Music and Magic

Posted: December 7, 2012 in Music, Reading, Reviews, Writing
Tags: , , , ,

I have a guest post up today on the Speculative Salon about the often close relationship between music and magic.

Music seems a kind of magic to me. It has the power to mesmerise; to alter moods; to bring exultation or despair, or unlock hidden memories. It is wreathed in a strange coded language that I don’t understand. Allegro con molto means as much to me as Abracadabra.

Music Pink and Blue by Georgia O'Keeffe

Music: Pink and Blue by Georgia O’Keeffe, picture courtesy of, http://www.tumblr.com/tagged/georgia-o%27-keeffe

Below is an additional thought on the wholeness, the completeness of music, which I didn’t manage to fit into the piece.

One of my favourite fantasy series growing up was Gormenghast by Mervyn Peake. I love the strangeness, the grotesqueness of the characters and settings. I love that it was all very recognisable, but at the same time indefinably other.

Gormenghast is the name of a castle and its immediate environs; forest, mountain, river. As well as the noble family – the delightfully named Groans – it houses a school, a museum/art gallery, a library, a doctor, a poet, various funcionaries and an encampment of serfs. It is an utterly self-contained and fully realised little world – but there is one important omission.

In three books, spanning 17 years or so, I don’t recall a single mention of music. Ever*. Not even a trumpet fanfare during one of the interminable, pointless ceremonies Lord Groan is forced to enact daily.

I find that astonishing. And the world of Gormenghast is slightly reduced in my eyes due to its lack. I can believe in a castle where a hideous but charismatic kitchen boy scales his tower prison, and seduces the daughter of the house in her secret attic; that he sees a horse bathing in a rooftop pool on the way; that a silent waif floats through the forest, as light as air; that a strange Countess prefers to spend time with a white rook than her own newborn baby. But a world without music? I find that hard to conceive of.

World building is hard. There is so much to think of, so many details to consider, so many relationships and histories to get right. It’s hardly surprising that sometimes a piece of the world gets completely forgotten. I’d be interested to hear if anyone else has read fantasy books and thought, “But what about the —- ?”

* Disclaimer: Although I have read the Gormenghast series three or four times, the last time was over 14 years ago. It is possible I have forgotten some musical interlude tucked away in there somewhere. I think the Doctor does sing a song about a frivolous cake one time while soaking in the bath, but that hardly makes up for an entire castle devoid of music and musical instruments!

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