Sometimes it’s a bad idea to think too hard about the things you love. Last week, while we were looking for something to watch between the Tonys red carpet and the actual Tonys, my friend and I settled on a channel showing Toy Story.
Now don’t get me wrong, I adore the Toy Story franchise. However, it’s one of many beloved childhood stories where, if you poke too closely at the seams of the worldbuilding, it starts to unravel into questions that only get more disturbing.
Magic corrupts. Well, the real saying is “power corrupts”, but in many fantasy settings, having magic is the same as having power, so for our purposes, magic corrupts. Indeed, where would a fantasy villain be without awesome magical powers? And as villains are some of my favorite characters, this is a topic that has fascinated me for ages. Magic + amoral people is a surefire way to make me interested in a story.
Buffy was one of my first fandoms, and I loved it. I also loved Willow Rosenberg, a Jewish witch who’s openly queer and unapologetic about her nerdiness, a great deal. Willow spends most of the series as Buffy’s best friend, constantly ready to help save the day with her powers. Unfortunately for Willow, things take a turn for the worst in Season 6. We learn that magic is addictive, and her powers start controlling her more than she controls them. As Willow loses herself to her magic, she turns to villainy, leaving her at odds with Buffy and the rest of her friends.
I’m always on the lookout for queer YA, so I jumped at the chance to read Timekeeper, a novel set in a steampunk-esque Victorian London that stars two queer male leads. Timekeeper starts in media res and launches you right into the story, and I quickly fell in love with its concept of mechanics who can control time. However, as the book continued, I became disappointed with said concept just as quickly.
Flying Witch did for witches what Miss Kobayashi’s Dragon Maid did for dragons: just had them be kinda there, going about their daily business instead of getting wrapped up in some sort of epic fantasy plot. Makoto, the protagonist of Flying Witch, is a young witch completing her training, but is she rollicking along on some sort of Harry Potter-ish adventure attending a haunted magic school and defeating evil incarnate? No, she’s just doing the gardening. Occasionally she unearths a howling mandrake and disturbs her friends and neighbors, but otherwise she lives a relatively conflict-free existence, sitting where she does in the place where the “supernatural” and “slice-of-life” genres meet. Which is, it turns out, pretty near the dreamy land of magical realism.
Spoilers for Flying Witch Episode 11 beyond!
Flying Witch is not a show you watch for conflict and action—it’s quite literally just the day-to-day goings on of a girl’s life in a rural town, including high school cooking classes, vegetable planting, and long conversations about the history of the pancake… oh, with the occasional bit of magic woven in. There’s no overarching plot, no tension, no mysteries or intrigue as we glimpse the magical world. The witches in this universe don’t have a statute of wizarding secrecy so much as just keep to themselves because they like it better that way, which pretty much tells you all you need to know about the series’ casual tone and casual acceptance of magic. Apart from some initial shock when Mako floats on her broom for the first time (and some comedic reactions to the yelling plant), the existence of magic is basically accepted by the cast and by the story without anyone batting an eyelid.
The recently concluded arc of Moon Girl and Devil Dinosaur, “The Smartest There Is”, opened on nine-year-old protagonist Lunella Lafayette learning that, thanks to her results on a test created by Bruce Banner, she is the smartest person. Not the smartest kid, or the smartest girl, or the smartest human, or the smartest being on Earth; she’s flat out “the smartest there is”, hence the name of the arc. The other people on the list (mostly adult men) are a bit salty about a little Black girl from the Lower East Side stealing their thunder, but none more so than one Victor Von Doom.
Doom sends robots to attack Lunella, and they’re unlike anything she’s fought before. Namely, they’re powered by Doom’s magic rather than by some kind of quantifiable science. So what does the smartest there is do when faced with something that defies scientific understanding? Attempt to explain it scientifically anyway.
Magic and sci-fi don’t have a great track record when it comes to pregnancy. I already talked about this in a previous post a while back, but thanks to Shadowhunters, it’s time to talk about it again. Shadowhunters is not a bad show. It’s not good either, not by a long shot. It’s based on a subpar book series, and although the show has taken a lot of creative liberties—most of which are for the better—the acting’s awful, and the story’s pretty campy. That said, it’s still a lot of fun, and as Noodle has pointed out, it’s giving us some greatLGBTQ+ representation. It’s even used magic in some unique ways. All in all, it has my approval. At least, that was until I starting catching up on Season 2 and reached the episode “Dust and Shadows” and Shadowhunters went right into one of my more hated tropes—the mystical pregnancy.
I hate this trope so much. It’s steeped in rape culture, has numerous implications for worldbuilding, and is rarely handled all that well. Shadowhunters may do a really good job with some things, but this is not one of them, and it’s one of the few instances where the show is actually worse than the books.
Spoilers and a trigger warning for sexual assault ahead.
In honor of Earth Day, which was just this past Saturday, let’s talk about Earth magic! Many fantasy stories are filled with the idea that the Earth is a magical thing, and it certainly seems that way in real life. After all, this beautiful planet is where we live and grow, and where we get to see gorgeous sights or amazing animals. After watching just one episode of Planet Earth, you can understand why so many fantasy authors see the Earth and magic as one and the same.
But despite the fact that our world is so beautiful and amazing, fantasy authors have also recognized that humans, for whatever reason, seem intent on destroying it. Because of this, fantasy authors tend to incorporate nature spirits that fight on behalf of nature and call us to take up the fight as well. Even when fantasy authors write about other worlds that are different from ours, they still address issues of environmentalism that are relevant to our society.