Magic: The Blathering

This week’s Blog Gate post is up, this one tackling the subject everyone is talking about these days: effability.

About JE

James Enge is the author of the World-Fantasy-Award-nominated novel Blood of Ambrose (Pyr, April 2009). His latest book is The Wide World's End. His short fiction has appeared in Swords and Dark Magic (Harper Collins, 2010), Black Gate, the Stabby-Award-winning anthology Blackguards and elsewhere.
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13 Responses to Magic: The Blathering

  1. marycatelli says:

    My big issue with magic that is too close to science is not its effability but that it smells just like science — what’s the point? Terminology tends to be a weak point. When it’s not different, it suggests nothing is different.

    • JE says:

      “Too close” in what sense? I’m genuinely curious on how this issue hits people.

      • marycatelli says:

        It smells wrong.

        Useful advice, ain’t it?

        But a minimum is that you shouldn’t use scientific/engineering/techie jargon.

        • JE says:

          I think it depends. It worked for Pratt & De Camp, but that was part of their antiheroic take on fantasy; it wouldn’t work for everyone.

  2. renesears says:

    And (like most people) when I think of the poetics of fantasy, I think of 18th C. skeptical philosophers.

    Hee hee hee.

    Enjoyed the rest of the essay as well. The division between the understood and the understandable is a useful one to keep in mind. Peter Beagle does this beautifully in the Inkeeper’s Song, partly by never giving the really badass magicians a POV. It keeps the ineff from effing.

    I actually enjoy both engineering-style magical systems, if the magic neep doesn’t bog down overly, and the kind where the magician does preposterous things, as long as it’s a)doesn’t make things too easy, and b)it’s cool.

    And I will be hearing the dude from Flight of Dragons saying “Ineffability,” for the rest of tonight.

    • JE says:

      I haven’t read “Innkeeper’s Song” but I have always thought of PB doing the ineffable well. (As in “Last Unicorn” and some of his short fiction.)

      I’ll have to catch up on my Beagle reading. (Which sounds like an obscure form of divination, suddenly. A sign I ought to be sleeping, I expect.)

      • renesears says:

        He is very, very good at it. Of his books that I’ve read, I think IS is my favorite. It’s alternating 1st person POVs, and part of the charm for me is how the characters tell their segments.

        You’d be smashing at beaglemancy, I’m sure.

  3. sartorias says:

    Enjoyed that, though that website is murder on the eyes.

    Mechanistic magic is boring reading, at least to me.

    • JE says:

      Thanks. I see what you mean (about the site and about magic). There’s a wonder-level to the ideas of science that I like to see writers tapping into for their imaginary worlds. But stories about the 12 Plot Coupons of Destiny don’t usually work for me.

  4. Anonymous says:

    Funny, I thought BoA was tripping dangerously close to effable. (Effable has a big radius, so you don’t have to wander too far to be in danger.) But since there was a coming of age side to the story, which required magical training, I guess some of that’s inevitable.

    Setting the way-back dial to the first half of my life, I have a vague recollection of my Arthurian Lit paper being “The Corruption of Merlin.” If that’s the case, it probably laid out some cherry-picked examples showing how Merlin became more effable through the centuries, thus spoiling a lot of the fun.

    –Jeff Stehman

    • JE says:

      I lean toward the effable, I admit–especially when the plot hinges on magic. I figure the rules are something like that of a mystery: you’ve got to play fair with the reader by giving the relevant info. I like the esthetics and the wonder of science, too–even in imaginary worlds. I sort of doubled-down on this in “This Crooked Way”–we’ll see if people like it, I guess.

      I did set up a couple of unanswered and maybe unanswerable questions, though. (Like “WTF happened to Velox?”)

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