When I talk to people at book signings and readings, I often am asked why I write fantasy and whether I believe in the occult and in magic. To me those are two very different questions, but to the questioners they are often related.
I write fantasy because I enjoy stretching my mind and using my (admittedly wild) imagination. I also hope to stimulate the imaginations of my readers. I find writing fantasy a wonderful creative activity and I hope my books may inspire creativity in their readers.
As for whether I believe in magic and in the occult, the answer is that I’m very much a skeptic. Occult has many definitions, so I cannot say flatly, I do not believe in any aspect of the occult. But I do not believe in the sort of magic I write about, nor do I write to promote witchcraft and sorcery (as I’ve been accused of doing). I reject all forms of magical thinking.
Unfortunately, magical thinking is all too prevalent in these times. And often it’s especially prevalent among those who would accuse fantasy authors of promoting witchcraft and magic. Just a few days ago I was treated to an example of it when someone referred to the recent tsunami and nuclear contamination in Japan as being God’s punishment on the Japanese people, evidence that they must be very wicked. This, too me, is a particularly dangerous and insulting type of magical thinking. Another example occured on an NPR program in which young people from a town struck by a deadly and destructive tornado were interviewed as to their reactions to the devastation. Some who were touched by it–homes damaged or destroyed–felt guilty, believing it to be God’s judgment on them and on their families. Others who escaped any damage, whose houses were not in the tornado’s path, wondered why they had escaped because they did not feel that they were better than those who suffered damage. And there’s Texas Governor Rick Perry, now a presidential candidate, who refuses to believe the scientific evidence of climate change and global warming, but believes that the drought afflicting Texas can be healed by prayer and repentance.
The forces of nature are impersonal forces that do not choose their victims on the basis of morality or lack thereof. People can and do affect nature and bring about change, but this is not magical. Our interference with natural processes and our greed too often put the desire to gain wealth at any cost over the wellbeing of our earth and its peoples. I firmly believe that until we put aside the magical thinking that we have a God-given right to exploit all the natural resources of our planet and we cannot exhaust those resources because God has provided them for our use, we will not take the steps necessary to protect our planet and all its lives–and then it may well be too late.
Writing fantasy and science fiction can be a way of subtly getting the message across that our resources are finite and that the practice of “magic” always exacts a price. And not all stories have happy endings.