The Shibboleth

A Shibboleth, like a spell, is a word that has incredible power. It is a cultural signifier of both belonging and division. Creating a shibboleth doesn’t mean bringing more meaning to a word, but rather removing meaning from a word. Nearly every shibboleth is nonsense. The word Shibboleth comes from ancient Hebrew and means either the head of a wheat stalk or other grain, or a storm, torrent or tempest.

The word “Shibboleth” was the first word transformed in this way, stripped of it’s meaning and used to identify an alien culture, separating the Ephraimites from the Gileadites in the book of Judges:

And the Gileadites took the passages of Jordan before the Ephraimites: and it was so, that when those Ephraimites which were escaped said, Let me go over; that the men of Gilead said unto him, Art thou an Ephraimite? If he said, Nay;
Then said they unto him, Say now Shibboleth: and he said Sibboleth: for he could not frame to pronounce it right. Then they took him, and slew him at the passages of Jordan: and there fell at that time of the Ephraimites forty and two thousand. read more

Alice’s Story is Here

I just ordered my copy, and I can’t wait to read it. From the Amazon previews it looks like it starts at the beginning, and gives us a deeper look at one of the most interesting characters in the Magicians. It definitely speaks to the power and complexity of these books that there are really no supporting characters, and every character can be seen as a protagonist in their own story. I can see this simply becoming a series, as I would be equally interested to read Elliot’s or Janet’s story.

You can buy it here:

Interview with Lev Grossman

This week we caught up with Lev Grossman, author of the Magicians trilogy and many other great works to ask about his future projects, go in-depth on the books, and find out what is Magic in his life.

You’re a family guy, a full-time journalist and you have a tv show. Do you have a slot for fiction on your schedule? How do you maintain your connection to fiction and fantasy?

I quit my job! So at least I’m not a full-time journalist anymore. Though I was for almost 20 years, give or take. But I quit to focus full-time on my own writing. I still do other projects besides writing novels though — lately I’ve been dabbling in writing for TV and movies, but nothing that’s been announced yet.
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Where Are All of the Monsters?

The Nightmare – John Henry Fuseli

“No one would come right out and say it, but the worldwide magical ecology was suffering from a serious imbalance: too many magicians, not enough monsters.”
–The Magicians – Lev Grossman

Let’s suppose there is a magical planet named Fillory that your siblings have found a way to visit from Earth via a magical doorway. However, you never get to stay and it is the only place in the universe that you want to be. One day you find a spring that holds all the magic and you drink from it giving you the power the stay, but it also gives you unimaginable magical power. What do you do?

Those of us who love The Magicians know what happens next. The power of magic absorbs the boy who becomes The Beast and he almost dries up all of magic for Fillory and Earth in his unending thirst for the power of magic.

Let’s put a pin in that thought and turn now to Earth which is comprised of magicians, hedge witches, and non-magical folk. Those who have magic, love and enjoy it, but largely have nothing to do because magic fulfills all their needs. In fact, in my rereading of The Magicians there is one sentence that haunts me and I can’t quite shake it:

No one would come right out and say it, but the worldwide magical ecology was suffering from a serious imbalance: too many magicians, not enough monsters.
–The Magicians – Lev Grossman

Usually on Thursdays I write a little recap on last night’s show with a few thoughts about what is coming. Today I am breaking from that. Instead you will find my thoughts about the space between the books, show, and reality. There are some very concerning things going on in this world and I think this is a good intersection at which to discuss the cross over between fiction and reality. After all, what is the point of fiction, but to give us a chance to explore the themes of our common humanity? So today, I want to think about this sentence and wonder why are there so many magicians and so few monsters?

How Quentin Coldwater’s Depression Saved Him

Quentin Coldwater provides one of the most honest perspectives on what it is like to have depression. For him, it goes beyond sadness. It is a sense of nothingness, emptiness, a disconnection from one’s inner being.  His battle is twice as difficult than that of usual fantasy protagonists, who are naturally self assured, brave and optimistic . Instead we have insecure, melancholy Quentin. A soon as he is done battling beasts on the outside, he must go on to fight those residing inside his mind.

In the first book,  he goes through a whirlwind of depressive episodes, each one unlocking a new realization. As a high school student, it signals a yearning for something extraordinary. When he graduates, it leads him to seek beyond the hedonistic pleasures. Following the death of Alice, he channels it into mastering spell craft.  He discovers being a magician is all about transforming  the victim mentality into one of empowerment that allows manipulation of reality.

“But you, my friends, you found another way: a way to use the pain. To burn it as fuel, for light and warmth. You have learned to break the world that has tried to break you.”

The inner pain did not make him unworthy of the Fillorian crown. It did not hinder him from falling in love with Alice, and it did not, in any way reduce his magical abilities. He did not have to go out and cure his mental disease before he could accomplish anything. Instead life naturally did it for him with every heartbreak, tragedy, discovery, epiphany and moments of joy.

His depression acted as the catalyst for deep, soul level changes. With it Quentin graduated from a magic school , was  crowned King, and uncovered the true depth of his power even when he lost it all. His choice to switch from a limiting, masochistic perspective to a courageous, expansive one  gave him the confidence to go on dangerous high stakes quests and save magic. Thanks to our hero, we learn that the “worst” parts of us serve to guide us through our life journey.

