‘Magic For Beginners’ by Kelly Link [Short Story Review]

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You can read this story at Kelly Link’s website!

I remember reading this story for the first time and seeing the love these characters have for a television show as the most relatable thing in the narrative–even if it is also the strangest. Because, for me growing up, there wasn’t much to do. My family lived in the country… in Canada… like, we had a wall of windows at the front of our house because there was nothing but forest around. However, I happened to have a brother whom I actually got along with, and with nothing to do and no one around, we lived in the worlds of television shows; of movies in space; of books that stumbled into forgotten places full of shadows.

But one show we absolutely love–which is also really difficult to explain to anyone who hasn’t seen it–is Doctor Who. And I don’t mean just the more recent stuff. We both think Ian is one of the best companions The Doctor has ever had and that’s first series stuff right there. No matter how much I may love that show, I can still see the terrified and confused look on my mother’s face whenever my brother and I go on a tangent about it. It’s ridiculous: farting aliens that take over parliament, a bad guy that can only be defeated with warm milk, an alien that sometimes explodes and turned into other people–it’s madness. But that wonderful madness that taps into something important within us. It made me understand that sometimes, in order to get a point across, there has to be a little madness–which I think is what this story is so elegantly doing.

This isn’t really a story about a magical phone-booth or a television show about a fantastical library. That television show that links all the characters together is important because of what it represents and not for what it is. Maybe I’m digging too deep but I think there’s a reason Jeremy’s father doesn’t know much about the show, or keeps up with it the way his mother and friends do. There’s this distance between Jeremy and his father throughout the story even before Jeremy is put in one of his books. They don’t have this common ground to return to whenever things get difficult.

I think it’s also interesting that the show doesn’t have a scheduled time. It’s something the characters have to search for, have to communicate with a community of people, if they want to find it. And then it only matters if there are people to talk to about it–people who can share in the experience. It’s this ever-present link that keeps everyone connected.

I don’t live in the same city as my brother anymore, or see him as often as I would like to, but whenever there’s a new episode of Doctor Who–or even just one of us rewatching it for the joy of it–I always message him or he messages me because part of what makes that show so special is the sharing in it.


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