The Rules of Magic…?

Here’s a link that I need to take a closer look at, myself, when there’s time.  You may have already seen this yourself…

Geek-friendly website io9 has done the hard work of codifying all the rules of magic, as they are manifest across multiple versions of reality.  Now you’ll know what it takes to cast that crucial spell no matter where you find yourself in time and space – or in the pages of a book.

Interrogating the Text #2: Lev Grossman’s “The Magicians” – The Lessons

At first I was a little embarrassed that I was going to write three entries to run a full analysis of lessons learned from Lev Grossman’s novel, The Magicians.  I was able to contain a short review, analysis, and lessons learned of the short story discussed in my first “Interrogating the Text” series in a single post.  And then I realized: waitaminit… a novel is a lot longer than a short story, and there’s a lot more depth to what’s going on in a novel.  It only makes sense that a complete textual analysis for a novel is going to be longer than for a short story.  Heck… I’m probably missing a lot even confining it to three overlong posts.

That said, to get the full benefit of this post, you’ll probably want to check out the prior two posts discussing my reading of Lev Grossman’s The Magicians: here and here.  The first is a relatively spoiler-free review that discusses my initial reactions to the book.  The second is a deeper and more thorough (and far more spoilery) analysis of why I had the reaction I had.  Now, I want to bring it all together to talk about the lessons I think I can take away from all of that.

The short version, then, is that I enjoyed reading the book.  The reason I enjoyed it was, mostly, for the high-quality prose, style and voice of the book, first of all, and for the clever twists and tweaks on common and sometimes-cherished, sometimes-maligned fantasy (and YA fantasy, especially) tropes. Continue reading

Interrogating the Text #2: Lev Grossman’s “The Magicians” – The Analysis

Last time I picked up the pieces of this “Interrogating the Text” series and gave you a general review of Lev Grossman’s The Magicians.  But I wanted to talk a little about the writing lessons I learned from this book: what I liked, what I disliked, why I liked or disliked it, and what I can learn from that to apply to my own writing.

The remainder of this discussion won’t make much sense if you haven’t read The Magicians, I’m afraid.  And if you haven’t read it, and think you might like to, this post will contain spoilers for the ending of the book.  If you’re not sure if you’d like to, may I suggest you take a gander at my review in last week’s post, or this review here.  And one last warning: I’m going really in depth here, so this post is rather quite a bit long.  So settle in for an epic journey, if novel-writing-lessons are your cup of tea.

First, I want to make it clear, in case it wasn’t in my earlier post: I really enjoyed reading this book.  It was compelling and interesting.  For much of the book, it was a page-turner.  But I wasn’t satisfied by it’s ending.  Something felt off about it.

So let’s dig into that.

What did I like about The Magicians?  I liked the book’s style: while not as lyrical or poetic, for instance, as the works of Cathrynne Valente, it was nonetheless composed with a very compelling and interesting style.  It’s intelligent, and it makes no excuses for its intelligence.  It comes with a clear literary pedigree, but instead of eschewing the conventions of genre or speculative fiction and especially of YA fantasy (despite being decidedly not a YA book). 

I especially liked the manner with which the book played with genre conventions, and the clever use of a book (series)-within-a-book.  The Magicians plays up the tropes of the normal-person-enters-magical-world (i.e. “portal fantasy”) at every turn, and cleverly lampshades these conventions several times.  (For example, the Harry Potter books are mentioned by name in the course of the narrative, as is Tolkien’s Middle Earth.)  And there’s a lot of cool meta-fictional layers to the whole idea of Fillory in the book.  For example: Christopher Plover, the fictional author of the Fillory books, has a webpage.  There are even web pages for “fans” of the Fillory series.

But there were some difficult things about The Magicians as well, and they relate primarily to the characters and to the ending.

