Re-enchantment Narratives
May 14, 2019 10:42 AM   Subscribe

I'm looking for fictional books/book series which are thematically and narratively interested in the reintroduction of magic/religion/"enchantment" into a disenchanted/secular world.

Having realized, during my ongoing moanings about the direction GoT seems to be headed , that I'm fascinated by and hungry for thoughtful and nuanced narratives that explore the consequences and circumstances of the "re-enchantment of the world," I'm looking for recommendations for some juicy reads (and potentially movies/TV if they're worth the watch) that begin from a secularized/disenchanted world, and trace the (re)emergence of some elements of magic/potent religion/etc. into the world. In short, an anti-Elves-retreating-from-the-world-to-the-lands-of-the-undying story. I love LOTR and many other disenchantment-type stories, I'm just currently in the mood to scratch a particular itch that GoT seemed like it was going to and......hasn't.

Obvious examples of what I'm thinking of include the early books in the Song of Ice and Fire series (though this thread has in some sense been abandoned in the TV version, much to my chagrin), and (to a much less pronounced degree) "Rogue One" and the Star Wars Skywalker saga.

Fantasy and sci-fi seem to be the logical place to encounter these themes, but I'm interested in all genres, and all degrees of "literariness" (whatever that means). I'm also interested in narratives that deal with both/either purely fictional religions (the Jedi, the Lord of Light, the Seven, etc) and religions that actually exist in our own world. I am NOT particularly interested in stories that are evangelistic or propagandistic in nature (i.e. the "Left Behind" series). I'm interested in the impacts of re-emergent magic/religion on the fictional world and the characters that inhabit it, and interested in both stories where that magic/religion/metaphysical power is real, and stories where the truth or veracity of the power is ambiguous. I'm interested in fictional worlds that were once enchanted, became disenchanted, and are now regaining "magic"/religion, as well as worlds where magic/religion is emerging for the first time.

Ideally, these books will take seriously the cultural, political, ethical, and personal repercussions of whatever version of re-enchantment they explore, and will not just be some version of "the dragons woke up after centuries and now people can be burninated more easily, but everything else is essentially the same aren't dragons cool?"


Thanks for you recommendations! I look forward to reading them!
posted by Dorinda to Media & Arts (23 answers total) 26 users marked this as a favorite
This is pretty much exactly what the Broken Earth Trilogy by N. K. Jemisin is about - magic has been repressed and feared for many centuries, and a massive cataclysm prompts a change in how it's viewed by society.
posted by showbiz_liz at 10:46 AM on May 14 [2 favorites]

Jonathan Strange and Mr Norrell, by Susannah Clarke, is exactly this in Napoleonic England. Magic used to work, then stopped and was just history and theory, and is then reintroduced by the title characters.
posted by LizardBreath at 10:50 AM on May 14 [14 favorites]

Not as deliberate or culturally thoughtful as what you're looking for, but Pamela F. Service's New Magic series is YA that resembles what you're saying. It's a far future, post-nuclear world operating on a feudal system, and magic (specifically Arthurian characters and legends) begin to creep back into the world.
posted by gideonfrog at 10:52 AM on May 14

Actually, I was going to recommend a totally different N.K. Jemisin trilogy, namely The Inheritance Cycle, starting with The Hundred Thousand Kingdoms and continuing through The Broken Kingdoms and The Kingdom of Gods. I think this is a particularly interesting case because each story is largely independent from the others, plot-wise, but each successive book expands on the consequences of the prior ones in its world-building.

At the beginning of the first book, all but one of the gods are subjugated and used as weapons by the ruling family (and the other one doesn't show up except for occasional important rituals), so while gods and magic are real nobody sees them unless they manage to piss off said ruling family, which generally people have figured out is a really bad idea. Obviously, given the thread topic, that state of affairs eventually changes, but how and why and what happens after are all really interesting.
posted by tobascodagama at 11:29 AM on May 14 [1 favorite]

Not sure if they're still in print, but the Bordertown shared-universe series is explicitly about magic creeping back into the mundane world, although it's mostly confined to the titular city. There's a lot of good stuff in the series, including the novel Finder by Emma Bull.

Steven Boyett's novel Ariel and its sequels involve an apocalypse that brings magic into the world. There are unicorns and whatnot.
posted by suelac at 11:31 AM on May 14

Flipping the concept, and its been a long time since I've read it so it may be awful, "The Dark Sword Trilogy" by Margaret Weis and Tracy Hickman (of Dragonlance fame!).

Its about a world where everyone is born to a school of magic and "technology" is banned. Spoiler, technology comes back and culminates in essentially Starship Troopers vs mages.

