Thursday, July 5, 2012

On Writing: Magic after Adolescence

Do you ever wonder why Harry Potter didn’t continue after the 7th book with the exception of the epilogue at the end? When Voldemort was finally finished, and Harry Potter was alive and had his girlfriend and friends and compatriots who made it out alive, what the heck did Harry Potter do? Did he take a nice muggle job doing taxes at a high end branch of internal affairs in England? Did he start working for the Ministry of Magic?

There are bound to be a lot of grumblings about people wanting to see what happened in the years after Harry “graduated” (although considering he skipped his senior year, I think he should probably be held back a year, that would certainly get the smirk off his and Ron’s faces and knock Hermione down a peg). And I’m sure there are even more people wanting to see what’s going to happen at Hogwarts with the new generation (though there was a reason they didn’t show the year previous to The Sorcerer’s Stone…it would have been dull as toast without “The Boy Who Lived”.)

My own opinion is that I don’t want to know what happened to Harry in the intervening years. It’s not because I want to keep the mystery alive, or that it’s so much more interesting for me to imagine it all in my head.

No, the reason I don’t want to know what happened is because magic is just another one of those great cheat sheets for authors when their characters grow older.

I know I mentioned this in my second glance review of The Magicians by Lev Grossman, but anyone who can use magic after they grow older than twelve is bound to grow up skewed. I mean look at all of the adults in Harry Potter. With the exception of the teachers, and even they weren’t the exception to the rule, almost all of them were miserable human beings with an offset view of the world.

When you can do whatever you want with the wave of your hands and a few off-Latin words, you don’t really get an objective view of the world. The wizards and witches of the Harry Potter universe look down on “muggles”, non-magician folk, but they don’t actually have to do anything of purpose if they don’t want to. When they usually want to, you can really pick out the villains of the story, because they want to work so that they can get ahead.

I mean, look at this objectively: Harry has a lot of problems at Hogwarts throughout the stories, but he’s only given one grace period after his twelfth birthday in book two before book four where a character actually gets killed! It set the stage for the books prior to that to be full of darkness and war and oppression by other wizards in the community. The kids in school stop learning just magic tricks of the trade and actually start battening down and learning how to fight after that point.

Check out any fantasy book series (don’t worry; I’ll wait here till you find it). If there is a character of a certain age after twelve, I can guarantee that they have a skewed version of the world, or they are wrecking stuff up!

Lev Grossman’s The Magicians is a perfect example of it. One of the characters, Alice, has parents who recreate ancient architecture in their house for fun, and the other studies fairy music that the daughter states is mostly bull and just something to tick off her dad.

The Sword of Truth novels by Terry Goodkind are the same thing. Almost anyone who is learning magic prior to puberty is happy and content to do so under the rules and guidelines set forth for them, but anyone over that age is either setting out to destroy the world or making plots to fix everything by any means necessary. The only real exception to that was Zed, the old First Wizard, and I think that’s mostly just because he’s a kook.

Magic in post adolescence is just an excuse and a cheat sheet for wanting a character to be able to do whatever he wants to do. It’s for writers on their way to literary manslaughter and Peter Pan characters who just never want to grow up and get a minimum wage job flipping burgers. We all have to pay our dues!

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