Why Magic Comes With a Price
Fans of the television series “Once Upon A Time” know all too well the phrase, “Magic always comes with a price, dearie.” The phrase is spoken by Rumplestiltskin, the character who personifies the Dark One. Along with the Evil Queen Regina, they are the two most powerful practitioners of magic in the town of Storybrooke, Maine. When a crisis situation arises, other characters have sought out Rumplestiltskin in hopes of finding a magical way out, but he always demands payment or a favor in return for the magic. In addition, there are often other consequences for those choosing the “magical solution” that are unforeseen. One of the main underlying themes of this series is that the use of magic has moral implications.
What Is Magic?
Magic, according to Webster’s dictionary, is extraordinary power or influence seemingly from a supernatural source. Another definition is the use of charms or spells believed to have supernatural power over natural forces. Other words for magic commonly used are sorcery, witchcraft, or enchantment. In fact, the root word of magic is “magos,” which in ancient days meant sorcerer, someone who practiced various arts such as astrology or alchemy, or someone who could interpret signs and influence fate.
“The world is full of magic things, patiently waiting for our senses to grow sharper.”
― W.B. Yeats
Magic is Power
People are drawn to magic for the very same reason they are drawn to science and technology – magic is power. From the dawn of creation, man has always looked for ways to manipulate and control the forces of nature around him. Man has always thought, “If only there was a way to get more food,” or “If only there was a way to save my loved one from this illness.” It is very difficult for humans to accept a harsh condition, and they will always look for a way to make circumstances better for themselves.
Magic is Science
“Any sufficiently advanced technology is indistinguishable from magic.”
- Arthur C. Clarke
I‘ve always thought J.K. Rowling was brilliant because in her world of Harry Potter, magic is mostly portrayed as simply an alternative form of technology. The magic used by Harry and his friends is used to accomplish tasks that we use scientific developments and technology to achieve. The majority of spells have technological equivalents in the Muggle (non-magical) world. For example, the Floo Network is the wizard’s form of public transportation. It can also be used to Skype (chat face to face) with another wizard. How about the Pensieve? When Harry sticks his head into it, he can essentially see a video capture and display of a person’s memories. The Remembrall? Not that different from the Calendar or Reminder app. As for Stupefy, Sectumsempra and the Killing Curse, we have guns and other weapons that accomplish the same.
A list of the most commonly desired special or magical powers would probably include:
- to fly
- to become invisible
- to see the future
- to time travel
- to travel from one place to another instantly
- to fix things that are broken, to be able to heal or cure
- to be able to shield oneself from harm, or be immune to harm
- to transform oneself or objects into other things
- to be able to read another’s mind or thoughts, to communicate telepathically
- to control or move objects or other people
- to destroy enemies and threats
- to make someone love them
- to bring the dead back to life
- to talk to and be able to influence supernatural beings, or animals
- to cause desired objects to appear out of thin air, to create something from nothing
In a way, scientists have invented physical ways for people to have some of these powers to various degrees. However, our ability to accomplish these things is limited. We can fly, but only on airplanes. A person might be resuscitated for a while with high tech medical procedures, but death is still the ultimate outcome for all living beings. Logic dictates that something can not occur out of nothingness. Creation, the last “magical power,” is reserved for God Himself.
Magic is Transformation
In classic fairy tales, magic is used to transform one thing into another. Cinderella’s rags are changed into a beautiful ball gown via magic. Rumplestiltskin helps the miller’s daughter change straw into gold. The evil queen of Snow White’s kingdom disguises herself as an old hag using magic to deceive Snow White. A handsome prince is transformed into a frog, or a hideous beast, and then back again.
In real life, people wish to be transformed just as the frog prince was. The overweight person hopes for a magic pill that would make him thin again, without the diet reform and exercising. Addicts wish they could be cured from their addiction, without the hardships of rehab. Millions of dollars are spent on surgeries, cosmetics, dental work, self-help books, and therapy, which are common ways we try to transform ourselves into more attractive and better people.
