Why magic appeals to readers in a world where the individual lacks power.
Fantasy novels in their abundant forms require magic. Anyone reading fantasy, including speculative fiction works like that within science fiction, can discern the importance of magic as a necessary means toward transformation, creating some manner of weaponry, perhaps, or at least providing the wielder of the gift with strength. In science fiction, I believe that the magic rests in the presentation of the possibility of scientific discovery at a penultimate state, or in the revelation of humanities hitherto yet unknown potential, as in the full use of mental abilities, etc. I contend that is a form of magic. For once a person discovers those gifts, her world becomes completely altered – how it is altered becomes a facet of the plot.
I believe that works of fantasy, particularly speculative fiction, have an important function. They present fictional means of world exploration, of society as it exists at present. These novels tell the tale of injustice, explore oppression — within the skin of the oppressed. They demonstrate the horrors of violence, by showing the replication, sexualizing, and promotion of violence as a weapon in its function as a means to further oppression and marginalisation, through psychological and physical means.
So, why magic? I contend that magic provides the reader a means to imagine a means to claim her power. That is, if she possessed any form of magic, she could alter the situation before her, take control of her body, her life, perhaps, and to cease being victimized. It seems to me that just day dreaming about the ability to time travel, shape shift, wield a spell to defend herself and/of loved ones, gives the individual a certain form of control – control of her thoughts and a means of escape, if only for a moment. The escapism provided by fantasy genres provides a means to transform oppression, become the independent female ass-kicker who takes no crap, to become who she is not in life – even if for a time. Here she can learn to transgress the space dictated by social norms and become her fantasy. Magic gives her personal power. It gives her control of her destiny – even if in her thoughts. Magic gives her hope.
When my life was in chaos, I turned to fantasy novels – ranging from traditional fantasy to cyberpunk. The common thread was the strong female protagonist. I started identifying with her, imaging that I was her, the slayer with the magic to go between worlds, have weapons that only I could use justly, and create a world better for myself and for others. These books transformed me and transformed my sense of personal power. I believe in the power of fiction to shape future of social change. That said, I believe in magic.