Horomancy part 1

Blue-green sparks jumped from finger to finger as Maeve wove the complex spell around her Turing smartphone. The phone was securely cryptographically encoded, it could only be used to place calls to another Turing unit that had the matching key, and her spell would ensure that it was magically unhackable as well. A component of the spell was a cypher cube, a magical object holding both the cryptographic and magical keys to the phone.

She and Bleddyn were the only ones who could manifest the identical cubes, and they could not decode the keys from the magical structure. It was a complementary system, an interchange between logic and magic. The cryptography scrambled the spell and the spell deformed the cryptography until it was both unbreakable and illegible. The magic cube was a toy, one of the first spells she had learned at Brakebills. They were used nearly universally to transfer data, such as when they had had to hand in reports and class assignments, but Maeve and Bleddyn had broken and reformed the simple spell into something much more powerful.

The green cube enclosed the phone and rotated around it as she dialed, releasing it’s keys so the signal could transmit. Finally he picked up.
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Magic and the Teleological Argument

Teleological. it’s a daunting word but don’t worry. Before we tackle it, and what it means, we’re going to take a trip. We’re all going to get on the same page so to speak, and go through this together.

We’re going to Magicians, book 1.

A Christian magician refers to magic as “The tools of the maker.” Magic is just a bit of the power used to create us, that we’ve managed to somehow get a hold of – Like a father leaving power tools out, and a child stumbling across them. Magic, in this mans eyes, is an accident. A secret we have let ourselves in on, without the knowledge of anyone ‘Upstairs’ knowing.

Now, we go to what this has to do with a religious argmuement for the existence of God. I think the very existence of god, or at least one supported by the Teleological argument negates all Richard has said.

So let’s see. The word Teleological comes from two seperate Greek words. Telos, which means purpose or aim, and Logos which means reasoning.

It stands then that the Teleological Argument would involve logic, reason and something to do with Purpose.  The simple explanation is that it is about the Design of life and humans. There are many different forms of this argument put forth, dating back as early as Socrates, but the one we are focusing on is slightly more recent.

So we go to 1802, to meet Christian philosopher William Paley. Although others had preposed it lightly before him, Paley was the first to really delve into the Watchmaker Analogy  in such detail. A common theory already it needed fleshing out and Paley did just that, as well as bringing a lot of attention to this particular way of thinking.

Imagine a watch. Open that watch up and look at the parts. They all have a purpose, they all work together in such perfect harmony, to give you what we know as a watch; the ticking hands in such a precise rhythm, the cogs and gears fitting so perfectly together – this was no mere accident. This was not something that came about by chance, and happenstance. Someone designed this watch. In the eyes of Paley, and even people like Sir Isaac Newton and Rene Descartes, this was proof of God. The human body, the universe and everything is so meticulously planned it had to be the work of a higher power and not just luck. The laws of physics are so perfect for human life and to sustain us it could not be mere chance that the planet we ended up on is also the one with the perfect amount of oxygen discosiation at sea level and a gravity that is enough to hold up but won’t stunt our growth or crush us.

Here is why this throws a spanner in the likes of Richard’s maker theory. If this is the case it means that magic was also designed by God. Magicians don’t just have an aptitude for learning, they are designed to weild that power. God didn’t leave his power tools out for us to stumble upon like an irresponsible father. It’s more like he wrapped them up and left them in the bedroom of some of his kids as a gift, whilst the others got nothing.

If a Teleological backed God does exist in the world of Magicians, it also leads to the idea of destiny and predetermination – all the mistakes made by Q and the others were meant to happen. The Beast becoming the beast was no more Martins fault as Plover doing what he did to the boy being his.

Thank you.

If anyone wants to join the Free Trader Discord group we have, the link is

I myself am on Twitter @brightstarfox, and would love to hear your thoughts and ideas.

The power of defintion and logic

“You said the words, and they altered the universe.” – Dean Fogg.

I know Fogg is talking about Magic here, but his words fit with what I’m looking to talk about. Specifically, whether logic and sense are enough reason to believe something. If it fits, is that enough?

I promise this isn’t a religious debate, I’m not pushing an agenda, but the first example I want to use is that of St Anselm. Those of you familiar with various arguements for the existence of God might know of Anselm. He was the Archbishop of Canterbury, England, for a while. His arguement is as follows;

  • God is, by definition, that in which nothing greater can be conceived.
  • Something existing in both the mind and reality is better than something existing in just the mind.
  • Since nothing can be greater than God, he must exist as that would be the greater option.

Simply put, imagine I gave you two choices – I will give you £5 or $5, whatever currency you use, or I will tell you that I will give you £10/$10. Obviously the actually having the money is the better option. This means the actual existing is better. Apply this to God.

It’s an interesting take on an argument, full of holes (See Gaunilo’s Island for those interested) but that isn’t what I want to focus on. The arguement was widely accepted because it made sense. Logically, the conclusion can be reached from the first points given.

Is that enough to make something true? If something logically follows, does that make it true? What do you think about this? If thats the case than rather than trying to prove magic, we should be explaining it, with proof or not.

Fun fact for anyone who remembers one of the key names of the Brakebills books; a philosopher who would have argued against this, with a school of thought called Falsifcation, is Karl Popper!