If you've peeked at this blog, you already know that I write books for children. One series I write, The Adventures of Ordinary Sam, centers around a boy named Sam Oldfield. As the first book, The Sand Stone, opens, Sam has already visited a magic land, bonded with a magic object, and taken up the fight to restore the rightful princess to her throne. As the series unfolds Sam will learn that his visit to Ebdyrza was not an accident, and that he has powers of his own.
Some Christian parents are uncomfortable with stories that contain magic elements. I am a practicing Catholic myself, and I understand these concerns. I'd like to spend some time this week talking a little bit about how to tell when magic is being used as a metaphor, and when writers veer into areas that might be problematic for a Christian child.
What does it mean to say that magic can be used as a metaphor? Elements of a story can be intended to be straightforward and literal, or they can be used as devices meant to represent something else. Even a story set in the real world may use metaphors: the main character might be afraid of some perfectly ordinary creature, for instance, but his fear might be meant to represent something deeper about his character, or give a clue to some mystery in his past, or some such thing.
Books that are not set in the real world use different kinds of metaphors (along with many other literary devices). Epic battles, alien races, advanced technologies, political power and wealth--any of these things might point to a deeper meaning.
The same thing is true for magic. In most books, magic is only a symbol. It can be a symbol for power, for creativity, for conflict, or for anything else the writer intends. In books written for children magic is often used as a symbol for the passage of the child to the adult world; in magic, the child learns responsibility and the danger of wielding power without carefully considering the consequences. These are real world lessons, but using magic as a framework for these lessons can help bring understanding to children who are dealing with the difficulties and confusions of early adolescence.
But if magic is just a symbol, is it ever a problem? Can it sometimes be a symbol for evil, or for a morally ambiguous approach to the world? Anything that is symbolic in a book is up to the author--so, yes, magic can be a problematic symbol too (as can nearly anything else). How do you know when an author's use of magic is potentially not a good symbolic use?
We'll get to that tomorrow.