The characters are somewhat problematic in The Magicians because most of them, with the exception of Alice, are to a greater or lesser degree unlikable. Continue reading

Interrogating the Text #2: Lev Grossman’s “The Magicians” – The Review

Some time ago – back in August, now – I started a new, very occasional series of posts focused on critically reading and reviewing published works of fiction that I call “Interrogating the Text”.  The series, so far, has had a grand total of one entry (on the subject of Catherynne Valente’s “The Girl Who Ruled Fairyland – For a Little While”).  Today marks the second entry in that occasional series.

I recently finished reading Lev Grossman‘s send-up to the fantasy genre: The Magicians.  It was an interesting read – I enjoyed it but, as I say, with caveats – and at about the two-thirds mark I resolved to blog about my reactions to the book: what I liked and what I disliked and why.

I’m going to start this off with a relatively spoiler-free review of the book, in a general sense, before I load up with an extra helping of spoilers and do the in-depth analysis that someday if this series ever gets more than two entries will be thought the hallmark of the “Interrogating the Text” series.  I’ll be breaking this down, then, into two posts.  One for the review, and one for the spoilery analysis.

So… Lev Grossman’s The Magicians.  I liked it, but with caveats.  I keep saying that.  What does that mean?  It means that I found the writing and story to be engaging and interesting.  It was very well-written, stylistically.  The prose was at times poetic, clean, and evocative.  I kept reading because I found I had to know what happened next.  And yet, at the end of the story, I wasn’t satisfied. Continue reading

Interrogating the Text #1: Cat Valente & Fairyland

I read a short story recently, and I wanted to share it.  I figured: what the heck, I’m a writer writing about writing on my blog, and especially about Fantasy, Sci-Fi, and the Greater Speculative Fiction Metropolitan Area.  So I can just post a link to a short story that I think deserving of attention!  Besides, it’s my blog, so nyeh!

But then I thought about it a little more.  I don’t often give writing advice, per se, on my blog because I don’t know that I’m really qualified to do that.  I do talk about how I do what I do – how I write.  But, if there’s a story I decide I particularly like, might it not benefit me to dig a little deeper into it to try to understand why?  And, if so, might that deeper exploration be of similar value to my readers?

Hey, why not?  Long ago, when I was in a middle school art class, I had a teacher who encouraged us to learn art technique by trying to copy the works of more famous authors.  (I attempted a rendition of Winslow Homer‘s “The Fox Hunt“, committing a terrible replica of which I am oddly still a little proud.)  As it turns out, studying the techniques of more advanced, more skillful, and more worthy artists is an excellent way to improve your own technique.  (I’ll never be a famous painter – probably because I’ve put more effort into learning the craft of writing than of painting, because as much as I enjoy painting I enjoy writing more – but I’m a passably fair artist with a pencil or a brush.)  So today begins a new, occasional and periodic feature here at “The Undiscovered Author” that I call “Interrogating the Text” in which I do a little analysis on a story that I’ve read – and let’s see if together we can’t learn a thing or two about the craft of writing.  Most – possibly all – of my example stories will be Speculative in some nature, and I’ll try  to reference stories that I can link to so you guys at home can follow along.

To kick this off, I thought I’d point you all to a delightful little story called “The Girl Who Ruled Fairyland – For a Little While” by Catherynne M. Valente.  It’s available to read for free on Tor.com.  “The Girl Who Ruled Fairyland” is described by Valente as a prequel to her recently published novel “The Girl Who Circumnavigated Fairyland in a Ship of Her Own Making“, and as a bridge to that novel’s sequel.  I have not read the novel – it was on my list, but after reading this story it may have to be bumped up the list by a few slots.  This story is really quite remarkable in ways that are difficult to understand right away. Continue reading

Magical Lexicon Update

A quick update on the Lexicon project.  I missed updating it last week.  And I imagine it will be two weeks before it updates again.  So, this isn’t a project that’s getting updated on a weekly schedule.  That’s okay: it is getting updated, and I am still blogging regularly.

That said, here are the new terms for this week, and the new definitions.

