Does Magic Retard Science? (Only in Real Life)

Summary: Ahmbren’s treatment of the interplay between magic and science: they advance each other. Magic stimulates scientific discovery, and continues to flourish in a scientifically advancing (steam-age) world.

When Dragons Die has been out for some time now, and its prequel, Myth and Incarnation will be out this October. WDD set the stage for Ahmbren’s transition into a full steampunk era, and M&I went back to classical high-fantasy. Now that I’m looking ahead to WDD’s sequels, I’m looking to amplify the steam-age technology and culture, and I’m forced to reflect upon how Ahmbren deals with the mixture of technology and magic.

In the fantasy community, there’s a discussion that surfaces from time to time as to why fantasy worlds, with tens of thousands of years of history, never develop guns, cars, or other technology. This usually crystalizes to a discussion as to how magic affects the development of technology, and its corollary, technology affects the practice of magic.

One common explanation—usually by gamemasters telling their players why they can’t have their hobbit go out and mix the ingredients for gunpowder—is that with magic around, no one has the incentive for scientific discovery. Or, if the world building allows for this, the elite ruling wizard class  suppresses any inventiveness to preserve their power. Or (I guess if you’re Tolkien), as soon as you start to invent things like machinery and industry, you’re enslaved by the Lord of the Rings. (I’m looking at you Saruman). I’ve never been satisfied with any of these, so I designed Ahmbren with a different twist on things… more on that in a second.

The flip side: I’ve heard arguments that once technology is developed, magic takes a back seat and fades into oblivion… usually because learning to throw a fireball down the street is both more difficult than learning to fire a six-shooter, and tactically less feasible. While both of these reasons are sound, I don’t buy the notion that these factors would cause magic to fade away.

However, The Ahmbren Chronicles explores real-world themes in its stories, albeit in a fantasy setting. In the real world, belief in false-ideas (such as magic, or the supernatural, or…) retards scientific discovery and advancement. Clinging to beliefs in the absence of evidence hampers skeptical inquiry and a rigorous method of testing and exploring the natural world around us. But this is because, in the real world, magic isn’t real. One of the axioms that I baked into Ahmbren’s world design:

Placing ideas and ideologies over truth retards discovery and advancement.

In Ahmbren, however, magic is real (as are the gods). So, I had the challenge of still accounting for long periods of time where technology didn’t advance. I fixated on the idea that false belief stifles advancement, but in Ahmbren’s case it’s the belief in either false gods, or following the false-teachings of real gods. Placing ideology and imposed rules ahead of freedom to explore and discover.

So, then, what about magic? When people in Ahmbren escape the influence of religion, science takes off. This is illustrated explicitly in the case of gnomes, a wizard race of tinkerers. They have a keen interest in scientific discovery, and they use their magical means to enhance their process of discovery and crafting. They don’t have the benefit of industry to create wondrous non-magical materials (nanotech-like, or other weird but natural, non-magic substances), but they do have alchemy. They do have spells that help them reveal the underlying math of the universe, which, once known, they can apply in non magical ways. They’ll use magic to build it, but their greatest achievements (which tickles them pink) are to create items that people would swear have magical properties, but are completely mundane in the end. Such as soft armor that stiffens on impact, or swords that cannot break.

But what happens to magic when guns are prevalent in the world, and steamships soar the skies?

So… there are people in the world today that still believe in, and attempt to practice magic, even in the face of our own technology. With belief in magic and the paranormal as prevalent as it is, it would remain even more so in a world like Ahmbren, where magic is demonstrably real. There would always be artisans who explore magic or its own sake. There would always be hobbyists, artists, hackers, and those who continue to supplement scientific discovery. Just because summoning a fireball spell isn’t as efficient as a revolver doesn’t mean a spell to deflect bullets wouldn’t be useful. Or a spell to enchant the gun for better aim. Or spells to simply create bullets which explode on impact… etc, etc. Technology might change the nuance of how magic is used, but wizards aren’t going away in Ahmbren anytime soon.

