Friday, November 27, 2015

Magic Confusion, LOTR, and Shining

(Those who haven't read Neostriker: Shining, scroll to the bottom for important terms and definitions)

Society today has an interesting practice when it comes to words and meanings. They change the definition of something but then try to imply it was always the case. For example, the definitions of “witches” and “magic” are being changed while the creators imply that it was always this way. I find it interesting and terrifying because of the implications of changing these definitions can have.

When you take something that is by nature evil, such as magic, and then strip away the elements that make it evil, you have something completely different. Even though you may end up with the same word, the substance that makes up the word is now completely different. However, if you were to go back in time, people would not accept your "new definition" because it would not correspond. While you may be able to "re-cast" the old word to fit your new definition, you cannot impose your new definition on old interpretations of the word. The fact that you had to change the definition means that you understand they are different. Hence, what we must be careful of is that when we teach our children the concept of "good magic," they might not be able to distinguish the old definition and therefore think what is evil to be okay.

Definition of Magic

Now what does this have to do with Neostriker? There were no witches or apparent magic in Shining. As for my next novel, there won't be witches yet, but there will be magic according to what I have determined to be its original meaning. Magic is the use of evil spirits (or evil nature) to do "your will" with the twisted notion that you have power over them. In the new and modern confusion, you can see traces of this definition present. The problem is that authors did not properly convey this when they wrote their stories and their influence made it even worse.

By “authors”, I'm referring to the likes of J. R. R. Tolkien and C. S. Lewis. When you read their stories, they indicate that their meaning for "magic" is different, but they never explained why or how it's different. So when new authors recall their stories, these new authors remember that, "since those guys used magic for good, it must be okay." In these minds, magic is a tool and the evil stems from the purpose it's used for. A recent series I saw that followed this line of logic was BBC's Merlin. However, this isn't what Tolkien or Lewis had in mind when they used the word.

For the old and venerable authors, magic is how the humans described what they saw but could not rationally explain it. The analogy would be that if we took a flashlight to medieval times, they would not be able to understand the concept of electricity and therefore it would appear as "magic". In Tolkien's case, there is a section of The Fellowship of the Ring that explains it's advanced science that we would be unable to comprehend.

Now it could be said that Tolkien failed to easily convey the difference between the "magic" that corresponds to my earlier definition and "magic of nature". For example, powers that are intrinsic to the nature of the being can be considered as okay and as a tool. In this case, Gandalf as the wizard (or Tolkien's equivalent of angels) is okay, but a normal human who studies to become a warlock is not. This is because, even in the magic of nature, there is evil when one tries to grasp for it, such as the One Ring from Lord of the Rings.

Problem 1: Grasping

When you look at the One Ring, I recall it being referred to as a "magic ring", and that is key. We often assume that its power is simply to make one invisible. However, that doesn't make sense when you read the "Ring Monologues" each character has when presented with it. In fact, both Isildur and Sauron had the ring but never turned invisible. The ring's power was actually to amplify an aspect of the nature of a character to the point that it corrupts. Hobbits are described before as already good at hiding and so invisibility makes sense. Sauron was powerful and so the ring granting him even more power makes sense. Gandalf mentions that he would initially use the ring to help his magic for good but he would eventually become worse than Sauron. The thing is that evil happens when a character tries to grasp for the Ring or, in Sauron's case, all of the rings. However, when the ring comes to a character, they are eventually able to get rid of it, with the exception of Isildur. Those who grasped: Sauron, Boromir, and Gollum. Those who didn't grasp: Bilbo, Frodo (until the end), Gandalf, Aragorn, Faramir, and Sam. The ones who grasp are seeking magic to do their will, but those who didn't were able to overcome their own desires for the good. In this sense, you can say magic is the tool for the author to develop his characters, but you should still never grasp for it.

Something N. D. Moharo says is that "tragedy occurs when someone does something they were not supposed to or not do something when they were supposed to." This falls in line with what I am saying about grasping. For example, if I'm driving and want to make a turn, I need to check to make sure there is no one in my way. Even if I really want to make the turn now, I must wait and allow the right moment to come. Otherwise, I might hit someone. That would have happened because I turned when I wasn't supposed to; I grasped at the ability to turn instead of waiting for my turn. One problem with magic as I defined it is that you are trying grasp for something to happen instead of letting it happen (more on that in my novel).

Problem 2: Calling of Evil Spirits

The second problem with magic is the calling of evil spirits. Evil spirits don't change. Hence, the only reason why evil will help you is if they believe you will cause a greater evil. Therefore, the use of magic will lead to evil unless you are able to break from it.

This part of the traditional definition is perhaps played with the most. When authors say that their definition of magic is that it’s a tool and of the nature of the character, that can be okay. However, if that’s the case, they cannot use spells or enchantments. The nature of spells indicates that another spirit is being called and therefore contradicts the idea that magic is part of the nature of a character.

The second aspect authors may play with is by suggesting that spirits can change. However, there is a philosophy that probably stems from Thomas Aquinas or Aristotle and Buddhism (if I'm interpreting the idea of reincarnation correctly) where spirits cannot change unless they have their own body. It's interesting because it could mean that the test of the angels was that they were given bodies. In fact, it could be that C. S. Lewis was onto something when writing The Magician's Nephew in that "angels" actually had their own world with a morality similar to our own and its time finished before our own world began (or maybe they existed before the dinosaurs). Anyways, hence the old understanding of magic is that evil spirits will always be evil, hence summoning them is evil.

