Magical Mondays: Machination and Magic

In this scene from the Disney movie Hercules, the Fates explain that Hades needs to wait thirteen years for the planets to align to release the Titans. In the movie, when the time finally arrives, the alignment seems to do nothing more than push the water aside, revealing where the Titans are, and Hades easily releases them. This whole plot point in the movie constantly left me thinking, “What?” Hades already seems to know where the Titans are located, so why does he have to wait for this planetary alignment? Why is this planetary alignment connected to the Titans’ prison anyway? If you think about it too much, it doesn’t make much sense.

Continuing with the theme from my last post discussing worldbuilding, today I want to tackle the “rules of magic,” or how magic generally works in fiction. Magic is a great way to make things happen in a story that would be impossible otherwise, but when you sit back and ask yourself “why does this work”, and the answer is “it’s just magic”… then I think we need to think about things a little more.

tumblr_l7fgv3SGYn1qbiko0o1_500Maybe it’s just me. Maybe it’s just that I like to know how things work, but many times magic seems to be used arbitrarily to keep the plot moving or to keep things in suspense. If Hades knows where the Titans are and Hercules is the one who can stop his evil plot, then why does he have to wait for this planetary alignment to free the Titans? Why can’t he just free them now and take over while Hercules is a baby and then simply kill baby Hercules himself instead of sending his incompetent minions to do it? On top of that, if Hades has some magical potion to make Hercules mortal so that he can kill him, why doesn’t he just use this potion on Zeus and kill him instead? The answer is that the movie would be a whole lot shorter, so the writers chose to ignore these plot holes. But I’m also certain that a better magical system or better explanation of those systems could have been written to avoid the majority of these problems and wouldn’t have so many plot holes.

Now I’m not saying that an author has to create solid, scientific reasons for everything to work, but even ancient mythology explains things better than some works of fiction. Imagine if winter was explained in ancient mythology like this:

811“Demeter is the goddess of the earth and keeps everything lush and nice, except one day she decided to make everything cold and barren.”

“Well, why?”

“Because magic! Magic is the reason for winter.”

It sounds a lot less satisfying than saying Hades kidnapped her daughter and Zeus refused to do anything about it, so Demeter punished the earth and everyone on it until Zeus made Hades give back Persephone. However, Persephone ate some of the food of the dead and now has to return to the underworld for a couple of months every year, and in her grief Demeter makes the world cold and barren.

See, nothing in the above makes any sort of scientific sense, but why the magic of the world works the way it does is at least explained. However, fantasy authors might have to research at least some scientific facts in order to explain magic in their world.

teenwolf___3a_finale_teaser_poster___lunar_eclipse_by_loupii-d6i3ou9For example, in the season 3A finale of Teen Wolf, Jennifer Blake relies on the lunar eclipse in an attempt to take out some evil werewolves. For some reason during the lunar eclipse, werewolves lose their powers. Why? They just do. On top of this, Jennifer explains to Derek that the lunar eclipse only last for a few minutes, giving her only a short window to kill the bad werewolves. However that doesn’t make any sense. A quick search of Wikipedia reveals that lunar eclipses usually last for a few hours. How many hours they last depends on the moon’s location relative to its orbital nodes, but they generally last longer than a few short minutes. Chances are the writers knew all this and just chose to fudge things for the sake of pacing the story or limiting Jennifer’s powers (while enhancing the power of the male villains *grumbles*). But it hurts the storytelling if writers don’t try to better explain the magic in their world and how it works, especially when they are relying on real science as the basis for explaining how their magical systems work.

So if you’re writing a fantasy story and someone asks, “How does that work?”

And you simply respond, “Magic!”

You might want to sit down and think a little more about why the magic works the way it does. It can only help the story’s narrative and plot.