Posted by: Phil Anderson | October 21, 2013

Do You Believe in Magic?

I’ve recently read a few blog posts that mention the importance of writers knowing who their audience is and writing to that audience. Not necessarily selling out their artistic integrity and pandering to the masses, but understanding that in order for a book to be commercially successful people have to buy it. Part of this introspection involves defining a genre.

Fiction has numerous sub-genres, from mystery and romance to sci-fi and fantasy. The reason these classifications are important is that they help readers narrow their search for a book they’ll enjoy. Bookstores (and even Amazon to some degree) are organized by genre. If a reader enjoys historical fiction, they will go to that section at their local bookstore to find a book they’re likely to appreciate. If a book isn’t in that section, they’ll never find it.

This is completely logical and makes perfect sense, but it also causes a problem for me. I don’t want to write the same books that other people write, and I try to be unique in my writing. For example, Pirate Journey is about a modern-day teenage boy who has intermittent adventures aboard a seventeenth-century pirate ship. It’s a kids’ novel that is half contemporary and half historical fiction with some fantasy to tie them together. In what section would you expect to find that book at your local Barnes & Noble?

My next book is a little easier. It’s basically a fantasy novel in the mode of The Chronicles of Narnia or The Lord of the Rings, except that there’s very little magic involved. No talking animals or magical creatures; no elves, dwarfs, or dragons; no wizards or sorcerers. Just castles and sword fighting, lords and peasants in a pre-industrial kingdom at war with its neighbors and itself. You can read an example of what I mean in the short story, “Forbidden.”

I’m not opposed to magic in fairy tales and fantasy stories; you can tell by looking at the list of my favorite books. But in some writers’ hands, magic can be a sort of deux ex machina to provide an easy way out of a complex situation. It’s a simple solution to injuries, dead ends, and sometimes even death itself. I’m avoiding rampant use of magic in my story because I want my characters to work through their struggles and earn their victories without having them magically granted as needed.

This type of fantasy has been done, and I have my opinion, but what do you think? Can a novel be classified as fantasy without magic?


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