- Good and evil, heroes and villains, my uncle said. Rubbish! That's how people think they see the world, but they're even mistaken about their own imagery. Now don't tell me you were thinking manicheism to be the essence of fantasy, were you ?
I watched him with a repressed smile. That was so like my uncle. He hadn't changed a bit in five years. So I answered the same thing as I used to.
- I wasn't thinking anything, Uncle Charles.
- Good, so you won't have anything to unlearn. Now you listen to me closely. Of course there's Good and Evil. There could be no conflict if they weren't there, you see. There would be no war, no justice, no nothing without Good and Evil. When you want to win an argument against someone, you have to think you're right and he's wrong. When you want to wage war against a country, you have to describe that country as an evil wrong-doer, while you are good and virtuous. That's what Good and Evil are for : to get people to choose sides. But they're only about conflict and aggression, and of course a nice story should have that, it's just part of the human experience. But the Goddess be thanked, fantasy isn't all about war.
- So what's fantasy about, then ?
He turned and stared at me with a piercing look. In the past I would flush, become embarrassed, look for a mousehole to disappear into; but this time I calmly sustained his gaze. I felt like he was searching my soul with his eyes, analyzing me, judging me; but I wasn't terrified as I had been before, I felt no fear. Finally he answered :
- You're not as dumb as you pretend to be. Hell, you were never as dumb as you pretended to be. You probably know the answer already ; and I think I know why you want to hear me say it. But nevermind.
He paused, and turned to face his huge personal library. Bookshelves up to the ceiling, crammed with books of all types. He looked up, then slowly resumed, and his voice had a light, witty, mischievous undertone I had never heard before, like a child describing his favorite toy.
- It's all about energy, you see. This modern world is comfortable, but it's also dull, and most people live boring lives. Very, very boring lives. Bored. Dull. Deprived of strong emotions, of strong feelings. In human beings, energy comes from emotions, you know ? Well. That's what they don't have. Energy. That's what they're longing for.
He suddenly turned and shouted, making vehement gestures with one hand, the other hand frantically rummaging his white hair.
- Adventure ! I can tell you, adventure sucks big time, so why do people keep yearning for it ? Fear ! Fear and having your life at stake, that's what adventure brings. And all this, you get it... is pure blazing hot energy. Conflict ! There you have it. Conflict shoots adrenaline right into your veins, conflict is a tremendous energy source, and that's why it's so prevalent. Love ! Either bitter or sweet, you can't get bored when you love. Notice how fantasy characters never settle ? They have to be burning with hot passions. That's what fantasy's about : handling amounts of energy that real people will never, ever get the opportunity to lay their hands on.
He took his breath, and I used this moment to ask, in the most natural and innocent way I could :
- And what about magic ? How does it fit into fantasy ?
He grinned. I hadn't fooled him in the least.
- Magic, my dear niece, is there for the exact same reason. Do you know what magic is ? It's the ability to do things that would otherwise require a huge amount of energy. Magic is energy on a grand scale, it's doing things like flying or shooting fireballs without having to go through the boring details of modern science. It's making a book appear in your hands without having to reach for it and pick it up.
He opened a book, absent-mindedly browsing the pages ; I could have sworn that book wasn't in his hands a second before. But I stayed on my guard ; I knew better than anyone how good at tricking people my uncle was. There was no way to be sure how he had picked up that book.
- Energy. Yeah, that's what magic is. And that's why it appears in fantasy so much. I guess I could lend you this book, but I don't think it would be a good idea. You wouldn't make a good witch.
I smiled involuntarily, raising my eyebrows.
- I wouldn't ?
- No. You care too much about people. There's no good witchcraft if you can't hurt a guy or two. Besides, he said closing the book, remember, it's not about magic, it's about energy. And you already have a lot more energy than most people even dream of ; you just gotta figure out how to use it. But believe me, magic isn't your thing - you'll be way better at something else.