New Terms Added:

Angel, Angelic, Dowsing Rod, Dreamtime,Dwarf, Dwimmerlaik, Ifrit, Marid, and Songline

New Definitions Added:

Angel, Angelic, Diviner, Divining Rod, Djinn, Djinni, Doom, Dowsing, Dowsing Rod, Dream, Dreamtime, Dwarf, and Dweomer

I was sad to stop in the middle of the Dweomer/Dwimmer row of words (which will conclude the Ds).  The rest (Dweomercraeft, Dweomercraft, Dwimmer, Dwimmercraft, and Dwimmerlaik) are obviously all related etymologically to Dweomer, so at least there’s that.

More Magical Mayhem, etc.

As promised, Friday should have seen some new material on the Magical Lexicon go live (assuming I had the opportunity to update the pages).  I thought I’d share a little about the process for creating and updating the Magical Lexicon.  First, I thought I’d point out that the “Magical Lexicon” tab that you see in the tabs across the top only points to a sort of “portal” page for the lexicon.  It describes the project, in general, and tells how to read the various entries on the lexicon.  Because the Lexicon is already huge and will only grow even more huge as time goes on, I had to divide the entries up alphabetically.  You’ll find links to each of the alphabetic pages in the lexicon in the sidebar to the right (and links to each page on the Magical Lexicon tab above).

So, the process: the lexicon exists primarily as an Excel file.  The reasons for this are manifold: even though Excel is not the ideal format for text (most of which the lexicon is), it does have the advantage of being more easily and readily sortable across several columns.  So, I can alphabetize it by each word, or sort it by each of the various classifications.  Excel also allows me to do some nifty things that automatically sort different alphabetic bits onto different tabs.  So, for instance, there is one main tab that has all the terms on it, and then a tab for terms starting in A through C only – sorted automagically! – and so on.

So, to get this into WordPress for posting, I have to copy from the relevant alphabetized tabs first into a Word document.  I found this to be necessary because copying directly into WordPress caused some funky things to happen.  Then I copy into WordPress, and I have to verify that everything lines up properly and it doesn’t break WordPress’s column and line-wrapping.  Then, because each of these pages already exists, I’ll have to do this all on the day-of, on which I want to post it (unlike normal posts, in which I set a future publication date, I don’t want to take down these pages that have already been published by resetting their publication date to the future again).

The process of finding definitions and new terms consists mostly of Googling, looking up words in online dictionaries, on Wikipedia, and in any other relevant resources.  Sometimes (like this time) I’ll find the information I uncover gives me a host of new words to add and define.  I’m not interested so much in being completely comprehensive – this is a lexicon, not an encyclopaedia – but I do want to be thorough enough that a visitor to this site could learn enough about the mythology and folklore of the magical that they could come away informed and equipped to do more thorough and deep research.

So, this week we have brand-new terms added, new definitions for words already in the list, and updated definitions for words that were already defined.  These include:

Aeromancy, Alomancy, Allomancy, Auspex, Auspices, Austromancy, Bibliomancy, Cartomancy, Casting Lots, Ceraunoscopy, Cheiromancy, Cleromancy, Devil, Dowsing, Extispicy, Faustian, Geomancy, Haruspices, Haruspicy, I Ching, Lithomancy, -Mancy, -Mancer, Nephomancy, Numerology, Oneiromancy, Palmistry, Pyromancy, Rhabdomancy, Scry, Scrying, Sortilege, Taromancy, and Tasseomancy (along with definitions for all those in the A through C range).

Updated definitions include Augury and Cantrip.

New definitions include Dark, Demon, Demoniac, Devil, Devilry, Diabolic, Diabolism, Diabolist, Divination, Divine, and Divine Magic (obviously I’m working on the D’s; all the new -mancy words, for instance, came about when I started working on the definition for Divination).

So, as before, take a look, as it interests you, offer suggestions to update or improve existing definitions, or new terms you’d like to see added.

Happy Writing.

Writing Quote: The Price of Magic

Since I posted the first part of my Magical Lexicon project this week, I thought this quote was particularly apt.

It’s not enough to create magic. You have to create a price for magic, too. You have to create rules.

