Ambition, Ascended into Hell, C. S. Lewis, Davies, Dumbledore, Earthsea, fantasy, fiction, Ged, Harry Potter, Learning, literature, magic, Names, School, Speculative Fiction, Ursula Le Guin, Wizard, writing
On rereading my earlier post (here), I noticed that I had created a simple binary system that on the one hand lauded what I called “pure magic” while disparaging “blended magic.” This is nothing short of erroneous. While there are some works that do hold to a pure magic, the vast majority do not. And this isn’t necessarily a bad thing. Nearly all of the examples we will examine during this series can be understood as having a blended magic system, and I count many as personal favorites.
Put simply, a strict binary (pure or blended magic) is far too crude an instrument for our purposes. As with many other things, there exists a spectrum regarding the degree that magic is blended with other elements. In few cases, we will face the unexplained and inconceivable—pure magic. But for the most part, we will observe several large camps within which fantasy books and myths can be categorized. To that end, I’d like to spend my remaining space looking at a very common (and popular) rendition of blended magic that is tied to education.
As stated before, Lewis’s theory of wonder in magic hinges on mystery. According to Lewis, we can only be awed by magic so long as we do not attempt to understand magic or break it down into simpler. To oversimplify, a direct proportion equation can be created. There will be a greater sense of wonder with the greater degree to which the magic isn’t explained (in theory at least). And while this formula does hold up in certain examples, we must also consider alternative approaches that prove to be just as delightful as Lewis’s version of magic.
First on our list of forms to examine is what I plan on calling “magic and school.” This is perhaps one of the most common forms of blended magic, given the (relatively) recent success of J. K. Rowling’s Harry Potter series. And really, Rowling is a great example of magic and school. The protagonists often follow the coming of age arc, and the stories tend to focus their explanations of magic on technique. Finally, before we examine an example of the form, magic and school stories often begin with very distinct elements of the hero’s journey (more on this another time).
Now, despite having mentioned it already, I don’t intend to use Harry Potter as our case study for this form of magic. While a delightful read, I prefer us to focus on Ursula Le Guin’s, A Wizard of Earthsea. To that end, I would like to offer this brief passage for consideration:
Ged had thought that as the prentice of a great mage he would enter at once into the mystery and mastery of power. He would understand the langage of the beasts, and the speech of the leaves…and learn to change himself into any shape as he wished.
But it was not so at all. They wandered, first down into the Vale and then gradually south and westward around the mountain, given lodging in little villages or spending the night out in the wilderness, like pour journeyman-sorcerers, or tinkers, or beggars. They entered no mysterious domain. (Guin 17)
While there are a great number of things that can be said about magic and study, I want to reference just one point before we close for today (we will have revisit Earthsea for a second post I think). This point is the temptation for deeper power that runs alongside the mage’s journey. For Harry, this was partly embodied in the constant haunting of Voldemort. For Ged, the temptation is more transparently seen as a longing for greatness. If you’ll allow a slight rabbit trail, it is perfectly described by the hauntingly beautiful first stanza of W. H. Davies’s poem, “Ambition.”
I had Ambition, by which sin
The angels fell;
I climbed and, step by step, O Lord,
Ascended into Hell.
This element is critical to recognize in the magician’s journey. Often, the magician must spend their life unmaking the very evil that they released in their youth (in Harry Potter, this arc is visible in the story of Professor Dumbledore atoning for his sister’s death).
I think we’ll revisit Earthsea for one more week with hopefully more time spent on contrasting Lewis’s view of magic with Le Guin’s (the whole point of this series). But before signing off, I wanted to say that there will be another weekend where Shadowlander will be offered for free in its kindle format. As before, I simply ask that you please take time to write an honest review of the book after reading it. The giveaway will be for Saturday and Sunday on Amazon.