I just finished reading a book called The Invention of Nature by Andrea Wulf. It’s a biography that chronicles the life’s work of one of the most influential scientists that ever existed. You probably do not know him; though his work is just as influential today as it was in his day, his name has been almost forgotten. His name was Alexander Von Humboldt. His work single-handedly changed Western civilization’s view on what nature is and how we fit in it. The way Humboldt came to his realization and shared it with the world has inspired me and helped me develop my ideas around Aurth’s magic further.
Before Humboldt, during the industrialization of Europe and America’s civil war, people saw nature as a separate entity from themselves. Nature was the wilds that had to be conquered and harvested for man’s advancement. But when Humboldt started to publish his work, the opinion began to shift towards the realization that humans are just as much a part of nature as anything else on this planet. Humboldt’s theory (now a proven fact) was that we are all connected. Everything on Earth—the rocks, birds, streams, kangaroos and even algae—is all connected in some way. What happens to one will affect the others. These connections are what Humboldt referred to as the cosmos, but we know it better as the web of life. Remember that? We learned the simplified version of it in Grade 3 science. Grass is eaten by a grasshopper, the grasshopper is eaten by a songbird, the songbird is eaten by a hawk, and when the hawk dies its body decomposes into the earth to be absorbed by the grass. If a piece of that cycle is removed, then the whole thing falls apart… hawks don’t eat grass!
Humboldt learned about our connections to nature by going out into the natural world to experience it. During his journeys, he experienced the wonder of nature. Have you ever felt that overwhelming feeling of awe while in nature? I’ve felt it when I went whale watching off the coast and saw orca whales breeching the water’s surface, and during the first days of winter when the mountains get their first white-capped sprinkling of snow. Humboldt experienced this feeling too, and he was able to translate it into books. He shared his knowledge in a way no scientist had before. He wrote scientific papers that not only included facts and figures, but also included his emotional responses to what he saw, as well as colourful descriptions of what he found marvellous. I am not sure how familiar you are with my writing (download my free ebook here!) but what this sounds like to me is magic. What Humboldt experienced and wrote about were his experiences with the magic of existence.
To me, magic is not what we see being summoned from a wand or brewed in a cauldron in movies. Magic is what gives us life and is what we feel when we experience life (again, download my ebook here to read more about this). In A Gift from Aurth there are literal magic experiences that happen, like a man breathing fire or a woman who lives in a cloud, but it’s what the magic is intended to symbolize that I am trying to develop. Aurth’s magic is a metaphor for the wonder of our existence. The magic of our world may not be able to transform a cup into a kitten, but it was able to cover a planet of bare rock and hostile water with living things. The wonder Humboldt found in nature is where magic exists in our world. It’s the true form of magic.
In A Gift from Aurth, the antagonist is mining all of the magic of Aurth for herself. When she drains it from the environment, she literally strips the world clean of all life. When she drains magic from people, they lose their gift from Aurth and their driving force. Is this starting to sound familiar? What is happening in Aurth parallels what is happening here on Earth. As the human race strips our planet of its magic, we destroy our connection with nature and subsequently the magic in our lives.
The awe Humboldt experienced when he went out into nature inspired a whole civilization to see their place on this planet differently. He was able to express his thoughts and emotions about humanity’s place in nature in a way that captivated his audience and changed their worldview. That’s what I am trying to do. I’m not quite there yet, but Humboldt’s story has brought me one step closer to helping me share the magic of Aurth with my audience.