Fun in a stupid way.
posted by Snuffman at 11:31 AM on May 14

Sean Stewart is great: "If you read Resurrection Man, Galveston, and The Night Watch in that order, you can get a portrait of the hundred years in which magic returns to the industrial world, crests, and begins to ebb again."
posted by Wobbuffet at 11:32 AM on May 14 [1 favorite]

The Magicians trilogy is pretty good for this in a modern setting. It's not quite the same trajectory as you describe, but rather a binary of the disenchanted world and the enchanted one, and how people manage life in each one (or transition between the two). There's a really interesting theme of magic/enchantment not being the grand fix for your life that you thought it would be, although admittedly the main character can be irritatingly angsty in the process of figuring that out.
posted by thoughtful_ravioli at 11:33 AM on May 14 [1 favorite]

A variation on this theme can be found in Victoria Schwab's Shades of Magic trilogy. However, instead of magic returning to a world, there are four versions of the city of London, in four different worlds: Red London, Grey London, White London, and Black London. Each of them has varying degrees of magic.

Without spoiling too much of the story, the boundaries between these worlds are crossed with sometimes disastrous consequences. I thoroughly enjoyed the series and recommend it.
posted by cleverevans at 11:57 AM on May 14 [1 favorite]

The City of Stairs trilogy by Robert Jackson Bennet does this nicely. The world has been de-enchanted in a big war that (ostensibly) killed off the gods, but you know how those things go. ;) Excellent world-building too. Book 3 is the most re-enchanting of them and has a really heartwarming ending.
posted by heatherlogan at 12:06 PM on May 14 [4 favorites]

And for something completely different, if you are willing to consider mythic-feeling biography, try Phyllis Curott's Book of Shadows.
posted by heatherlogan at 12:08 PM on May 14 [1 favorite]

For literary fiction I think you might consider

The Golem and Jinni by Helene Wecker
Once Upon a River by Diane Setterfield
Alif the Unseen by G. Willow Wilson

For TV you might check out the BBC America Dirk Gently's Holistic Detective Agency (it's not at all like the book)
posted by brookeb at 12:39 PM on May 14

You might also consider "The Rise and Fall of D.O.D.O." by Neal Stephenson and Nicole Galland. Without giving too much away it's discovered that magic disappeared because of technology and then technology is used to try and return magic to the world. Hijinks ensue.
posted by SonInLawOfSam at 1:44 PM on May 14

Indigo Springs by A.M. Dellamonica. It has a sequel, Blue Magic. I enjoyed both.
posted by Tabitha Someday at 2:17 PM on May 14 [1 favorite]

I'm interested in fictional worlds that were once enchanted, became disenchanted, and are now regaining "magic"/religion, as well as worlds where magic/religion is emerging for the first time.

This is a major theme in Ben Aaronovitch's "Rivers of London" series. They thought that WWII had wiped out most of the magic... but it's not gone away like they thought it did.
posted by Jahaza at 2:56 PM on May 14 [3 favorites]

Perhaps Zoo City by Lauren Beukes. An urban fantasy / murder mystery where, particularly marginalised, people gain an animal familiar and some kind of associated magical power (sometimes useful, sometimes useless, sometimes destructive) for magical reasons.
posted by Ashwagandha at 7:04 PM on May 14

Contact by Carl Sagan (the book, not the movie) may fit the criteria. It’s more of a personal journey for the main character - but by the end, it’s something that could affect all of humanity.

Stations of the Tide by Michael Swanwick might also be of interest. There’s a lot of “technology indistinguishable from magic”, but it only serves to mask the incidences of real magic. Which I think is strongly hinted at, but YMMV.
posted by doctor tough love at 10:15 PM on May 14

One of the main premises of the tabletop RPG Shadowrun is the return of magic and mythological creatures amid the backdrop of transnational corporations and 'Shadowrunners' - mercenary pawns employed by these corporations.

Basically cyberpunk with the return of magic.

There are a ton of pulpy novels based in this setting, some less bad than others.
posted by porpoise at 10:04 AM on May 15 [2 favorites]

Chocolat by Joanne Harris has a completely different vibe from most of the books rec'd here, but the series is about a chocolatier who comes into new towns and reawakens a sense of wonder there/solves people's problems with magical chocolate.
posted by storytam at 11:57 AM on May 15 [1 favorite]

Neil Gaiman's American Gods books and Douglas Adams' The Long Dark Tea-Time of the Soul (the second Dirk Gently book) touch on this. Both are good, if perhaps less sober than what you're looking for.
posted by eotvos at 12:09 PM on May 15 [1 favorite]

Alan Moore did a series of comics in graphic novels based around a character called Promethea. There's also the Mage series by Matt Wagner (comics), which are Arthurian legends returning to the 1980s. Ursula LeGuin saw magic leave the world in the first trilogy of books of The Earthsea Cycle (Wizard of Earthsea, Tombs of Atuan, The Farthest Shore), then return, by trickle and transmutation in the second series. (Tehanu, Tales from Earthsea, The Other Wind). It's not entirely right for your question, but a recent indie video game, called Where the Water Tastes like Wine, talks about and interrogates progressively magical stories of power and and empowerment in the depression era dust bowl of the US.
posted by kalessin at 5:16 PM on May 15

Maybe books by Charles de Lint?
posted by yesbut at 5:01 AM on May 16

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