As a kid I went through a phase when I was obsessed with magic. My most successful trick was a small water jug that had a secret compartment. In performance, I’d dramatically empty the jug to the last drop. Then I’d wave a wand over it. Miraculously, water would pour out of the secret compartment.
I performed the trick at my sister’s second grade birthday party, as Luigi The Great, dressed in a pair of my mom’s leather boots that stretched past my knees and a black cape. The necromancer chic was topped off with generous amounts of hair spray.
That first performance was brilliant; I had that crowd of seven year olds in my ten-year-old palm. They couldn’t believe I could produce water out of nothing through magical incantations. I even had a volunteer from the audience step forward and tap the jar according to my secret instructions. For that brief moment, I had power no one else had. I could create water.
The following year the crowd was not only older but apparently had grown wiser too. Only I still had the same set of tricks. This time I had to tell the kid in the back who claimed I had a secret compartment to shut up because he was ruining the show for everyone else. Then, as I continued the show, the resident skeptic crawled underneath the table, discovered the secret compartment, and declared the jug a fraud. I stood there wishing I really did have the power to make him disappear. But the damage was done. This wasn’t magic, the kids realized. These were tricks.
I never wore Luigi’s cape and boots again, but the fascination with magic never went away. If anything, the knowledge that magic doesn’t exist just increases the hope that it does. A couple years after my failed magic show, the new kid from Toronto introduced my friends and me to Dungeons & Dragons. We were hooked. You couldn’t buy any of this stuff in Mexico, where I grew up, so we diligently photocopied his books of spells and encyclopedia of monsters, got them lovingly spiral-bound and cared for them as if they really were archaic tomes filled with powerful runes. We couldn’t buy the special 20-sided, 8-sided and 12-sided dice either, so the quiet kid from Uruguay set out to make some from clay. The third batch wasn’t bad. Then we went to the Indian market in Coyoacán and bought leather pouches that tied with a drawstring for our dice. As far as I’m concerned, that pouch of dice and the barely legible photocopied folio I kept in my backpack wherever I went were pure magic, a portal to another world.
It was only much later, on a visit to a bookstore in the US, that I realized there were all sorts of packaged adventures you could buy: maps and characters and quests already created for you. Looking at those books full of bright graphics, I could feel the magic fade away. This wasn’t the world we had breathed into being, through hour after hour of impassioned and impromptu story telling. True, our world wasn’t as slick, our hand-drawn maps weren’t as precise, our creatures not as fiercely alive as the ones snarling on the shiny pages. But it was… real. It’s vagueness was its mystery — was its magic. If necessity is the mother of invention, scarcity is the father of imagination.
As the real world competed for our interest, eventually we gave up on the magic and dragons. In the ascension to adulthood we jettison our sense of wonder one parcel at a time, the balloonist throwing just enough sandbags overboard to gain altitude.
by Stephen W. Searfoss
Qarrtsiluni (2005-2013) was a groundbreaking online literary magazine, one of the first to fully exploit blog software. Though we never quite realized our dream of creating a print-on-demand option for each issue, being online does mean that our back issues remain accessible indefinitely, so there's that. And we published some damn fine stuff — check it out.
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(modified by Dave)