So, Ahmbren’s world-building axioms of magic and tech:

Magic unrestricted by religion allows the explosion of non-magic science and technology.

and

In a technological world, magic will flourish as a specialized discipline, and as an artistic pursuit.

Oh, and one more world building axiom when it comes to tech, just to keep Ahmbren’s flavor focused (and perhaps, this is a bit of an artificiality):

Ahmbren’s technology won’t feature any petrol tech. Electrical gadgets are allowed; electronics are not.

Until next time!
Kyle

Maleficent – Redemption and Agape

I recently saw Maleficent. All I can say is: “Magnificent!”

Blog’s done.

Ok, I guess a bit more. (SPOILERS to follow…)

Maleficent is perhaps the most sophisticated Disney movie I’ve seen from a character and story construction perspective. The character is sometimes a hero and sometimes a villain. Angelina Jolie does an amazing job portraying complex emotions, displaying almost simultaneously a mixture of anger, regret, compassion, pain and love. The nuances in her facial expressions reveal that she doesn’t want to be who she became.

The story starts and Maleficent is a young child. She’s clearly a protagonist, and I find myself wondering how it all goes bad. I mean, I know this is a retelling of a Disney villain, and with a name like Maleficent it can’t be all sunshine and roses, can it?

She’s a fae creature, with otherworldly features. From a Judeo-Christian symbolism perspective, she has demonic features (the horns) and angelic features (the wings). With the symbolic capacity for good and evil, she is the most human of all the characters in the story. Allegorically, Maleficent represents the human soul, and through the story we see her taken from purity, through a fall, and into redemption.

Of course it doesn’t stay sunshine and roses. We see the most visceral, disturbing, and completely non-sexual rape scene I could imagine in a made-for-young-adults movie. When the king-to-be goes back to her and drugs her (roofie?), he takes advantage of her while she’s sleeping. Not in a sexual way, but he rips her wings from her body, and taking her purity (from the point of view that bird wings are symbolically a sign of angelic nature) as a trophy back to the kingdom so he can ascend the throne.

She’s been violated in the truest sense of the word. Her wings were her power and joy, and those have been taken from her. The remaining symbolic features are her horns, and this lack of balance mirrors who she becomes. A creature of anger, who has lost her joy, and her grace.

And we sympathize with her. Thankfully we don’t see the ripping of the wings (it is PG after all), but when she wakes up without them, and we see the villain return to the kingdom to ascend the throne, we’re right beside her, hating him with all our might.

But then she becomes consumed by her rage. She subjects her own kingdom to her rule, and embraces darkness. And that’s where I, as an audience member, started to cringe and go, “Heeeey… Maleficent. Are you sure you want to go there? I’m not sure I’m on board with this. Am I supposed to be on board with this?”

And she gets darker, and of course innocents are caught in the cross-fire of her rage.

This culminates in the curse she levies on Aurora, towards what I would consider the end of ‘Act 2’. She levies the curse and then says “no power on this Earth can undo it” (or words to that effect).

(more SPOILERS) Act 3 begins, and she watches Aurora grow. In spite of herself, she comes to love the girl and starts to fulfill a godmother role in deliciously rendered irony. She regrets her anger and who she has become, and tries to undo the curse… except she can’t. She then tries to find someone who can give “true love’s kiss” in order to break the curse, though she herself believes that no such kiss exists. The twist is finally that the prince’s kiss is not one of true love, and Maleficent herself gives the kiss on the forehead… it’s a kiss of motherly love.

Shortly thereafter, Aurora frees Maleficent’s wings, and the wings return to her, as a symbol of restored and redeemed purity. The evil king ends up dying in a scene reminiscent of how Gaston died at the end of Beauty and the Beast. This is an important “sealer” to her redemption, because she chooses to let the king live. He does not die by her hand.

Between this and Frozen, I’m liking the dimension that Disney’s added that shows not all true love is romantic love. Love takes familial and platonic aspects as well, and Disney seems to be reaching out towards the concept of love that the Greeks called agape, the unselfish love for another.

Until next time,
Kyle