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Magical media’s spellbinding allure

By Adrian Tomaszewski Dec. 14, 2023

An enticing activity that appeals to our innate sense of curiosity surrounding the mysterious, magic has lasted for generations through generations in almost every form of media. From its humble beginnings in witchcraft and alchemy—the practice of magical metallurgy, often in hopes of turning lead into gold. to modern magical fantasy movies with elaborate special effects, magic in media has changed drastically throughout the centuries. Despite originally being shunned in many cultures, magic has persisted and has only gotten more popular as the modes through which it presents itself have multiplied.

Beliefs of magic largely began as a result of the human desire to explain how each of the world’s cogs builds the machine of existence. Many phenomena that were unexplainable at the time, such as lightning or the northern lights, were simply chalked up to being magical in some way. These beliefs then made their way into pagan religions and societal superstitions. However, as monotheistic religions gradually replaced pagan beliefs throughout much of Afro-Eurasia, belief in these supernatural forces became stigmatized because the belief in an omnipotent God often explained the phenomena magic once did.

Still, these Pagan practices of magic often blended with religion, creating certain superstitions or fears of magic in communities. This is how many modern superstitions—like the bad luck charms of black cats or broken mirrors—got their way. In fact, the bad luck of a black cat crossing a road originates from Ancient Greek mythology, and the seven years of bad luck from breaking a mirror relates to the Roman belief of life renewing every seven years. Medieval Europeans especially feared magic through witchcraft; despite being denounced by the Church, many people believed that certain rebellious women secretly controlled society by casting spells.

The creation of the printing press led to the first examples of magic in media through tales such as those of the Three Witches in Shakespeare’s “Macbeth” or Prospero in Shakespeare’s “Tempest.” In both stories, magic is painted in a negative light, with the Three Witches causing Macbeth’s demise and Prospero ultimately deciding to renounce magic. German tales of Hansel and Gretel and those describing Doctor Faustus similarly featured witches or some sort of alchemy.

As the Industrial Revolution kicked into full gear and early cinema was invented at the turn of the 19th century, magic in media entered its golden age. For the first time since antiquity, magic was celebrated and not vehemently opposed by society. This manifested in the first “moving picture” magic: a flip book. David Devant, the premier British magician at the time, partnered with the Alhambra Theatre in London to create a 200-page long flip book in which he pulled a rabbit out of a hat. Over time, moving pictures meant silent films and, eventually, regular films.

When “The Wizard of Oz” premiered in 1939, it was revolutionary. Not only were the cinematography and music incredible, but the film itself stood out greatly as one of the first uses of magic in a fantasy storytelling setting. While magic in fantasy is now largely taken for granted, the magical fantasy genre only greatly developed in the mid-1950s through movies and books like “The Wizard of Oz” and C.S. Lewis’s “The Chronicles of Narnia.”

“The way video games such as ‘The Legend of Zelda’ utilize magic to allow the player to have a sandbox experience makes them the most appealing form of magic in media. The magical world of Zelda is also very immersive through its open-world game design and its focus on exploration,” Freshman Vishnu Rao said.

As practical effects gave way to computer-generated imagery in much of cinema, the ability to create magical worlds was made significantly easier as well. And, of course, the world’s favorite Wizarding World was there to enjoy it. As J. K. Rowling mixed mystery and fantasy in the “Harry Potter” books, the world simply could not get enough. Harry Potter and its world grew into the tenth-highest-grossing franchise in history, producing movie adaptations of the books along the way. The movies made great use of special effects to sell the idea of magical behavior in a world filled with incredible beasts controlled by great wizards and witches.

“Well-executed special effects enhance the idea of fantasy worlds by bringing magical elements to life and making them feel more real. In contrast, poorly-executed effects can ruin the audience’s immersion in the fantasy world and elude them from the importance of the scene,” Junior James Watson said.

Although magicians have become entertainers, magic has become something far greater than just a source of entertainment—many want to believe in magic and plunge themselves into a fantasy world where they have some special control over life. As the world seems to change more and more every day, an escape to a magical world is an intriguing allure.


About the Contributors

Adrian Tomaszewski is a junior at Leland High School and is a staff writer for the Charger Account. During his free time, he enjoys swimming, cooking, listening to music, ranting about politics to unsuspecting victims, and playing video games.

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