Thursday, January 7, 2010

Magical Objects - Part Deux

So, the other day - yesterday to be exact - I did a post about magical objects, and asked some scathingly brilliant questions . . .

  • What is the magical object?
  • What does it do?
  • How does it do it?
  • Why is it important?
  • What happens if it is . . . lost? forces of evil gain control of it? it is destroyed?
  • What is the big even that will/won't happen without this magical object?

Well, I've realized that the third question - How does it do it? - really isn't that important at all!

Say what?? Well, seriously, people, did Tolkien ever explain how the one ring to rule them all actually worked??? No. All the reader really knew is that the ring could turn the wearer invisible, grant them long life, and slowly eat away at their soul. We, as readers, knew this, but not how the ring did all of this. Tolkien never explained that part to his readers.

The cloak of invisibility from Harry Potter - nope, J.K. never bothered to explain the specifics of how the cloak really worked.

The magic mirror from Snow White? Nope, no explanation given.

Yes, it was an epiphanous (yes, I know, not a word) moment last night when I realized that I don't (call it lazy, call it pure genius on my part) have to explain how the magical object works! Woo-hoo!

Now, I still have to come up with the magical object,figure out what it does, and all that jazz, but a detailed explanation of how it works isn't necessary, and, it probably isn't going to happen.


Well, do readers really need to know how a magical object works? Yes, dear readers, that question is for you. What do you think of this epiphany? Have you read fantasy stories where the author never explained how a magical object work? Did you wonder how it worked or just kept on reading, just knowing it was a magical object, and that was enough?


BTW - I did decide on a magical object and pretty much know what it does. Whew! Yeah, there are a ton of other things I have to figure out, but the whole magical object thingy is pretty much figured out. BTW - Davin had a great suggestion for magical objects, so you might want to check out the comments from yesterday's post.


Davin Malasarn said...

Scott, I think that's a good point. I'm so clueless about this genre of writing, but I'm learning bit by bit. Do you think that's the difference between fantasy and sci-fi? Like, Sci-fi tries to explain how things work, and fantasy just accepts it?

Scott said...

Davin - I've never been a huge sci-fi fan, and most of what I've read is probably considered 'light' sci-fi. I think you are right that science fiction truly tries to explain warp speed, where fantasy would just tell you that dragons can communicate with humans using their minds. I never really thought about this aspect of fantasy until last night when I was pondering my magical object. Go figure!

ElanaJ said...

When I'm reading fantasy, I go with it. Like you said the other day, we suspend our disbelief. Which means we don't have to know how the magical object works. I mean, it's MAGIC. Right?

Anna C. Morrison said...

I don't worry about the hows, as long as the item leaves me breathless. :)

Robyn Campbell said...

Like Elana said, "magic is magic." She tells it like it is. So I might try to wonder in my mind how a certain magical object works but it doesn't matter. I will still enjoy the book if it's a good read. Tolkien was great wasn't he? I think the unexplained is better anyway. It makes everything so much more mysterious. Great posts my friend. "Hmmm," she wonders, "why didn't I post this?"

Scott said...

Elana - I'm right there with you when I read fantasy. Magic is magic. Still, when coming up with a magical object, there are still things to consider. How it does what it does, at least in my opinion, is no longer one of those things. : )

Anna - I like your philosophy on magical objects.

Robyn - the aluminum foil must be working. Ha! Tolkien was one of the best. He set the stage for fantasy writing. I can reread his stuff over and over again. I think with magic, we don't need to know the 'how', just the 'what' (i.e. magical IPhone w/some great apps that do all sorts of amazing things or a pendant that allows the wearer to read peoples thoughts or some magically enhanced aluminum foil that keeps a certain person from stealing blog posts). : )

Chico said...

Well, it helps if the magical object has a traditional use, if it's present in earlier literature so the readers are familiar and can relate to it.

Tolkien did draw on tradition, I guess the most famous instance of the one ring in earlier lore is the Nibelung's ring. But enchanted jewelry is of course widespread in myth, another famous example would be Aladdin.

Also I suppose there is a need to give a sense of logic to the objects working, even if you don't need to explain it. Maybe the object has a spirit of it's own, like the staff of the Monkey King, or it carries the spirit of it's maker. Maybe it is related to a natural power, like one of the four elements or it's ruled by a god or an astrological planet.

It's good to anchor the object in something so that even if you don't explain the workings to the reader, he can elaborate on his own.