Thursday, February 5, 2015

The Magic of the Ordinary - Redux

This is a post from a couple years back, but I've been thinking about the magic of the ordinary ever since starting A Face Like Glass by Frances Hardinge. The first fifty pages are almost all about a cheesemaker's... factory in a fantasy land. Except the factory is really just a network of tunnels, and the cheeses are made with moss and dove feathers and teardrops, along with the more ordinary milk and cream. Each has a magical property of its own, and only some will try to kill you if you turn your back.

I'm only 50 pages in, but I already love it. Anyway, here's the original post.

* * * * *

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 MikoĊ‚ajewski (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. Couldn't agree more. Here's a short story (that I didn't write but I wish I had) that I think you might like:

    1. Heh, yeah, I remember that one, but it's been a while since I read it. Especially apropos given that my sink is clogged at the moment. Darn underfed trolls!

  2. The Slow Regard of Silent Things. Read it. It's so lovely. Even if you haven't read Name of the Wind, I think you would enjoy it.


Got an opinion? Use it! Remember... be silly, be honest, and be nice/proofread.