Tag Archives: magic

Jonathan Dark

Just wrote this off the cuff. Similarities with Constantine, I guess. Although in truth it just came from my dislike of magic (and general high-fantasy) in most books, and my attempt to reclaim it. Actually to begin with it just came from a desire to write about weird and crazy monsters.

It’s set in the same world as my story The School of Necromancy. Could become something more! Who knows…

 

JONATHAN DARK

 

My name is Jonathan Dark. Johnny, if you wish to be casual, which you should never be. I hate John.

People will tell you I do magic. I hate that term. Magic goes hand in hand with robes and pointy hats, and then it’s only a small step to elves and gnomes and football on broomsticks. Elves don’t exist. Gnomes do, but they’re black little creeps and I can’t stand them. Not because they’re black, but because they’re unreasonably small. Call me a racist or a speciesist if you like, I don’t care. Why would anyone care about gnomes?

No, I’m not a magician and I don’t do magic. I’m not a wizard, or a conjurer of cheap tricks, I’m not a warlock or a male witch, or a sorcerer or a mystic, I’m not an illusionist or an enchanter and I have never owned a wand, nor will I, useless things that they are.

I’m a shadowmancer and I do shadowmancy. Go on, smirk. Call me pretentious, say I made it up. I did it as a masters at the School, I’ll have you know, before it was stricken from the curriculum for being too avant-garde, too unscientific. Too dangerous. These days, they deny the discipline even exists, say it’s all nonsense, that there is no Shadow-World. They wanted to take my masters off me ex post facto, but I wouldn’t give it up. I’d received high marks, and I never would for anything again.

All this artsy waving hands in the air, showing off, I won’t hold for it. I don’t know, maybe it holds card in exuberant America, but not in Britain, not in my York. You shouldn’t draw attention to yourself, or if you are, at least have the decency and respect for your environment to have a grounded sense of style. This isn’t the Middle Ages, for god’s sake. Keep it low-key, keep it smart and cool, scratch it out in the air by your pockets where it’s unobtrusive and easy to miss, carve the air quick and technical into thin, jagged lines of the relevant colours or just paint it black, then flick it out like a cigarette. It’s an intricate hand sign, not a side show. At most it should look like you’re writing on air, or playing with an invisible deck; best of all just twitching your fingers thoughtfully to yourself, some strange tick, maybe just mad enough to be ignored by strangers, but not mad enough to cause a scene. Only those with Twilight Sight see the colours, see the design temporarily etched into thin air. But then they already have enough to worry about.

Like me, you should learn to draw all your mances with a single hand; that way the other is free to hold a gun.

You wonder what I can do with my mances. I can create things, and I can change things. Why am I not rich? you ask. Can I not just create money out of thin air?

I can do just that, but it’s not that easy. Money is one of those things that, even in real-terms, disappears as quickly as it arrives. It’s easily lost, easily squandered, easily forgotten or transmogrified into something completely different. That’s real money, in all its elusiveness. Now, make that shadow-money, a transient material at the best of times, and your problems are only compounded. The more you make the harder it is to hold onto. I’d say I can make about minimum wage. After that, it slips through my fingers – literally as well as metaphorically. Although I usually only need the money to continue existing up until the point I’ve left the shop.

And yet sometimes you desire more than theft-by-mance of penny-sweets and top-shelf magazines, you want something a little more permanent and sizeable, something that’ll last.

That’s when I have to earn my keep.

I’m not a particularly good man, and I’m okay with that, because I stop much worse things. I’m the one who fights the monster under your bed, and the thing in your cupboard, the creature at your window, the thin, silent figure in the corner. Be glad you don’t see them, but don’t mistake not seeing for assuming they are not there. They are most definitely there. They exist in an adjoining dimension, the Twilight, the Shadow-World, which overlaps ours, lying on top of it like a murky filter.

Come far enough in studying shadowmancy (not that anyone’s teaching it anymore) and you will see them. Close to people, sometimes only millimetres apart, watching them, sniffing them, licking the air. Most are mostly harmless. Some are not. It’s those that are not where I come in.

It’s those that are not which make up all those unexplained cases that baffle the constabulary and the public at large. Indeed, many of the explained cases are in fact mistaken, and should have been attributed to more, dare I voice it, supernatural means. No, no, the word sticks in my throat. More monstrous means, I will say in its stead. More Twilight means.

Racks, dragores, slip-men, lupo-vamps, rag zombi, corpus mortem, fleshers, skin ghouls, dogspawn, red babies, straggle lamps, cocoon beards, phallocs, heavers, cracklers, howlers, ectofucks and wet dennises (don’t ask) – these Twilighters are some of the ones to watch. And, sometimes, they get a lot bigger.

 

*

 

I wish I could explain shadowmancy to you in scientific terms. But I can’t. I mean, I could explain around it, explain some of the mechanisms in place, and so forth, but I suppose I can’t be bothered. It’s so far different from what you know, and even from what they teach in the School, that we have simply no ground on which to lay our common foundations. It’s just. . . well, it’s just fucking magic, okay? I’ll allow it this time, much as I already feel like I need to be painting stars on a hat and babbling ‘abracadabra’. Look, you either accept what it is or you don’t, I don’t care.

Actually no, sorry, I’m not giving you the choice. You accept what it is, end of. It’s shadowmancy and it exists, and my entire life is its living proof.

 

4308719-constantineart13

 

 

The Hallucinogenic Power of Words

I have a very visual approach to writing. No, not just a visual, a sensory approach to writing. Something, or more likely many, many things, appear in my head, and I must capture them. I am always trying to not just paint a picture, but to paint sound, movement, and atmosphere.

