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The Prince Caspian Trailer

It’s out. Thanks to lookingcloser for the reminder, and for one other thing. This is one of the best essays on fantasy I’ve ever read . . . and thorough. It covers nearly every major series that I’ve ever called a favorite (with the notable exception of Harry Potter, which doesn’t really fit in this context), and then brings it all together with a discussion of the New Testament. It’s the sort of thing you read and then wish you’d written. A brief taste (regarding Narnia):

Fantasy’s task and trouble alike is power. The word itself derives from the Greek phantazein, to make visible, and so the genre at its best […] brings to light the starkly real problems of the human race, its quest for control over itself and others. The difficulty is that, once having exposed (however brilliantly) the dilemma of power, magic can offer no solution. Magical cures to sinful ills reduce themselves to absurdity. Power arrives to solve one moral dilemma, but only succeeds in creating another. The best magic can do is quench itself and, as the flame dies out, exhort its readers to righteous civilization among peoples and nations. For this reason, fantasy can pose no real threat to true faith (as some have suspected)—it will always exhaust itself long before arriving at religion.

The perpetual weakness of the genre is its inability to maintain the paradox of goodness and power. In fantasy literature, one of the two has to be dispensed with, and in the end it is always power, in the form of magic, because no author will sanely forsake goodness. But the goodness quickly turns to moralism, as far too many fantasies prove. For the characters, the end of the story means the inauguration of the new, moral way of governance, sentimentally appealing; for the readers, it is a dreary return to the same old thing. […]

In other words, fantasy passes the torch. Logically, though, the outcome is not the noble moral struggles of men and women, but the fast-approaching quandaries of science and its literature, science fiction […]. And if anything, in science fiction it is not science that dies (in supposed parallel to magic), but the people who control or fail to control it.

In this light, it becomes clear why The Chronicles of Narnia had no choice but to end in eschatology. In the most explicitly Christian of any fantasy series, the charmingly non-modern countries of Narnia, Archenland, the Lone Isles, and all the rest had to escape before someone figured out how to make an internal combustion engine—a clear threat from the Calor­ menes in The Last Battle who had no qualms about chopping down the talking trees to serve their technological purposes. Instead of that horror, Aslan made a door from the shadowland Narnia to his own country—happily a bigger and better Narnia—where magic is utterly beside the point, goodness reigns, power is unnecessary, and so, thank heavens, is electricity.

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~ by Jared on December 5, 2007.

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