I've been trying hard to keep up with daily writing prompts on my tumblr, and earlier this week I wrote a scene in which Jackie briefly explains the nature of magic to a character named Lori (that will be included in the story when we get to it; in fact, almost all the prompts are, so if you're interested in sneak peeks, you should be checking those out). She said:
"...it’s just a connection to the other world. There’s a spiritual backstage to reality, and changing things there can change them here. Sometimes it’s more efficient to make changes if you’re working with the spiritual side than with the physical side, and sometimes it isn’t. Magic just gives us the option."
Now, she isn't wrong. This is a functional definition for everything she does with it up until this point in the story. But readers who have been paying attention to "Benediction" may notice that it doesn't quite sound sufficient to what some characters there are doing. So how can we best understand magic as a broad concept in Tall Tales?
The short answer is that 'magic' is essentially any act that intentionally reaches across the divide between the physical and metaphysical realms. It doesn't much matter which side of that divide one is on; nor does it matter whether the effects manifest on the caster's side, the other side, or both. Magic in Tall Tales is capable of nearly anything, as long as a caster can find a way to do it and pay the price for it.
The longer explanation is that magic in Tall Tales is fundamentally about tracking down the intricate connections that exist between all things, which may or may not exist in the same realm as the things themselves. Magic will always, without exception, exploit the innate connections between things; sometimes by manipulating the connection, sometimes by interrupting it, and even by making new connections.
An example. Aaboukingon has an innate connection to the Ohio River. He isn't the only spirit that does, and there are several names he can be accurately called, but that connection exists and it is strong. The problem, aside from the overt racism of some of the characters, in "Land of Goshen" is that this connection is being severed by Aaboukingon drawing distant from his nature and role as a river spirit. By damaging the connection, both Aaboukingon and the river suffer.
Connections can be ranked as follows:
Humans have an innate connection between their physical and metaphysical selves, and the degree to which one is in tune with the other is called the Ontological Gap. A smaller gap means that there is less room for the connection to be accessed and manipulated. A gap that is functionally closed, such as the case with Warlocks and Anchors, prevent access to their ontological connection entirely; this means that magic which relies on that connection will not work. Such magic includes possession (in which a being inserts themselves into the gap and effectively overrides the connection) and mind control (in which a being implants information into the connection that the physical self reads as coming from the metaphysical self). Humans with a smaller gap, except Anchors, are therefore slightly more shielded from invasive magic and also find it easier to perform magic as they have greater access to their metaphysical selves. A full explanation of this concept will have to wait until a later post.
What is this?
Worldbuilding Wednesdays is a real-world blog, written by Tim McLaughlin, that gives a little peek behind the curtain of Tall Tales. That includes the process of creating the story and world, influences, world rules, and even the occasional story.