I’d like to talk about magic. And kissing.
Magic comes in many forms. There’s the literal magic of a wizard, ala Gandalf or Harry Potter. There’s the metaphoric magic of a first kiss. There’s the trickery and sleight-of-hand associated with stage magic. And of course, there’s Magic: The Gathering (which I was pretty hooked on when I was 14).
I’ve discussed magic on the blog before, but that series (written in three separate blog posts) was more about the rules of magic, and how to develop them and then break them. Today, I’d like to talk a bit about what makes magic really “magical,” and where the line is between magic, tricks, technology, and metaphors.
The idea came to me when I was talking to a friend about the release of my first novel, Manifestation. I mentioned that the book contains magic and kissing, among other things. Which got me thinking about the difference between a metaphorical magic kiss, and a literal magic kiss.
The idea of a “magic kiss” is a well-established trope. From Snow White to Sleeping Beauty to the Princess and the Frog, it’s a common idea in movies, books, and other media for a kiss to have the power to save lives, break spells, and make the audience get all misty-eyed. Heck, even The Matrix did it, which bent the perception of reality when Trinity’s kiss from outside the Matrix was able to save Neo’s life inside the Matrix.
So where is the line between the actual magic that alters reality, and the metaphorical magic that gets your heart fluttering? It might be harder to pin down than you think.
The Little Mermaid is one of my favorite Disney movies (despite the fact that I could go on for hours about the poor gender roles being portrayed here). I even wrote an article analyzing the communication practices in the movie, especially with regards to when Ariel loses her voice. But for today’s discussion, I’d like to bring up the “kiss of true love” that is a key plot point in this film.
As I already mentioned, it’s common for “true love’s kiss” to break a spell and save the day. Except that in The Little Mermaid, that’s not quite what’s happening. There’s not technically any literal magic involved in Ariel’s kiss. Though understanding the difference requires taking a look at how Ursula’s spell differs from, say, Queen Grimhilde’s in Snow White or Maleficent’s in Sleeping Beauty.
With both Snow White and Sleeping Beauty, the magic kiss essentially serves as a counterspell. The evil queen discovers in the “fine print” of her spellbook that the spell can be reversed:
“Ah, hear this! ‘The Victim of the Sleeping Death can be revived only by Love’s First Kiss.’ ‘Love’s First Kiss.’ Bah! No fear of that. The dwarfs will think she’s dead. She’ll be buried alive!”
The queen then proceeds to use the poisoned apple anyway, thinking the counterspell will never be possible (it wouldn’t have been, if the dwarves hadn’t put Snow White in a glass coffin and if the prince hadn’t been a necrophile). The kiss in Sleeping Beauty functions in a similar way, except that the counterspell is added in after the fact by the blue fairy’s magic gift.
Ariel’s kiss is different than both of these. For starters, her kiss isn’t a counterspell; instead, it’s the only way to stop the spell from reversing and turning Ariel back into a mermaid. In addition, the kiss in this case is something Ursula chooses to add into the spell. It’s part of her deal with Ariel a condition of the contract that Ariel willingly signs. Ursula’s use of a contract implies that she could have set just about any conditions she wanted. She could have said, “Prince Eric has to brush your hair before the sunset on the third day,” or, “You need to paint a portrait of Sebastian before the sunset on the third day.” This means that, technically, the kiss itself isn’t magic (by the literal, not metaphoric definition of the word). It’s just an arbitrary action that Ursula chose because it was a fitting lure to use with Ariel’s desire for Eric, and one that she was sure she could prevent from happening.
(Ursula, of course, cheats.)
So that’s an example of a magic kiss that turns out to not be as magic as we thought. But what about a normal kiss that turns out to be more magical than we realized? For that, we turn to The Sword of Truth.
Terry Goodkind’s Sword of Truth novels have a set of characters known as Mord Sith. They possess a variety of magics (most of which are used to torture people and break their wills, turning them into slaves). They also look really hot in red leather, especially Cara.
The thing about torturing people with
magic dildos Agiels, the Mord Sith’s pain-inducing weapon of choice, is that if you’re not careful, you’ll kill your prisoner instead of just breaking their spirit. As a result, Mord Sith also need to be experts at providing emergency first aid. This includes using mouth-to-mouth resuscitation, which is referred to in the books as “the breath of life.” Mouth-to-mouth is also often referred to by others as “the kiss of life.” And while the Sword of Truth books never use the term “kiss” to refer to it, there is definitely an intimate aspect to the breath of life:
A Mord-Sith shared her victim’s breath when he was on the cusp of death. It was a sacred thing to a Mord-Sith to share his pain, share his breath of life as he slipped to the brink of death, as if to view with lust the forbidden sight of what lies beyond in the next world. Sharing, when the time came to kill him, his very death by experiencing his final breath of life.
–“Soul of the Fire”
This almost makes it sound like the opposite of what’s happening in Snow White, a kiss to share the experience of someone’s death instead of just bringing them back from the dead. But, of course, mouth-to-mouth resuscitation isn’t really “magic,” it’s just science.
Or is it?
The TV show Legend of the Seeker, based on Terry Goodkind’s novels, had a different take on the breath of life. As seen in the picture above, the breath of life was depicted as an actual magic breath that could be used to infuse life back into the victim. While this isn’t quite a kiss, it certainly is damn close, based on the intimate pose it’s been portrayed in. So in this case, we have a metaphorical kiss that turned out to be a magical one.
So it seems like there can be a lot of blurred lines when it comes to magic kisses. It makes me wonder whether Snow White could have been revived by mouth-to-mouth resuscitation, or whether the princess could have saved the frog with a metaphoric kiss instead of a literal one because, eww, warts.
Of course, nothing will ever take the place of the real magic of a first kiss. That’s simply priceless.
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