Fantasy Literature: Telepathy versus Magic
In my dark fantasy book, “Drasmyr,” the vampire uses telepathy to communicate with the victims he has bitten. Generally, I denote this with italics in the text conveying his thoughts. What I wanted to explore in this blog post is the use of telepathy in fantasy literature and how it relates to magic. I think, as a rule, psychic phenomena are kind of a middle of the road type of thing; we can’t decide whether or not to classify them as science fiction or fantasy. Many scientists today disregard them as real phenomena, so they would probably argue to keep them in fantasy; it has no place in science or science fiction. Personally, I’ve had a number of experiences in real life which I would classify as psychic in nature. I assume that eventually science will accept psychic phenomena and work to explain them as they have everything else. But I’m sure that will take time. All that to the side, we are discussing psychic phenomena, specifically telepathy, and how it applies to fantasy literature and magic. I’ve seen telepathy used as a form of communication between elves, dragons, and a variety of other creatures.
In itself, it seems to be a separate thing from magic; it occurs as a kind of natural ability and is usually not something that a creature or character can improve skill in. There are exceptions, of course. In Tad Williams’ “Shadowmarch” series, the Qar use telepathy and some of the humans can hear it when it is directed at them and can improve their understanding and manipulation of it over time. Still, for myself, I have a tendency to regard psychic phenomena as something distinct from magic. If one were to define the two, I think telepathy and other psychic phenomena would be defined as a strictly mental experience. Telepathy is one mind communicating to another mind through some vaguely defined super-sentient means. Magic, on the other hand, involves a being channeling external powers to alter the world around itself. The being in question is a conduit for the magical energy, but more of a source and origin for psychic phenomena like telepathy. As a result, it almost seems like anyone and anything could be telepathic. Although it generally doesn’t work out that way, the potential is there. To be able to use magic, on the other hand, usually requires years of study. There are exceptions, of course; sometimes magic exists simply as a talent or gift, like it does in Piers Anthony’s Xanth series. In such situations, it is unlearned, instantaneous, and just there. Again, we return to our basic point, telepathy is more a thing of the mind than magic is. As such, it engenders more of a technical response than magic, we look for a way to explain it or posit some potential rationalization for it. As a result, telepathy sometimes finds a home in science fiction, where magic most certainly does not.
Anyone else have any thoughts on the subject?