, tells us that magic and magical creatures exist openly, it’s just that most people are too closed-minded to acknowledge it. Their primitive minds just can’t handle the truth! Okay… It’s a little thin, but at least it has a foundation in the philosophical school of thought that supposes perception is reality. Maybe “normal people” perceive reality the same as wizards, they just perceive less of it, like color-blind people with colors or Trump with decency and humanity.
But then there’s Lev Grossman’s Magicians. He doesn’t even bother to give an explanation. These kids get invited to this exclusive school and go through years of magical training without ever asking why they need to be so secretive or what exactly they’re learning all this magic for anyhow. What? Is Microsoft hiring wizards now? Is the Defense Department looking to use some fireball-hurling “contractors” in Afghanistan? Seriously, what’s the future for these kids if they’re learning skills that they can’t ever tell anyone about?
These are the smartest kids in the world and over the course of years of education not one of them thinks to ask what’s it all for? Hell, when I was in college even I had at least some vague notion that I’d try to earn a living as a writer (still trying) but these brainiacs who can memorize a near infinite amount of thaumaturgical minutiae can’t be arsed to spare a single minute to ponder their own futures? I’d blame the author for being lazy, but honestly it seems the sub-genre itself is at fault. I’m not knocking on Grossman. My problems with the basic premise aside, the book is an entertaining read (in fact, the chapter where we’re shown the terrifying risks of spellcasting is one of the most chilling I’ve read in a fantasy story), but this whole “WE HAVE AN EXCLUSIVE CLUB THAT SERVES NO USEFUL PURPOSE TO SOCIETY AND NO ONE ELSE CAN COME IN” trope is getting out of hand. It’s blatant rich-kid escapist fantasy.
I was born to this. I only associate with other people who were also born to this. We are entitled to power.
Sound familiar? It’s called an aristocracy. Maybe it’s just my American blood boiling up, but we fought a war about this stuff, so pardon me if I don’t want to root for a protaganist-who-has-everything as he goes out and attempts to get even more of everything! That’s dumb and dull and irritating. But people go for this crap, apparently. People also like hearing about what the British royalty is wearing to high tea. I swear, if I see one more goddamn picture of Meghan Fucking Markle giggling like the prettiest girl in school, I’m flipping tables.
I don’t know. I don’t get it. Fuck your club.
“Privilege is when you think that something’s not a problem because it’s not a problem for you personally.” – David Gaider
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