I spent last Saturday teaching Magical Fiction.
As always when I teach at the HATS Program at my alma mater, Stetson University, it’s nice to have complete autonomy, no grades, no curriculum maps, and no standardized tests. And yet my students said they found themselves thinking harder than they tend to do at school…
Here’s how the course, which my son Christopher helped me create and teach, worked. We talked about our favorite books and movies that have magical elements, asking ourselves questions like these in for each series of stories:
- Who uses the magic?
- What does the magic do?
- Where is the magic used (setting)?
- How does the magic work and how do people use it?
- Why do the characters use it/why did the author make it that way?
Analyzing the ways in which magic worked proved very interesting. We examined Harry Potter, with its two tiered use of magic, both its practical uses and more philosophical/theological uses. Then we looked at the magic of The Force in the Star Wars movies, again with its practical manifestations and its deeper meanings. We also looked at the various forms of magic in C.S. Lewis’s Narnia books, and in The Lord of the Rings. The magic is more subtle in the works of the two Inklings, but it also runs very, very deep.
We hadn’t planned to do it, but after analyzing the magic in these stories, we made a list of what good magic does in all these stories, and what bad magic does.
Bad magic seeks power – power to destroy, to coerce, to dominate, to hurt. Power to eradicate difference and banish the “Other.” Voldemort. Darth Sideous. The White Witch. Sauron. They all use magic to gather power. As Voldemort says to Harry Potter in the first book, “There is no good and evil. There is only power and those too weak to seek it.”
Good magic protects and defends. Good magic benefits others. Good magic, at its heart, has to do with Love.
The deeper magic from before the dawn of time.
The mercy Gandalf recommends to Frodo when he wishes Gollum dead.
The love that saves Luke Skywalker and brings Anakin back to the Light.
The love that saves Harry from the killing curse, and which saves all of the wizarding world when Harry is willing to sacrifice himself.
Love that sacrifices rather than seeking gain.
Love that risks rather than playing it safe.
Love that gives power away instead of hording it.
Love that is open rather than closed.
At the end of the class, we looked at a list of possible metaphors that could be used to create systems of magic, and each of us tried to create our own system. We came up with magical systems based on nature, music, knowledge, and weather, among others, and began thinking up stories based on these systems.
But what struck me is that we all create magic in our lives. Our magic lies in our actions, our choices, our beliefs, our attitudes.
And we all have the choice to create good magic or bad magic.
Magical fiction isn’t just escapism. It’s what life is all about.