“Magic (in the practical sense) was much fallen off. It had low connexions. It was the bosom companion of unshaven faces, gypsies, house-breakers; the frequenter of dingy rooms with dirty yellow curtains.”
– Susanna Clarke, from Jonathan Strange and Mr. Norrell
In Susanna Clarke’s wonderful novel, two magicians labor against the prevailing attitudes of their day to bring practical magic (as opposed to theoretical magic) back to England. As the story moves on, we get a better sense of what is meant by “magic.” Magic in Clarke’s world can be fantastical or not. While her title characters, the magicians, enjoy great fame and high regard for their ability to make stones talk and protect the English coast from bad weather with their spells, Clarke also gives us this image: “…The sailors were busy putting the sails to rights and doing the thousand and one things which sailors do (things which are quite as mysterious in their way as the actions of magicians).” In other words, the “magic” of sailors who channel the power of wind to move a ship across the water is as much magic as the actions of any professed magician.
Robert Moore would undoubtedly agree. In a chapter on the magician archetype in his book, King, Warrior, Magician, Lover, he writes, “…it is the Magician energy that drives our own modern civilization,” and, “The Magician is the knower, and he is the master of technology.” So, to Moore, our age of technological marvels is the age of the Magician.
Yet in our culture, much as in the world of Clarke’s novel, magic has “low connexions.” Either it’s confined to the world of fantasy and games, or it’s understood as dark, superstitious, sacriligeous.
I much prefer magic as Clarke and Moore understand it. Imaginatively, it links Houdini, Merlin and David Blane with the engineers, electricians, and doctors. Were that link to take hold in our collective mind, what incredible things would our culture then be capable of?