Magic is Belief
Belief has strong power in motivating people to accomplish great and small things. Jesus said, “Truly I tell you, if you have faith as small as a mustard seed, you can say to this mountain, 'Move from here to there,' and it will move. Nothing will be impossible for you." (Matthew 17:20). When Peter started sinking into the water at the Sea of Galilee, it was because he was distracted by doubt and unbelief. The most memorable scene in James Barrie’s Peter Pan is one in which Tinkerbell is dying from poison. It is only through enough children clapping their hands to express their belief in fairies that she is saved.
“The moment you doubt whether you can fly, you cease for ever to be able to do it.” - J.M. Barrie, Peter Pan
Magic is Love
In the fairy tale Beauty and the Beast, a horrible beast is transformed back into human form because of the love of the woman. G.K. Chesterton says the “great lesson of “Beauty and the Beast” (is) that a thing must be loved BEFORE it is loveable.” It is love’s first kiss that awakens Sleeping Beauty from the curse. It is love that gives Once Upon A Time’s Snow and Charming faith that they will always find each other if they are separated. In the episode “Welcome to Storybrooke” Regina tries to use the Curse of the Empty-Hearted on her adopted son Henry in order to make him love her. Henry wants no part of it. In response, Henry threatens to destroy the well which is the initial source of magic for Storybrooke. The biggest caveat about love as magic is that it can not be forced. A coerced love is a counterfeit love.
On the other hand, an authentic love, given freely, is described by Rumplestiltskin as the most powerful magic in the world.
The Price of Magic
That which we achieve in our finite world must come at the expense of something else. There are scientific laws concerning the conservation of energy and mass, for example. If we want to eat, we must expend energy in hunting, or in the tending of crops or livestock. Another animal must give up its life if we use it as food. If we want to protect ourselves from the weather, we must build structures that will function as shelter. To defend ourselves from enemies, we must spend time and money and resources to assemble and train soldiers and equip them with weaponry. All of our choices have a cost. If we choose a thing, by definition, we give up all the possible alternatives to that thing. In business, we call that an opportunity cost.
What we wish for with magic is to have power to erase all the costs associated with fulfilling our needs and desires. We want to be able to make choices without dealing with the consequences (usually the negative ones). We would use magical power to do away with poor circumstances, not realizing that every action could have some unforeseen outcome.
“It is our choices, Harry that show what we truly are, far more than our abilities.”
- Professor Dumbledore, Harry Potter and the Chamber of Secrets
The Price of Love
There are those that say to love is to surrender, to give up power. Love leaves your heart open and vulnerable to rejection, betrayal, and unfaithfulness. The reason Cora, Regina’s mother, removed her own heart and locked it away was because she did not want her love for Rumplestiltskin to weaken her powers. She ends up as a powerful, vengeful sorceress, but gives up a chance to truly know love, even for her own daughter.
In fairy tales, according to Chesterton, the chance for a “happily ever after” is conditional. He calls this the Doctrine of Conditional Joy. “In the fairy tale an incomprehensible happiness rests upon an incomprehensible condition.”The characters of fairyland do not question why they must be home by midnight, or why they must not eat the magic apple, or why they must not open the jeweled box.
Unfortunately, we did open the box. We ate the forbidden fruit, and by doing so, ruined our chances for a happily ever after. But the story of earth and all its corruption, hardship, and death, still has joyous turn. God, who has every possible choice in his hands, WITH MAGIC created the universe and human beings in his image, knowing all along that coerced love is not real love. He knew that disobedience, rebellion and rejection were inevitable on our part but was willing to pay the price himself, and a huge price it was. By giving his son, by opening himself up to rejection and betrayal and humiliation and physical torture, by surrendering to death on the cross, the consequences were paid in full. The price of Magic indeed.
Then more MAGIC ensues – a resurrection. For those who believe, the tale truly does end with happily ever after.
"And she never could remember; and ever since that day what Lucy means by a good story is a story which reminds her of the forgotten story in the Magician's Book."
- C.S. Lewis, The Voyage of the Dawn Treader
Barrie, James. Peter Pan
Chesterton, G.K. Orthodoxy
Grimm, Jacob and Wilhelm, Grimm's Fairy Tales
Lewis, C.S. The Voyage of the Dawn Treader
Rowling, J.K. Harry Potter and the Chamber of Secrets
Tolkien, J.R.R. On Faerie Stories
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