Believable Magic

I watched Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire yesterday evening on my Sky+, and even while I was admiring the splendid special effects I was struck by the gaping holes in the plot, the unbelievability of the invented world it inhabits, and the apparent lack of any sort of rules in the magic. (How could Voldemort possibly be sure Harry would win the Goblet and thus put his evil plans into action? and how did Harry's parents suddenly manage to arise from the dead with sufficient power to hold off Voldemort?)

This led me to think of the invented worlds and believable magic in other books. The magic in The Lord of the Rings is kept under tight control: and Middle-Earth is a place one is very willing to believe in: though it has always struck me that it is very empty. Compare the Belgariad series by David Eddings: this takes place in a bustling, crowded world full of different races trading, fighting, cheating and generally behaving in an all too convincing manner. Science Fiction is of course full of invented worlds (and universes) - Frank Herbert's 'Dune', Marion Zimmer Bradley's 'Darkover', and Asimov's Imperial Galaxy among them.

Magic itself can be too easy a substitute for a convincing plot: properly it should have strict rules (and often serious penalties for not observing them). Out of a multitude of inventions I should like to mention two in particular. Avram Davidson's The Phoenix and the Mirror describes the creation of a virgin speculum (mirror) - one which has never been looked into during the whole process of its manufacture.

And a special mention for James Blish's Black Easter and its sequel The Day after Judgment - I think the best black magic novels ever written. Starting from the axiom 'all magic depends on the control of demons', Black Easter tells of a millionaire who hires a magician to let all the demons out of hell for 24 hours, just to see what will happen as they roam the earth. All goes as you might expect until the end of the 24 hours, when the Sabbath Goat himself (who normally may not be called: and will not appear) announces that they will not return: because God is dead. The magic rituals and incantations are detailed and believable: and in the second book (sometimes bound with the first), the hellish city of Dis is raised on earth, and Satan himself is reluctantly forced to assume the role of God.

All of which leaves Harry Potter rather trailing in the magic stakes. As some reviewer commented about the first book and film, 'Frodo saves Middle-Earth: Harry Potter wins a cup for his School House.'

Posted: Tue - May 1, 2007 at 10:45 AM by Roger Wilmut          



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Published On: Mar 11, 2016 05:00 PM