Magic: Is it a Deus Ex Machina?

Discussion in 'THREAD ARCHIVES' started by Nanophage, Feb 13, 2012.

  1. I am in a mood to question reality, like really really really philosophical after a debate about good stories with a freind and instead of asking a stupid question I am instead going to put in a blog... don't know why. I wanted to ask the question that the person I was talking to brought up. Is magic a lazy plot device used to make life for a writer easier?

    Now this of course has exceptions making it debatable; like Eragon's magic system. But things like in the TV series "Supernatural", where they constantly use demon magic to bring 1 character, Dean Winchester, back to life or from the brink of death almost 3 times (once was by an angel so okay). It seems to be like Dragon ball, where for no apperant reason you can only be brought back once, but you can bring back entire planets, and some reason the dragon can't wish Freza dead?

    Just stupid things like that can make magic seem like some belief systems, for instance Eugenics: One crazy jackass uses it to commit attempted genocide and then everyone thinks its all about that instantly. Or again it can be used about Chrisitanity, Catholics edited the bible a long ass time ago to manipulate all of Europe and suddenly everyone and everything involved is bad.

    So does that make "Magic" as a device in any plot, or perhaps any supernatural source of power, a Deus Ex Machina?

    For those that don't know, and cause I don't feel like typing a long winded definition I will put these here:

    A deus ex machina ([​IMG] /ˈd.əs ɛks ˈmɑːknə/ or /ˈdəs ɛks ˈmækɨnə/ day-əs eks mah-kee-nə;[1] Latin: "god out of the machine"; plural: dei ex machina) is a plot device whereby a seemingly unsolvable problem is suddenly and abruptly solved with the contrived and unexpected intervention of some new event, character, ability, or object.

    And if you don't get that here is a direct link.

    http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Deus_ex_machina
     
  2. Like anything else it depends on the writer. A good writer or writing team will attempt to have "reasonable" limits for anything beyond normal rational. A bad writer can abuse technology, medicine, deductive reason and history, not just magic. So no, magic & the supernatural is not in and of itself a product of bad writing.
     
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  3. I am in agreement with Ocha! By this train of though, really any aspect could be used as an excuse or shoddy writing. Easily explained by some bullshit excuse of science, meds, magic, etc.

    I've always liked the stories that give magic more meaning and mechanics... they don't just go "It's magic, so it works". They have really awesome history and back story to it. >> Cause and effect, physics and all that fun stuff. And I like it, because those little bits of information always seems to give more flavor and solidity to the world. So it's not "Generic Fantasy Magic Land #o929937".
     
  4. I can understand where you're coming from with this, as it's very easy to make the argument of "It's magic so it works"

    This argument is of course complete and utter fucking bullshit.

    When you write your magic in such a way that it has rules. costs, and limitations, and the punishments for violating this vary anywhere from the mundane to the catastrophic, then it can be used as a plot device. If your world lacks these then what do you have? a pantheon of gods in every arcane university

    In short I fell magic becomes Deus Ex not due to it being magic, but due to shitty world building. Setting is a key element to any story, and it's not just an aesthetic or a passing detail, and it requires more thought than the characters involved.


    P.S. In my world magic isn't poetry, it isn't art and there is nothing beautifully mysterious about it, it is a selfish bitch that you need a team of mage-lawyers to have any amount of control over.
     
  5. I love this term!
     
  6. Seconded Ocha's last post.

    Furthermore, to refute the 'Deus Ex Machina' theory, take five different worlds into consideration. All by three different authors (and one by of the three). First, there is the Farseer/Tawny Man/Liveship Traders world. Magic in and of itself is a form of psychic power. First you have the 'Farseer' magic, known as the Skill, in which they can bond with each other mentally, with the price that the Skill is addicting, and if you throw yourself too far into the 'river' of the skill, you can be lost forever, your soul broken down into a living piece of the 'river.' The other significant power is Wit, in which you can bond with an animal that is not unlike yourself in personality. The main character of both the Farseer trilogy and the Tawny Man trilogy, FitzChivalry, uses both magics, is an addict of the Skill, which he dampens with roots and berries that poison the ability to work the magics, and is bonded to a wolf named Nighteyes. The first book of the Tawny Man trilogy is mostly about the idea that you can lose your soul in the body of the other creature, and if the other creature is willful enough, it can take your body as well. It depicts, in a flashback, a woman who's body died, so she occupied her bond animal, a deer. Conversely, it also depicts a man who as a baby bonded with several different birds, and was forever lost in bird logic.

    In the second series I take from Robin Hobb, the Soldier's Son trilogy depicts a magic that while powerful, makes one obese, correlating obesity with power within the magic. There isn't really much background on this, as I have yet to read the third book, but the Speck magic comes with alienation and as mentioned obesity.

    the next two series are of Brandon Sanderson's make. The first is from a quartet of books called Mistborn. In it, one must ingest a certain type of metal (of which the type you ingest is dictated when you are born, kind of a destiny thing), and by all means has it's limitations. In the (only) book I've read from this series, the main character's Allomancy ability is that of Steel, in which his only ability (with this metal, he is also a Feruchemist, but I'll get to this in a moment) is to push against metals, in which if the metal is lighter than his body (and is unhindered) it will move, and if it is heavier or hindered, he will move. As a Feruchemist, he can store his weight in pieces of copper that are in wristbands, giving him the ability to be as light as he cares to be.

    Series two of Brandon Sanderson's works. The Stormlight Archives. As of the begining of this series, magic is a lost thing. While there are magical items, such as armor or swords, the ability to make those things has been lost. And while there is an apparatus to do alchemy (of sorts) the ability to do this yourself is also lost. Both have setbacks, I'm sure, but it's not very far into the series (there's only one book out).

    Fifth series, Robert Jordan's Wheel of Time. The magic here, called channeling, can in no way shape or form bring back someone from the dead. The male side of the magic for probably half of the books, is tainted, causing the wielder to slowly go insane. Much of the magic is lost, what is known is a relic of a former age.
     
  7. I see what you mean, but what brought up the idea were moments in Lord of The Rings, and Dragon Ball. If you question LOTOR issues, when Gandalf arrives with the Rohirim without explanation prior to that besides "Look to the east." or the ghost army itself. Its true that Deus Ex comes in many forms and most often happens to be magic. However that is because technology is more recent and hasn't existed for very long, hasn't been around long enough to abused as the object called magic.

    It was a mistake to blame a single abused plot device instead of all of them. Just that magic seems to be used the most often, so thanks for clearing that up. It seems I was just crazy up high on my lack of sleep and asked a somewhat thoughtless question.

    Another reason why I asked was for a world idea but it needs to be hammered out before its ready just, haven't been able to put everything into wrds on how it works really, Umm... is there somewhere I can like get help on it? I just have some issues with it and would like it to get covered.
     
  8. No problem, I was simply trying to refute the idea that all magic is a Deus Ex. Questions are never mistakes, by the way. Sometimes it just feels that way when people (like me) tend to flout their knowledge.

    World building? Oy... I'm in a group of Iwakuans, former and current that focus on world building. We tend to wait and see how people fit in before we add new members, however. My guess is to advertise your work in the Writing section.