Why We Can’t Let Go of Magic

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Illusion Magic

True confession here. I don’t believe in fairies (sorry Tinkerbell), I don’t really believe in ghosts (sorry Dad), and I think psychics are just very good intuitionists…so why do I love magic realism and fantasy? Why is this literature and movie genre thriving?

Here’s one of many reasons. We know from cognitive and brain science that we have several brains, the more primitive brain at the center – the brain stem and the neocortex. In the central brain stem resides the amygdala which governs our limbic system which governs our emotions (this is explained very well in Roseann Bane’s Around the Writer’s Block.

This part of the brain is geared toward survival. It reacts instantaneously to fuzzy perceptions. It knows only three reactions, fight, flight or freeze. It sees a snakelike object in the grass and prompts you to jump or shoot. You jump and THEN you take a closer look and your cerebral cortex says, “Oh, that’s not a snake. It’s a stick.” Evolutionarily, the cortex developed later and surrounds the primitive brain and is where you do all your rational, creative, sorting, organizing, and planning thinking.

The point is, that part of our brain still sees the world in terms of magic – it sees ghosts in the flickers of peripheral vision, it sees zombies in that unexpected manikins you run into in the attic, it sees a weeping woman in the snow capped sign post in your low-beams at night, it provides the stories and images in your dreams for your thoughts, feelings and ideas.

Science fiction, fantasy, and magic realism also help us explore our deepest fears in safe ways.  Bruno Bethlehem, in his book The Uses of Enchantment, famously asserted that the sanitizing of fairytales and folktales left children less equipped to handle the stress of life. Who knew, for example, that in Cinderella, the wicked sisters cut off their toes to fit their feet into the shoe?

Also, these genres feed our need for a spiritual connection to something greater than ourselves and to the inherent interconnectedness of all things.

Before I end, I ned to add a respectful disclaimer, in case I insulted all the ghost hunters and psychics out there. I don’t disbelieve in anything completely. I truly think anything is possible, but not exactly probable, so I look or the rational explanation first. I can’t tell you how many times I’ve heard sound bounce in unexpected ways to create the illusion of thumping up above when it’s really coming from next door.

I must also say that I see the possible danger of grandiosity, narcissism and avoidance when people start asserting they have special powers. However, to those friends of mine who make such assertions, I believe in radio waves, microwaves and other forms of communication that are undetectable to the human eye and ear, and I think you should keep honing your craft whatever it is, because above all, I believe in the inner wisdom of all things and the magic of the atom.

P.S. “The Haunting of Zelda” was published in Stories We Tell available for sale at: http://www.storytellersanthology.com

About laledavidson

I am a lifestyle blogger for Albany’s premier newspaper, The Times Union, and I teach fiction writing at SUNY Adirondack, where I was recently promoted to Distinguished Professor. My stories have appeared in The Collagist, Big Lucks, and Eclectica, among others. I was a finalist for the Franz Kafka Award issued by Doctor T.J. Eckleburg Review as well as the Black Lawrence Chapbook Contest of 2015 and the Talking Writing Award for humorous writing advice. My story “The Opal Maker” was named Wigleaf top 50 (Very) Short Stories of 2015. The Ciphery was a finalist for the Heekin Group Foundation James Fellowship for unpublished novels.

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