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Kristin Engerer

Two Sides of the Same Coin: Magic and Technology in Modern Fantasy Literature

The Abhorsen TrilogyOn the surface, magic and technology seem to be completely opposite of each other. After all, science is based on hard fact and logic, while magic involves waved hands and muttered nonsensical words. Despite this, or perhaps because of it, many fantasy authors have taken on the challenge of looking at them in connection with each other, possibly spurred by the need to think about the place of magic in our own technologically dominated era. Two authors in particular have created worlds with unusual magic-tech interactions—Garth Nix and Ilona Andrews. In Garth Nix’s Abhorsen trilogy, magic and technology exist separately on either side of a wall, and elements of one or the other can rarely cross that wall, while in Ilona Andrew’s Kate Daniels series, magic and technology exist in waves, with only one working in the world at a time. While on the surface, it seems like magic and technology in these worlds are antithetical, at the fundamental level they prove to be two sides of the same coin, both working towards the same purpose.

Garth Nix’s Abhorsen series begins in a parallel-Earth setting, with the feel of the 1920’s. There are cars, tanks, and guns in common existence. Airplanes are a novelty, but it is possible for young people to learn how to fly a plane and get certified. The government is set up much like it is in Britain, with a parliamentary system and several different parties contesting for seats. However, this is only the way of the world south of the Wall. North of the Wall, the world is much like a traditional fantasy world. People live in villages and travel around by foot or by horse if they are wealthy. Communication between villages is primarily through the courier system, or by magical means. The magic in the world is called the Charter, and is controlled through a vast number of Charter marks that can be spoken, written, or even visualized while whistling, humming, or singing. These two worlds are almost completely separated, which provides an intriguing duality to examine.

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