Today's thought provoking twit comes from Nicholas J. Ambrose:
You don’t always have to write what you know. After all, who knows about aliens, or magic?
Which is a good advice. I often suffer of need to be exact in every minute detail. Still, I beg to disagree in this particular case.
painting by John William Waterhouse
I don't want to go here in questions whether magic works or not. Those are far beyond the scope of this post and would require that we set some definitions first. For the sake of the argument let's go with fantasy moment of the magic, thus giving us huge artistic licenses and a waste playground to enjoy.
But even with that premise, magic is a well developed system, with its own history, rules and logic. It's a huge tradition. Many of traditions actually, but they somehow fit together.
Of course, nothing prevents you from ignoring that and writing your own system from the scratch. But chances are that you'll end up with a story flavored with something that is named magic but doesn't have the strength of the real thing.
That's why you should do your homework and research the magic if you want to write about it. Life is larger than literature. Diving in the thousands of years of tradition can give you more than just the props and a couple of fancy-sounding words. There are great stories in there. After all, if you are attracted to magic enough to write about it, digging in the grimoires doesn't sound so bad.
photo by Brock
Sure, you can stray from the course and add a bit of your own thing to the traditions. That's what writers do. That's what many magicians throughout history were doing, thus developing their art and creating new traditions. But for doing that you need to be familiar with what was there before you. You have to know to rules to break them.
Otherwise, you'll end up with a cheap and thin fantasy. It's lame just like J.K. Rowling with Harry Potter. Harry Potter is just infeasible piece of cheap literature for anybody that has a slightest clue about magic. There are wands and flying brooms and potions and spells, but they are just props and scenery glued to the plot.
Sure, one can't deny Harry Potter's success. Neither one can deny the success of the porn industry, but we don't call it art. If the main actress has a pointy hat and mumbling nonsense declared to be spells it's not magic. It's still porn. And no actor's wand will make it anything more than that.