This, to my eternal frustration, is impossible. A picture paints a thousand words, but a thousand words do not make a picture. No matter how much I – or any other in my place – try, I will not be able to accurately communicate what I see in my head.

This could be well seen as a criticism against my writing, perhaps even a fault of my character as a writer. Not that I fail in this regard (for it is impossible), but that I am so focused on trying. I am, perhaps, more interested in these efforts at communication, than I am in the stories themselves. My approach is often cinematic in intent, and when I’m trying to illustrate sounds, sights, movements and cinematic atmosphere in words I feel like I’m trying to draw blood from a collapsed vein.

Not that writing doesn’t have atmosphere of its own. The atmosphere of the cinema is the sensory atmosphere, while the atmosphere of the book is a cerebral atmosphere, crafted, received and understood in an entirely different way.

You may ask, if I am trying so hard to replicate a movie, why I do not go into making movies, or if I am so interested in painting a particular picture, why I am not a painter. Partly because I (think I) know how to write, and am better at it than I am at anything else. I do not know how to make movies, or paint pictures – and both these talents require quite a lot more expenditure and set-up than just putting pen to paper/fingers to keys. Another reason is that I have simply more interest in writing than these other fields; I can imagine myself as a writer, but not really as the others, nor am I much inclined to try.

There is one more reason, a reason why, if I was to turn to these fields and, against all odds, excel at them, why I would still be in eternal frustration. The pictures, sounds, feelings, atmospheres, textures and all other ideas in my head are transient, flickering and completely elusive; they last less than a second. They are never concrete, not in the slightest, but merely vague concepts and shadows. I’ll understand them, sometime a little, sometimes completely – but I could never define them, I could never capture them, not to canvas nor film. Apart from anything else, there is simply not enough time – like trying to catch the fastest and smartest of butterflies in a broken net.

These are not the only reasons. For all us authors’ failures to replicate the magic, pathos, dynamics, drama, and sensory thrill of movies, our writing has its own strengths that movies cannot replicate.

Movies are the kings of crafting experiences born of the senses, of the outside world, but they are slaves to these things. For what about the inner world? Bar using narration – likely stolen from the book-before-the-film – what can a film tell us of what’s going on inside someone’s heads, of their actionless intentions, their dreams, their thoughts? How are these characters perceiving the world, perceiving conversations, perceiving the people they interact with?

It is this where the written word reigns king. Novels are the inside world. They are the behind-the-scenes of the movies (or, conversely, movies are the eyes and ears of novels). And it is this, this inner voice that has its way with everything, with every spoken word, every person, every animal, every rock, tree, blade of glass, every knife and drop of blood – it is this that I can control, that I can send out like a dog to war.

A movie can show you what a tree looks like, but it can never tell you how to perceive it. It cannot tell you that this tree looks like a cluster of crooked fingers, stabbing the sky. That the tree looks angry, and broken, old not in time but in weariness. That the tree is sick, not by disease but by bitterness. It cannot tell you that the few green leaves of the coming spring are its last plaintive calls of hope.

This is where I come to the title of this essay/speech/post/observation/whatever.  For, you see, cinema has always failed at attempting to replicate the experience of hallucinogenics. It will, perhaps, show you a new, absurd land, of melting walls, snakes in the carpet, talking lizards, giant purple mushrooms, pink elephants, cavorting spirals and dodecahedrons, and everything quite madcap, like a fairytale, a fantastical nightmare, or a Dali painting.  Out of all these, perhaps only the melting and the abstract geometry (fractals is the key word) have much of a truth to them. You can watch as many things attempting to describe the hallucinogenic experience to you, and you will never understand, because the key component, your brain, has stayed the same.

For, as I have said, movies show you things. They deliver their goods unto your eyes and ears, and they can give these goods in whatever package they desire. But they cannot give you anything direct to your brain; your brain will remain entirely yours, always rational (assuming you are already rational), and never screwed with.

Hallucinogenics, on the other hand, leave your eyes and ears alone. You will still see the same lamp, the same desk, the same ceiling and walls, and the very same people around you. Your eyes and ears are fine; they do the job as they have always done, and they give their reports to the brain, and then they get the fuck out of there, washing their hands and saying ‘what happens next is none of my business’.

Yes, your senses are still working perfectly, and that lamp will never change to a demon, that ceiling will never drip tentacles, and that desk will never start talking to you.

However.

What is happening is inside you. Your perspective is what changes. The changing perspectives of the mind is something movies cannot meddle with; it is quite impossible, no matter what tricks they have up their sleeve to make you think they are succeeding.

But words! All those abstract passages, sentences, and mere standalone metaphors and similies that you have no doubt read many of, to greater or lesser degrees, in your life – they are all illustrations of perspective. That tree is not really a hand; you are, of course, still seeing a tree, but doesn’t it make you think . . . perhaps enough to be completely convinced . . .

The brain can be very convincing at these times. Not just with drug-induced hallucinations, but in ‘ordinary’ hallucinations, in the fleeting phantasms of the night, of the corners of our eyes, of those quick, frightening things that scurry in and out of this world just long enough for us to hear something and imagine something else.

Writing can tell you what’s going on in the inside, but not the outside. And so while it cannot show you the real colour of the leaves, or the real sound of the cough right behind you, right now, it can tell you, as best it can, better than anything really can, what’s going on in your head, in my head, and in the heads of my characters.

And that is why I write.

 

fractals