Welcome to the 1-Week Virtual Book Tour for The Demons of Wall Street (Nora Simeon Investigations #1), an Urban Fantasy, Paranormal Novella by Laurence Raphael Brothers.
Fellow author Laurence Raphael Brothers takes over my blog today discussing theories of magic in urban fantasy.
In my romantic-noir urban fantasy novella The Demons of Wall Street, I’ve developed a theory of magic. I can’t say how frustrating it’s been not to be able to explain it properly in the story. Though here and there I take the opportunity to hint at bits of it in the text, I never really have the chance to provide what fantasy writers call an infodump, because it would be so terribly disruptive to the narrative flow. Only someone like Neal Stephenson can take a whole chapter off in the middle of a book to explain things without making the reader throw the book across the room.
So: here we go. Please don’t throw your phone or tablet across the room….
In the 17th century, atomic theory was competing with monadic theory for dominance*. Where atomic theory supposed that any given chunk of matter was made up of a finite number of indivisible atoms, monadic theory suggested rather that matter was made up of an infinite number of infinitesimally small monads. This was an attractive theory mathematically, because it corresponded precisely with the underlying principles of the integral calculus, which by an odd coincidence had just been invented. Alas for the beauty of mathematics, eventually the atomic theory not only prevailed but was found to be correct. This is the train of thought I followed from that basis:
Suppose… suppose monads actually exist? Well, real, ordinary matter can’t be made up of them, or science wouldn’t work. But maybe there’s something else for monads to do? A common notion in occultism is the existence of a so-called “etheric plane” — no relation to the chemical called ether, of course. People are said to have etheric bodies, and there are even beings — elementals and various kinds of spirits — that are supposed to be made entirely of ether. So what if ether really exists as monadic stuff, a kind of matter we are unfamiliar with? Well, okay, say ether exists, then why hasn’t science found it? Ether must be highly rarefied. So thin, so insubstantial, that ordinary physics, including the famous Michelson-Morley experiment, can’t detect it. But if it’s so thin, what good is it? Well. Maybe it affects minds in some way. Not just that. Maybe minds affect ether. Maybe… maybe that’s what magic really is? Because if you can affect the ether with your mind in such a way as to affect other people’s minds… aha! That accounts for the folk magic of glamour and enchantment! And of course ether must interact at least a little with ordinary matter, or it really would be undetectable, so maybe… maybe if you can concentrate a whole lot of ether somehow, you can produce physical magic effects, not just mental ones.
Okay. What about the history of magic in our world? Well, most of ceremonial western magic from the late 15th century onward** is concerned with summoning spells for demons, angels and other spirits. But mostly for demons. So maybe demons are etheric creatures. Maybe they come from another dimension where monadic ether is highly concentrated and that kind of matter is dominant, just as atomic matter dominates on Earth. So when you summon demons, somehow, to our world, they have much greater magical powers than ordinary human sorcerers. Hm. Good thing there are spells of binding in those old grimoires, or else the demons would be in charge. And who says they’re not? Ha. Okay, let’s not go that far. Demons as summoned slaves. Monadic ether. Mathematical sorcery. Yeah. I’ve got something good here….
*The historical feud between Newton and Leibniz, the co-inventors of calculus, and the story of the competing physical schools of thought makes for fascinating reading, if you care to give up an afternoon to Wikipedia.
**Hey what a coincidence: the Enlightenment gave us both modern mathematics and modern magic. In fact, many occultists were also leading mathematicians. Or vice versa, if you prefer….
Meet the Author:
Laurence Raphael Brothers is a writer and a technologist. He has published over 25 short stories in such magazines as Nature, the New Haven Review, PodCastle, and Galaxy’s Edge. His WWI-era historical fantasy novel Twilight Patrol was just released by Alban Lake. For more of his stories, visit https://laurencebrothers.com/bibliography, or follow him on twitter: @lbrothers.
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