Ideas that add up #230

You couldn’t get worse food, or food more detached from nature, if you tried. If you have an apple, you’re connected to an apple tree. If you have a dish of set custard and half a glace cherry you’re not connected to anything. 

Mor, the narrator in Among Others by Jo Walton

Mor is fifteen and adjusting to life in a dreary, pretentious English boarding school, having grown up and run wild in the coal valleys of South Wales. SF and fantasy novels are her thing. She knows magic and sees fairies – which happen to be gnarly, feral entities, utterly unlike Tinkerbell. Also, they speak Welsh.  

The magic that she works, when she has to, creates situations which, with hindsight, were going to happen in any case. With her twin, she casts flowers into a stagnant pool to kill off the noxious phurnacite plant that had killed off vegetation for miles around. Nothing happens. The plant doesn’t crumble and a forest doesn’t sprout. Then, the next morning the news: the plant will close, thousands of jobs lost. A decision made weeks earlier in London – but it wouldn’t have been had the girls not dropped their flowers that night. Like infinitely proliferating universes, with magic to isolate whichever one serves the present purpose.

With a sceptical mind it’s easy to assert that there was no magic. But someone knows different.

So when a small person of my acquaintance triumphantly told me, one morning last month, that she knew there was no tooth fairy because she was awake and heard the whole palaver – heard me shuffle downstairs in the dark, heard the clinking of money in the bowl as I fumbled for a pound coin, then lay still with her eyes closed as I rooted around under her pillow for ages trying to find that elusive chip of ivory – what I should have said was that if it was me who did all that, then I must have been unwittingly doing the fairy’s work for her. (Instead of just shrugging and trying to deny everything.)  

Magic, in Jo Walton’s book, permeates the world. An apple has magic, because it connects you to an apple tree and so to the whole tree of life – the biggest magic in the universe. And things we share our lives with, especially things we handle, however lifeless they may seem, become imbued with magic of their own. 

At home I walked through a haze of belongings that knew, at least vaguely, who they belonged to. Grampar’s chair resented anyone else sitting on it as much as he did himself. Gramma’s shirts and jumpers adjusted themselves to hide her missing breast. My mother’s shoes positively vibrated with consciousness. Our toys looked out for us. There was a potato knife in the kitchen that Gramma couldn’t use. It was an ordinary enough brown-handled thing, but she’d cut herself with it once, and ever after it wanted more of her blood. If I rummaged through the kitchen drawer, I could feel it brooding. After she died, that faded. Then there were the coffee spoons, rarely used, tiny, a wedding present. They were made of silver, and they knew themselves superior to everything else and special.

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