~Eric A. Burns

If I found the right Eric (I dug up the quote independently of his website), Eric is a writer for RPG games.  But what he suggests is true of magic of RPG games is true of writing stories as well.  Of course, the basic interpretation: that in a fantasy story there must be a cost for a character to achieve something via magical means.  That’s one thing that’s important about magic.  (For more on this, see Sanderson’s First Law, which I think is a good rule of thumb for those writing stories with magic in it.)

But I want to think about that quote a little more deeply. The “Magic” is what our characters want desperately to happen.  As writers, we can’t just give it to them, no matter what means they use to try to achieve it.  There has to be a price.  There has to be a choice.  There has to be something lost for something gained.  That’s the essence of drama.

Happy writing.

The Nomenclature of Magic

I am very proud, today, to unveil a little project I’ve been working on.  It all started a few weeks ago when I was jotting down a few notes for my ever-present-novel-in-progress (i.e. that which I blather on about) in my ever-present notebook, in the few minutes of quiet before a class. 

I had been thinking a lot about the role of the magic-using class in my book (yes, it’s a high fantasy book with a heavy influence of magic), which lead me to think about the magic system and the terminology and nomenclature of magic.  In large measure, I reasoned, the two were the same: what you call a thing says a lot about how you define a thing.  So the nomenclature was very important in giving the magic system a certain feel and flavor.

For instance, I could call one group of magic users Wizards, a fairly generic term for a magic user.  What would that mean to the reader, if I called these people wizards?  Now, what if I contrasted Wizards with Mages, another generic term?  In the reader’s mind are the two words interchangeable?  Are there subtle differences in meaning?  What else could I call a magic user that would offer a more specific flavor?  Considering these questions, I turned to Google to help me find the answers.

But, to my surprise, the Internet appeared to have a sizable and gaping hole in it.  Nowhere, that I could find, was there a single repository of all knowledge on what we call those who use magic and what we call what it is they do.  Nay, not even on Wikipedia, that encyclopaedia of all things noteworthy enough to have an entry in encyclopaedia edited by ordinary readers.

Knowing that this was a travesty to the very foundations and purpose of the Internet, I slowly realized that this task fell to me: to correct the injustice and make available to the world a complete and comprehensive Lexicon of all terms and words that touch on the magicy-arts, especially as pertains their portrayal in fantasy literature, mythology, and folklore.

Now, this is a heavy task, perhaps yet too heavy for one man to complete alone.  And that is where you, dear reader, come in.  On my site, today, is a new page, A Magical Lexicon.  On that page, as of this writing, are over 300 terms relating to the practice of magic, the supernatural, and unexplained, mostly as it relates to fantasy and folklore.  Of these, over 70 are already defined.  Periodically (I plan to do this on a weekly or biweekly basis, most likely on Fridays), I’ll be adding definitions for the remaining 250+ terms, most likely 2 or 3 each week.  However, I’m not yet confident that the almost 350-ish terms I have already are truly exhaustive of all terms that touch on the practice of magic.  You, dear reader, have the opportunity to suggest additional terms (and potential definitions) that you feel warrant a place on this list.  My definitions aren’t meant to be encyclopaedic – that’s what encyclopaedias are for – so I’m trying to just touch on the various uses of the words and how they might be used in a magic system, but for a fuller explanation of each word, I encourage you to do more research on it.

Of particular interest, I hope to add to this list terms and words that are unique to fantasy fiction – words that have come up in use in fantasy to describe the various aspects of fictional magic systems but which either don’t exist outside of particular works of fiction, or which don’t have a magical meaning outside of fantasy fiction.  However, my knowledge of fantasy fiction is limited to that which I have read (or seen, in the case of film and television).  So, at some point I’ll be adding terms that appear in places like “The Wheel of Time”, and “Harry Potter” or “A Wizard of Earthsea”, as my memory serves me.  But there are countless other popular fantasy novels that I have not read.  The experience of you readers will come in handy here, once again.

You’re my only hope to complete a truly comprehensive Lexicon of Magical Terms.