Problem 3: Possession vs Inspiration

The third problem with magic is what essentially becomes possession. This occurs when you seek a spirit's power and they give it to you, linking you to them. You may think you are in control, but slowly and surely, you surrender one part of yourself after another. In stories, it'd happen like this: "I cannot do that now, but if you do this, then you'll have that power." Sometimes authors are nice and blatantly write it as "surrender your soul and you will have all the power you want." Now let's mark a distinction. Evil spirits possess; good spirits inspire. That's important because that's how it applies in Neostriker.

When I wrote Shining, I didn't have this full understanding of magic. As a result, you get an idea that it's the Asens that give David his powers, but it's supposed to be that they guide David to manifest and grow his own spirit. I actually determined this when preparing for my next novel (still trying to figure out a good name for it) so when I went back to edit Shining for publication, I tried to hint towards and explain this logic properly. The funny thing is the misconception actually makes sense in Episode 11 and is completely appropriate. In that episode, an evil spirit/Dark Power starts the process of "surrender for power". To contrast, Zel as a good spirit only assists, guides, and protects. With inspiration, there is still fullness of freedom in your actions, and nothing is sacrificed except for perhaps your ego.

Something you must be careful of is the nature of possession. Throughout human history and the cultures of the world, no one is able to free himself from possession. It always requires someone else or God to intervene. This is because of three things: 1) the evil spirit is more powerful than you simply by nature otherwise you wouldn’t use them; 2) The spirits can convince you that they are part of your mind and hence the actions are your will; 3) Only those siding with the powerful Good Spirit (aka God) can cast them out.

Summary and Closing

In summary, Old Magic is the use of evil spirits (or evil nature) to do "your will" with the twisted notion that you have power over them. This old meaning indicates the three things evil of magic: Grasping for something you shouldn't be; Calling upon evil spirits; and what amounts to as possession. Therefore the opposite of magic is: patience and self-sacrifice, the avoidance of evil spirits, and inspiration.

J. D. Nyle

Terms and Concepts

P.S. For those who haven't read Neostriker: Shining, here is a brief explanation of the terms used:
    David is the main character of the story who has the ability to don special armor and become a "Neostriker". It's revealed halfway through that this armor is a manifestation of his own spirit/soul called "neo" and therefore the term "Neostriker" means "Spirit Striker".
    Asens are also revealed halfway through to be spirits. Zel is the Asen who helps David grow and become more powerful.
    The Dark Power is the source of evil and hence, for the purpose of this essay, can represent magic.

Update 2/1/18

Wednesday, November 11, 2015

Is Drama Required for a Complex Story?

    When we think of stories, tv shows, or movies, they tend to contain some sort of drama. However, I've been wondering if the stories we like the best are actually the ones without said drama. Google defines the word as "an exciting, emotional, or unexpected series of events or set of circumstances." with this definition, I guess it's impossible to come up with a good story that doesn't have drama as we desire at least one of those things. However, when I think of drama, I tend to think of only the "Emotional" variety which tends to be Romantic drama. That kind of drama, I can do without.
    I've mentioned before that my next story will have no romance, at least of what can be seen initially. While I plan to introduce a character that will add some meaning behind some actions later, she won't appear in the novel. Will she be like Jenny from Shining? I actually don't know yet as I have determined part of her personality and role, but there is certainly room for more details. To be fair, I am still working on developing my main cast for the upcoming novel that she has been developed mostly to help me work on the others.
    When I think of the good stories, romance is often the afterthought made mostly to give motivation to the characters like in J. R. R. Tolkien's Lord of the Rings. However, it isn't required as shown in C. S. Lewis' Chronicles of Narnia series and Tolkien's The Hobbit. Likewise when I think of Legend of Zelda: Ocarina of Time, I enjoy the story and there are no serious romances. We may think of these as Children's Stories, but there are lessons to be learned from them. They may be "simple" in our eyes but they are often the best. This is because when we desire too much obvious complexity, every time we read the same story, it's no longer as complex. It's the simple complexities that make a story engaging again and again. Yes, Shining could be considered a simple story, but if you read it multiple times, you may notice that there's something new to be understood each time. Over the course of writing it, when I would go back to read over what I wrote, I found many subtleties that intrigue me just by the way it all fits together or references something I liked unintentionally. The biggest surprise was actually the final battle, so when I noticed it, I edited the wording a little more to emphasize it without completely revealing it. However, once you recognize the unintentional reference, it's hard to not see it.
    Of course, Shining does include drama so I can't say it's the perfect example of a "simple" story without it. What I can say is that I'm taking lessons I've learned from my attempts to make things "complex" and that the best complexities are the unintended ones. When you strive for the simplicity, you find that it's actually a complex problem to solve and how you solve it is where your creativity is shown.
    Drama has its place but I think we have depended on it too much for the study of humanity. If you intend to write a story, I challenge you to avoid all hints of romance and see how your characters develop. The result might end up being a timeless classic like Naria or LOTR.

J. D. Nyle