Friday, November 13, 2009

What Is Consciousness-based Fantasy?

Fantasy without magic is just a historical novel.

Consciousness-based fantasy is a term I developed after finishing my first fantasy novel, The Stone Dragon. The term is not representative of some personal (or professional) campaign to restore truth and dignity to the fantasy genre, nor does my use of the term constitute a throwing down of the glove, a publication of a manifesto proclaiming the way things should be.

I just realized my writing has a certain perspective and that the words consciousness-based fantasy seem to describe that perspective.

There are three types of magic: consciousness-based magic, formula-based magic, and artifact-based magic.

For those familiar with Vedic literature, these three types of magic correspond to Rishi, Devata, and Chhandas: the knower, the process of knowing, and the known--or, to put it another way, awareness, process, and object.

I have found it convenient and useful to think of magic in these three ways, although a mixture of these is also exciting and probably more realistic (if I can use that word when writing about the genre of fantasy). Let's begin with the most concrete and move to the most abstract.
  • Artifact-based Magic. In magic of this type, the artifact contains magical power, no matter who or what possesses the object. An excellent example of this is the sword Sting in Tolkien's books. Sting glows when goblins are around, and one imagines it would give its goblin glow even if there were no hobbits around.
  • Spell-based Magic. Mage-as-cook might be a good way to describe this magic. Process-based magic includes a recipe, a ritual, that if followed faithfully and accurately, the results will follow. Harry Potter and the Potions 101 class is a good example of this. Harry is terrible at potions, but when he acquires the annotated potions text of the Half-blood Prince, he follows the notes and wows the class.
  • Consciousness-based Magic. Magic based in consciousness is significant not from what the mage does but more from who the mage is. By the very nature of the consciousness-based mage's existence, the world is transformed--and for the better because consciousness is the essence of existence and is evolutionary. In my novel The Stone Dragon, the mage Alma-Ata is a Mage that Gathers. He possesses no talismans, performs no spell, yet magic gathers around him. There is a Vedic expression: the means gather around sattva (purity). That is the magic of the Evolved.
Tom Bombadil in Tolkien's writing powerfully portrays consciousness-based magic magic. Gandalf believes that Tom Bombadill would be the last to fall if evil Sauron were to prevail. Bombadil places the One Ring on his finger and does not disappear; he is unaffected by the power of the ring and has no desire to keep it.

My writing of fantasy focused on the need for the mage to develop his spirituality. This is not a new idea, but coining the term has helped me understand better my interest in writing fantasy. In The Stone Dragon, Glimmer, the main character, must learn to contact the consciousness that underlies waking, dreaming and sleeping—the Silence of the Saints—for that is the basis of understanding and controlling his talent of dream magery.

I have begun writing the second draft of the sequel to Glimmer's novel. Wish me lots of consciousness-based writing as I polish Dragons of Blood and Stone!

Copyright 2009 by Thomas L. Kepler, all rights reserved


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