Recently I’ve been reading The Dresden Files by Jim Butcher. It’s an excellent urban fantasy series with a wise-cracking wizard protagonist who fights against vampires, werewolves, evil necromancers, faerie queens, and anyone else that decides they want to make his life miserable. Harry Dresden is the only “professional wizard” living in Chicago–he has an ad in the yellow pages, offering his services as a magical private investigator. Sometimes he investigates supernatural murders that the police can’t handle alone, other times he clears the name of the Faerie Queen of the Winter Court by proving she didn’t assassinate the mystical Summer Knight of the Summer Court. Think Sherlock Holmes meets Harry Potter.
I’m on the 8th book in the series, plus I’ve read a few of the separate graphic novels. And while I love the series as a whole, there’s one issue that I keep having a problem with.
Like most urban fantasy series, The Dresden Files gives us a modern day world where magic, faeries, vampires, goblins, ghouls, and every other supernatural thing you can imagine are all real. They’re just hidden from “normal people” (muggles) and no one accepts that there’s this entire hidden world out there beyond their perception. Over and over again throughout the course of the series, Harry encounters people who try to deny what they’ve seen. They try to rationalize the supernatural and magical things they experience by explaining them away as hallucinations, by convincing themselves they didn’t see what they thought they saw, or by flat-out denying everything.
There’s a certain extent to which this is understandable, on a case-by-case basis. Someone might be attacked by a ghoul, but convince themselves it was just a maniac wearing a mask. They might see a wizard blast an enemy with a dazzling burst of arcane force, but convince themselves that it was just a gun, a flamethrower, or something else technological. I could see an individual person rationalizing things for themselves so that they don’t come off seeming like they’re crazy. Even in my book, Manifestation, there’s a brief period where the main characters’ parents go through denial about what they’ve seen, saying “We don’t know what it really was.” So I can understand it on an individual basis.
The problem is when it goes on for so long that I no longer believe it’s possible to keep the magic hidden.
Harry Dresden has battled a werewolf (actually a loup garou, but that gets complicated) in front of witnesses at the Chicago Police Department, he’s gotten into magical battles in the city streets in broad daylight, he’s been chased through a hotel by a giant snake demon, and he once even used magic to reanimated a Tyrannosaurus Rex as a giant zombie that he rode through the streets of Chicago’s suburbs while it crushed and ate smaller, human zombies in a battle against a group of necromancers with nigh-godlike-powers.
Eventually these huge public spectacles reach the point where I’m convinced there must be witnesses, and those witnesses can’t all be in denial or considered crazy. Sooner or later, magic has to come out of the shadows and be seen as something real, something that exists, and something that cannot be denied.
I see the same thing happening in any modern setting where magic or supernatural forces are real, from Harry Potter to Buffy the Vampire Slayer to just about any vampire or werewolf movie ever made. While it might be realistic to keep things hidden and secret on a small-scale basis, these stories always up the stakes to the point where huge magical battles are taking place in front of hundreds of witnesses, where wizards on broomsticks and flying cars are soaring over the rooftops of major cities, and where there should be thousands of people grabbing their iPhones and snapping pictures of the mystical events taking place right in front of them. Once things reach a certain scale, when the magic is right out there in everyone’s faces, the idea that it can remain hidden just gets unrealistic.
I shrug it off when I’m reading a book like The Dresden Files, because it’s a good series and I can accept that this is the world the author wants to present to me. But sometimes I wish there would be a book where people are forced to accept that magic is real, where they can’t deny it anymore, and where the existence of magic starts to change the entire world. That’s one of the reasons I started writing the Arcana Revived series. Unlike other urban fantasy series, my world starts off as one where magic actually doesn’t exist. There’s no such thing as wizards, vampires, faeries, or anything else supernatural. At least, not before the story begins. Then little by little, the magic starts coming back (I didn’t choose the name Arcana Revived just because it sounds cool) and people are forced to deal with it, because it can’t be hidden and it’s not going anywhere. By the end of the second book in particular, magic is starting to change the entire world, and there’s nothing that anyone can do about it.
I find it more realistic, more fun, and a source of better conflict. After all, how would society react if people all around them suddenly started developing magical powers, and no one knew how to control them? That’s a question I find pretty interesting. And it’ll take me about six books to answer it.
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