An interesting question was asked from the audience at this year’s FantasyCon in Brighton: ‘Why is there less magic appearing in the fantasy that’s currently being published?’ The illustrious panel of authors (Joe Abercrombie, Juliet E McKenna, Tom Lloyd and Adrian Tchaikovsky) pondered deeply and wasn’t too sure! The general feeling, however, was that today’s world is a bit too cynical and disillusioned to believe in magic anymore, what with the global recession, politicians found guilty of corruption and newspapers found guilty of phone-hacking, and so on and so forth. Magic is dead. There are no heroes left to save us. They all died on a battlefield in foreign parts.
The point was made that the fantasy of the 1980s and 90s was typified by noble kings and a ‘chosen one’ who had magic at his or her fingertips. They would invariably save the world. We no longer believe that those at the top of society are either noble or deserve to be there. The kings are being overthrown (the subject of Juliet E McKenna’s latest work), or at least the attempt is being made, whether in the UK riots or some other civil war. The only chosen ones that exist now are those that we are jealous of – for winning the lottery, for being born in the right place at the right time – those we would like to replace or see undone. Today’s fantasy is dark and twisted, a twilight world of the undead.
Where lies magic then? Where has its transformative power gone? Must we fight in the muck in the midst of brutal battle forever more? Is fantasy itself dead? If all is turned to ash… then where is the phoenix?
What do I reckon? Well, I would say that a new and more relevant conception of magic is required, one where there is far more democratic access to it, or one where everyone is denied it equally. It’s that sort of dynamic that inspired my new book Empire of the Saviours (release date: 17 May 2012), which is an epic fantasy with philosophical and political themes. Of course, things can start out all fair and democratic, but, inevitably, we start to get the old trope of ‘All animals are equal… but some are more equal than others’ beginning to creep back in. The devil whispering in our ear. The cycle starts again. Birth, death and rebirth. Perhaps magic isn’t dead then. Perhaps it’s simply entering a new incarnation, with brave new avatars. Human existence as the ‘ever-widening gyre’ (a cod quote from Yeats – sorry).