Thursday, February 14, 2013

The Magic of the Ordinary

Fantasy is, all in all, about the unreal, the unusual. In a way, one basic definition of fantasy could be thought of as, “Anything that is not possible becomes possible.”

But in some ways, I think that fantasy can be at its most memorable when it goes a little bit in the other direction. When the stories aren’t just about dragons and wizards and enchanted swords, but about ordinary, mundane things.

Think about it. How many people have had their picture taken by a certain wall between platforms 9 and 10 in London’s King Cross Station?  Or paused an extra moment at the zoo to admire the owls? 

Junior postmen in training! 
(Photo taken by Artur Mikołajewski (Own work) [GFDL (, 
CC-BY-SA-3.0 ( or CC-BY-SA-2.0  (], via Wikimedia Commons)

How many people, after reading Alice Through the Looking Glass, peered extra hard into their mirrors, looking for that other world? And how many children have poked around at the back of wardrobes, looking for other worlds? 

You could argue that urban fantasy does this a lot. And yet, I don't find myself checking around street corners for vampires (though one time, there was a zombie walk in San Diego that I hadn't heard about, and I was a bit surprised for a moment to see some blood-covered people shambling down the street...). I think there needs to be a balance. The ordinary objects need to be something that stands out among all the magic, so that they are the exception rather than the rule.

And when that balance is right, I think it can get at the most powerful potential of fantasy, of any story: to take us out of our regular lives, and for one moment, put us somewhere magical.

What objects have books made magical for you? 


  1. Love this post, and I can't wait to see urban fantasy would tapping *the magic* more often in coming years as vampires and werewolves fade. We've seen so much of the dark side of fantasy recently, and I think that there's so much more of the whimsical side of magic to explore!

  2. I love ordinary objects being magical. I think that really gets the imagination going especially for kids who can start looking at the world around them and asking what if. It's fantastic.

    Great Post!

  3. When I was a kid, I loved the movie The Black Cauldron, and specifically, Hen Wen, the prophetic pig. I think as far as animals go, pigs are the least likely magical creature alive, but I remember going to a petting zoo and thinking, "I'll bet that's Hen Wen!" I was sure all pigs were magical after that, until I found out where bacon came from. That kind of ruined it for me.

    Loved your post, Sabrina!

  4. Karen Smith once wrote a story about a van that could magically transport people through hit me pretty powerfully, since I'm more of a chauffeur than a mom these days, and I would love the power to get places on time.

    The children's book Weslandia talks about a boy who creates a whole civilization around a fictional plant he names "swist." Possibly the most magical thing I've ever read.


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