Back on Wednesday I was having a beer with Harry Potter. OK, I’m kidding—he doesn’t like beer. He was drinking black Russians, quite a few as a matter of fact. You know the drink? Made with vodka and Kahlua? Anyway, I said, “Harry, doesn’t ordering a drink with that name sort of imply that you’re into black magic?”
He narrowed his eyes in that spooky way he will sometimes and said, “Oh, somebody wants to be a frog for the rest of the day.”
“No, no,” I said, “I’m not criticizing!”
This is one of the problems with magic: it can go in any direction. One minute Harry is protecting you from a basilisk, and the next minute he’s got four black Russians in him and he’s waving the wand in your direction slurring, “I want a puppy.”
In general, though, whether benignant or malevolent, magic permeates our lives. Perhaps you don’t believe in magic, but I would still ask you whether the idea of magic isn’t a useful metaphor to express the mystery that makes up every day. I’m looking out now at tiny bright green leaves appearing at the ends of branches. They seem to come from nowhere, year after year, like…you know, magic.
Or have you heard a mockingbird sing? I don’t know how any bird knows its song (I mean, how big can the brain of a bird be in that tiny head?), but the mockingbird goes from song to song to song. Look, that’s not a metaphor—that’s actual magic.
And then throw in the rising sun, the birth of babies, the sound of thunder, an occasional yeti coming down off the mountain, and elves who steal stuff in your house at night, and you end up with a world that is hard to explain, unless you consider magic.
As far back as we have writing, writers have occasionally used magic in their writing. Sometimes we do this just because it’s fantastically entertaining, as Harry Potter keeps telling me. At other times, we may use magic because it gives us another way to explore the wildest mystery we encounter, the human mind. How can the same person (i.e., me and you) be capable in one instance of gentle caring, or in another instance of atrocity? There is no explaining this mystery, but we try, and to explore that chaos we call the mind, we need both angels and dragons.
We can also do more subtle things with magic in writing. Suppose you had a mirror that would only show you as you will appear three days from now. It wouldn’t be all that different, with only three days. Would you use that mirror? What if you looked in it and you had black eyes? What if one day you looked in it and you weren’t there at all?
Aside from the reasons I’ve given here, what makes magic so natural to writing is that all writing uses magic. Instead of this magic discussion, I might simply describe a heavyset man in a blue sweatshirt walk into a coffee shop, order a hot chocolate, then go sit in a corner to drink it and read a book on accounting. No magic, right? Except that there is no man, no coffee shop, no book. It’s all nothing more than letters I’ve put on a computer screen, and you used them to create this man in your mind. How is that different from the same imaginary man walking outside, rising off the ground, and flying away?
Here’s some more magic for you. I have an author Facebook page now—woohoo! 21st century!—and I’d appreciate it if you’d go there and express fondness for it:
There is also a video there in which I talk in more detail about the use of magic in writing. In exchange, I promise not to turn you into a frog. Really, I promise, mostly.