From an early age, I was fascinated with tales of knights and dragons—Greek myth, King Arthur, and other such stories filled my imagination with worlds crackling with magic of some sort. Now, when I say ‘magic’, I’m not necessarily referring to blatant fireballs and lightning bolts coming from a spellcaster’s hands. To me, magic is mystery. It is the unknown. To the ignorant minds in such settings, whether it was the Late Bronze Age or the Middle Ages, anything that could not be explained by religion or what passed for science at the time was considered magic. Perhaps not in word, but in thought.
Without such mystery, those stories would quickly fall apart. More than just a suspension of disbelief, this magic made the impossible, possible. It made gods out of humans; it granted cherished heroes and heroines immortality. The ‘happily ever after’ veneer was there, in the sense that often petty human concerns could take on mythic proportions. Of course, this is a similarity shared with religious belief and stories, but these sort of tales fall out of ecumenical thought and enter the realm of excitement and inspiration—something religious stories rarely accomplish, outside of dogma and devotion.
In other words, these stories of magic fired the imagination. The real trick is that much is left unexplained—where did Excalibur really come from, who created the Titans? The more something is explained, the less mystery that surrounds it. And with less mystery, the magical aspect disappears. Imagine how fire must have seemed to our ancient ancestors before learning how to produce it. It too was mysterious, magical, perhaps even worshipped by those primitive minds. Yet in time fire was understood through science and learning. The mystery was gone, and thus the magic.
As a personal of rational thinking and a proponent of reason—as an atheist—the lifting of mystery is what drives me. It is what drives the human species (well, at least some of us). One can never have too much knowledge, but, in our current physical states, it is impossible that one human will learn everything.
So if I want these mysterious barriers to be thrust aside by human curiosity and understanding, why would I write fiction that does exactly the opposite?
There’s often an accusation made against atheists; that we despise organized religion, but we will always be intrigued by trite esoteric and New Age theories or thinking. True, I am fascinated by the Tarot—even constructed a dark fantasy setting around it—but my interest is purely philosophical. The Tarot, being so vague and open to endless interpretation, depicts a journey. Nothing more. It could just as easily show an atheist’s journey. Certainly not as a divinatory tool.
Having said that, however, my interest in writing fantasy fiction lies not in any silly belief in ‘magick’ (as Crowley preferred it to be spelled) or esoteric tradition. Rather, it is that sense of mystery that I strive for.
This sort of mystery is far different than the unknown depths explored in, say, a science fiction novel about space. Clarke’s 2001: A Space Odyssey is full of mystery at the end, but not of the magical sort. Magic represents powers that are above the human keen, but not in a religious sense. When I write about dragons or wizards (or cartomancers in Meridian) it is never with an allusion to a higher power. These forces come from other sources. It might be another dimension, it might be the earth itself. Sometimes it emanates from the individual. Whatever the case, these forces are understood just enough for the characters to use them. Never truly control or master them. For me, it is like touching or glimpsing something that will never be understood. Like a black hole—we know its awesome gravitational pull absorbs even light, but much remains unexplained.
People crave mystery, the unexplained. I have many books on mysterious phenomena, from UFOs, cryptids, Atlantis, and a plethora of conspiracy theories that are most likely bunk. This is all fodder for future stories, but the very idea of a magical world remains a cut above such things. Perhaps it is a longing to bend reality to one’s desires, or to reach into some greater mystery.
That is what I touch upon in my fantasy fiction. Each tale that I write in such settings is a declaration that mystery needn’t hem us into constraining intellectual or psychological barriers. The mystery of magic and all it can do for the mind ultimately leads to a child-like sense of wonder. A wonder most seem to lose in adulthood. Remember, it is wonder that makes us want to learn, and then to share it. Wonder makes us want to care. Maybe without wonder, the human race would still be worshipping fire in a cave, ignorant of the cosmic fires that burn light years away.