Friday, July 25, 2014

Modern Magick

It is an erroneous (but wildly popular) notion that "magic" was a superstition of the so-called Dark Ages and the Middle Ages, and that "technology" was the fruit of the Renaissance.  But the truth is that both magic (especially "alchemy") and technology were both Renaissance phenomena, and that both were trying to achieve the same goal, viz., the manipulation of Nature.  Obviously technology succeeded, and magic failed. But they were, as C. S. Lewis put it, "twins" from the beginning.

But suppose, if you will, that magic had won out.  What would the world look like?  My hunch is that the world would still look "medieval" or at least premodern. The Industrial Revolution would never have occurred; medicine, chemistry, physics, would all be unnecessary.  Everything one needed could be conjured by magic -- medicine, motion, production, construction, light and other electromagnetic phenomena. Architecture, I don't think, would look as it does today, because we should never have needed reinforced concrete; surely a "reinforcement spell" would be sufficient to buttress any edifice.  Our buildings might be labyrinthine, surpassing in wildness the most baroque of Gothic grandeur. Indeed, what need should we have of interstate highways if we could, by sheer will power, teleport, bi-locate, or even fly to our destination?

This is just a passing thought, or perhaps a premise for a story.  For instance, one could fictionalize an "alternative history" of the past 500 years if it had been magic, rather than technology, which became the instrument of our manipulation of matter.

Update 31 July 2014: So apparently someone already thought of this. There truly is "nothing new under the sun."  From the Encyclopedia of Science Fiction:

"But the purest example of 'Frazerian' sf is Randall Garrett's Lord Darcy series (January 1964-April 1979 var mags, chiefly Analog), set in an alternate world where King Richard I founded a stable Plantagenet dynasty, Europe remained feudal and Catholic, and magic was developed in harmony with science. The heroes are a detective pair, Lord Darcy and Master Sean O'Lochlainn, resembling Arthur Conan Doyle's Sherlock Holmes and Dr Watson. Master Sean is not a doctor, however, but a sorcerer, and he plays a much more significant role than Dr Watson ever did, compensating for the absence of forensic science by a series of carefully described magical tests for murder weapons, times of death, chemical analysis and so on. It is not too much to say that the stories are vehicles for the explanations of Master Sean rather than for the adventures of Lord Darcy. Garrett's distinctive contributions lie in the range of new 'laws' added to the old Frazerian ones (Relevance, Synecdoche, Congruency, etc.) and in the rigour with which these are stated and used."

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