Thursday, September 4, 2008

Jack Vance's "Green Magic" (short story, philosophy, free): It's natural to long for a lost innocence?

This is a philosophical story, told as fantasy. Makes important points, even if I don't buy them all. Note the important parts of the story start about half way through.

Main point is: Personal growth means better ability to see the muck around us. This ability to see the muck can make us so miserable that we will long to go back to good old days of innocence & ignorance! I can see the first part. And I've met people claiming the sentiments similar to second part. But I personally have never had longings like the second part. So may be the story will work better for some people than others. Or may be multiple readings over a period can make me see the point?

Story has other themes too, in minor roles.

  1. Ever hit upon a ceiling on personal growth, where there are at least some around who still have vistas open? Can lead to pangs of misery, & expedite exit from this environment to retain sanity.
  2. Ever migrated across cities & countries - looking for better opportunities, or forced by circumstances? Felt the shortcomings of the place that is still sentimentally home, years later during trips back home?

Story summary.

Howard Fair, expert in "white" & "black" magic, & with some expertise in "purple" magic, has found 60 year old diary of "his great-uncle Gerald McIntyre". Diary talks of "green" magic, something unknown to him, & raises curiosity.

Over a period of time, he will convince two sprites (magical creatures) - Jaadian & Misthemar - from this "green realm" that is outside of normal human perception to teach him its secrets.

So he goes to green realm to learn. He does learn. And discovers that he will always be an inferior to residents of the realm; he simply doesn't have their grace or competence. Inferiority complex makes him return back to normal human realm on earth.

But to his heightened perceptions, earth is no longer the same. It has too many short comings. Rest of the story is of his attempts to come to terms with this no longer acceptable human world.

He actually does get an opportunity to lose his learning & go back to innocent days. But he cannot do that either. This is something I find resonating with my experience - I've seen innumerable idle arguments of why poverty is better than wealth so far as peace of mind is concerned, but no arguer is willing to drop money to go back to a poorer station to gain peace of mind!!

Fact sheet.

First published: F&SF, June 1963.
Download full text from Infinity Plus.
Rating: B
Credits: I found this story via Best SF Gateway.


catsfugue said...

Only about 25 pages long, but one of the most interesting and thought-provoking 25 pages I have ever read. This is Jack Vance at his very best.

Anonymous said...

Great summary. TY