I very recently started watching Star vs The Forces of Evil (no spoilers, please!) and was amused by an episode where Star needs to undo a spell she’s cast on Marco. She pulls out the wand’s manual, an ancient, crumbling tome filled with the wisdom of ages of wand users to consult, only to realize that all of their notes are so cryptic and poorly organized that it will take her ages to make any sense of them. This got me thinking about magical journals in general. A common staple of fantasy fiction is a magical guide to the world in question, typically in the form of some kind of handwritten diary or log. Sometimes a book is just a book; I can’t imagine, for example, that Newt’s finished version of Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them will be anything but a basic bestiary. That’s not necessarily a bad thing. However, these books are often most compelling when they serve a greater purpose than simply as a how-to or a reference of some kind. By including these books in a layered way, we can add additional complexity to the stories we tell.
Not long ago, Ace and I were discussing how the wizards in the Harry Potter universe never seem to grow as a society. They are still stuck with very basic technology, and while many tasks are certainly made easier with magic, no one can deny that Muggles seem leaps ahead of wizards in a lot of ways. From being able to explore space, to using computers, to even having pens, Muggles have it better—seriously, why would I ever use a quill? But this got me thinking: this isn’t just in the Harry Potter world. A lot of magical societies in fiction seem to be stuck in a more medieval era. This led me to consider how we evolve as a society. It is just a fact that human beings are more likely to grow and change to fulfill a need. It’s easier to wash clothes with a machine than by hand, and having a computer makes it easier for us to access information, keep in touch with friends, or learn new things. But for magic users, when you can wave a wand to conjure fully prepared food or teleport yourself somewhere in an instant, is there ever really a need or desire to grow and change?
When you are as obsessed with Harry Potter as I am, you start to notice some of the overarching worldbuilding issues that affect the characters you love so much. One big issue is definitely the Statue of Secrecy, which has been the cause of a lot of conflict in the Harry Potter universe. The Statute of Secrecy makes it so that all wizards have to hide themselves and their magic from Muggles. However, there are a lot of problems with this, and Grindelwald certainly seemed to have a point about the Statue of Secrecy at the end of Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them. In the video below, Grindelwald (still disguised as Graves) states that the Statute of Secrecy is a law that “has us scuttling like rats in the gutter, a law that demands we conceal our true nature, a law that directs those under its dominion to cower in fear lest we risk discovery. I ask you, Madame President, I ask all of you, who does this law protect, us or them?”
Grindelwald’s words seem to ring with a terrifying truth in that moment after the death of Credence, a charge that none of the other wizards present truly seems to be able to answer. Granted, Grindelwald’s plans to take over the world and enslave Muggles are neither good nor reasonable, but I can certainly see why he seemed to draw a larger following than someone like Voldemort. The Statute of Secrecy makes it so that wizards really can’t do much to help Muggles or even help themselves. It definitely causes issues with the worldbuilding in the series as well, and it would be beneficial to have a character who could better show the complexity of this issue.
One of my favorite books when I was younger was Crown Duel by Sherwood Smith. It had everything a girl with my interests could have hoped for: a plucky heroine, rebellion, a fantasy setting, court intrigue, epistolary romance… I adored it. When I got to the end of the book, however, I discovered something strange.
The last ten pages of the book promised a never-before-seen addition to the story. Excited to read more about Mel and Danric and the rest, I eagerly turned the page… to discover that the addition was a trite and honestly embarrassing epilogue. It was tooth-rottingly saccharine, and turned the kickass protagonist into a wilting flower too nervous to talk honestly with her husband. I didn’t have much of a critical eye at age eleven, but even then I knew it was a shitty writing decision. So why are so many authors going the way of the epilogue now? It’s terrible in so many ways, and it needs to stop.
Before watching Stranger Things, I found myself sitting down to enjoy The Shannara Chronicles. I knew nothing about the story going in, and Saika had yet to write her post on one of the books, so little did I know just how bad this story was going to be. I don’t mean that the story is bad in the sense that it’s irredeemable—I mean that it’s bad because it’s lazy. Despite being based on a subpar book series, I think that The Shannara Chronicles really had a lot of potential that it could have reached had more time and thought been dedicated to it. Unfortunately, while the show has a lot of things I love in stories—queer representation, enemies becoming friends, fantasy in general, and discussions of racism—all too often it felt as if the story was simply running through a checklist and didn’t actually know how to use any of its material.
Spoilers up ahead.
I’ve been a reading fiend lately—my new library card is beginning to wear down under the abuse. I’m trying to catch up on several years’ worth of not-having-consistent-time-to-read, and have especially been trying to reacquaint myself with both what’s new and what classics I haven’t read from the genres I love. Because of this, in the last two weeks I’ve found myself reading two different books that are set on an Earth so post-apocalyptic as to be unrecognizable. These books are both ostensibly fantasy—they include magic items, fantastical locales, and creatures of legend—but the fact that they’re supposedly set on our Earth gives me pause. If there wasn’t magic before the apocalypse, where did this magic come from?
As a consumer of a lot of geeky media, I love it when a book or TV show has excellent worldbuilding that involves different cultures with different magics of their own. However, a lot of times I find that those magics and cultures are pretty rigid. One does this. The other does that. It makes for an easy understanding of how magical battles in that world might work, but it’s an unrealistic and rather simplistic view of how cultures and cultural immigration works.