What brings this to mind?
I randomly read The Magician's Nephew last weekend. The last time I read it, I was in the single-digits of age. Even then I knew that Narnia was about allegory, but I still missed a lot.
Incidentally, I find myself being much more sympathetic to Lewis's heavy-handed allegory than I used to be. It's really not as toxic as I have believed it to be. The thing about allegory is that is only works if the reader already knows the subject which is being referenced. On the other hand, a reader who is unaware will be largely unharmed by the author's agenda. So I suppose Narnia is safe to give your children after all. Besides, Lewis' blockheaded Toryism is way more offensive than any of his religious notions.
What impressed me with this re-reading was the origin of Jadis, more commonly called The White Witch.
when a seven foot tall woman invites you to get in her sleigh and eat her Turkish Delight, I think it would just be rude to refuse.
I don't feel like giving a synopsis of Magician's Nephew. Suffice to say that the story offers us concepts including: travel between "worlds", god-queens, super-weapons, bio-stasis, the creation and destruction of whole universes. Stuff like that.
In the book, this is described as "magic." But it sounds to me like Clive Staples was writing sci-fi all along.
Sci-Fi is just Fantasy with a better vocabulary for describing the weird shit going on. This is the conclusion I was lead to.
But I got to talking with a friend and he reminded me that it is not quite that simple.
It's not fair to lump Magic and Science into a unified field.
True, both are methods for getting us otherworldly connections, terrible-weapons, super-natural beings and life-warping plot devices.
But authors (or game masters) will choose to frame their scenarios with one or the other, and the choice has deep ramifications on the story.
Technology and science are understandable and controllable. They represent a measure of confidence in the people who use and develop it. Hard science fiction is frequently concerned with the effects which technology can have on a society, or the consequences of its use. Some point of morality may even be involved. But ultimately, technology is the mode authors use when they are making humanist or rational statements
Magic, on the other hand, works even if nobody understands how. It is a matter of the unknowable or of the mysterious. Is ineffable. In fantasy fiction, it can become a metaphor for spirituality or the characters relationship to the immanent Tao or something like.
Since D&D tends to treat most all magic as some form of technology or craft, it has not helped in maintaining this distinction. Even the Angels and Demons of standard D&D have hit points and habitats.
In cases of magic as magic, not as technology, magic comes across as a sort of ephemeral inspiration, or something like a poetry of the soul.
Magic comes across this way in a certain vein of fantasy story. The Shapechanger's Wife comes to mind.
Also, the magician Schmendrick in the Last Unicorn; who relates to magic like Moses relates to Jehovah- sometimes it works, sometimes not so much.
Heck, even in Lord of the Rings, all the "magic" is a reflection of spiritual reality of the setting. Like Lewis, Tolkien's religiosity played deeply into his worldbuilding. But Tolkien is far more graceful about it IMHO.
If you want to know what I mean, find a copy of The Silmarillion and read the first chapter. Aloud. Bonus points for reading it to people who are high.
Oddly, Magic or technology can both be plot devices for making moral points. Sorcerous power or dangerous technology serve equally well for making moral lessons about Faustian Bargaining or whatever.
Back to the case of CS Lewis and Narnia, he chooses to describe all the fantastic elements of the Chronicles in terms of Magic. By doing so, he is directing the reader to consider the ineffable, the divine.
If the powers of Aslan or the Witch were framed in terms of technology or some attainable knowledge, our relationship to these characters would be very different: They would not be Gods, but rather wizards. If they were simple wizards, the characters and readers would view their powers as something attainable or imitable. As is, they represent opposite ends of a moral spectrum- objects of devotion, rather than emulation.
What's the point of this distinction as related to gaming?
I wanted to pursue the notion of magic and technology as a unified field, because in this wise, I can create a game mechanic whereby the power-levels of a technologist or a sorcerer could be compared or balanced as needed.
Basically, because I'd want a 5th level electrician to be even with the 5th level theosophist.
On the other hand, understanding the distinction between technology and magic is important for designing setting. So if a wizard gets his power from craft, where does the cleric get his power?
From the DM, I suppose.