>Where does the magic live?

>Sooner or later I’ll take my well-worn copy of John Crowley’s Little, Big off my bookshelf and reread it for what will be the fourth or fifth time. Once again I’ll try to work out where he’s hidden the magic. And once again, I suspect, I’ll fail.

I’ve always been a proponent of the idea that magic in fiction needs rigorous rules so as to be realistic, but Mr Crowley’s more subtle than that. This is a book subtitled The Faeries’ Parliament, and yet I don’t recall the word ‘faerie’ ever actually appearing in the text. Everything that could remotely be described as magical occurs so far offstage you could be forgiven for thinking it was happening in another production altogether. And yet … Little, Big is more soaked in magic than any other book I know.

It seems to me that writing about magic – and here I don’t mean whizz-bang spells and bone-crunching shapeshifters, I mean that fundamental sense of the strange – isn’t about the words you use at all. It’s about the spaces you put between them. In the same way that the faerie folk inhabit those secret glades and walk those paths less trod, so the real magic lurks not in what’s spoken, but in what’s left unsaid.

It’s a clever trick – a kind of literary sleight-of-hand – and John Crowley does it better than most. It’s the easest thing in the world to suggest to the reader there’s a pixie sitting on his shoulder. Convincing him utterly of the fact without even mentioning it … that’s something else.

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