Sometimes There’s Magic

by Nancy

Rodgers and Hammerstein wrote, “Some enchanted evening, you will meet a stranger . . . across a crowded room.” I think that song’s popularity endures because it speaks to people–to the magic of that instant of connection that didn’t exist before, to the “what if” that is the hope of finding true love, sometimes where we least expect it.

There are many kinds of magic in stories. There’s the magic of an idea that springs forth, fully formed, in one of those fabulous, brain-buzzing, “aha” moments. It can be one that gives birth to a book or film or one that gives the plot a new and terrific twist or one that adds new depth to the characters. There’s the magic of a hero and heroine who meet, whether or not for the first time, and realize life has changed forever. We’ll come back to them after we look at other kinds of magic moments.

The bigger and harder the change, the more I love the story. I also love reading along and suddenly realizing, “Oooh. That’s what that little, insignificant thing back there was setting up. Wow!” That kind of twist is magical to me, whether I’m creating it or reading or seeing it on a screen.

Then there’s the magic of Merlin and his ilk, paranormal power that bursts through the world’s regular rules and changes something for good or evil. Sort of magical “boom.” Y’all know I have a weakness for the Arthurian legends, right? A major, serious weakness. I stood on the cliffs at Tintagel and heard the concussive thunder of the sea pounding the cave mouths below and imagined the tide out, the caves damp, the waves silver with moonlight, and Merlin waiting in the gloom for Uther to descend from the fortress above. Their joint deceit, at poor Ygraine’s expense, brought forth England’s greatest legend, one “brief, shining moment” that still calls to people across the centuries.

Standing on the crest of South Cadbury hill, looking through afternoon haze to Glastonbury Tor, I could almost see the landscape under moonlight, the hillside below me parting, and the Knights of the Round Table riding forth on midsummer night. To me, Camelot abounds with possibility, and therein lies both its magic and its power. The landscape evokes it, but the idea comes from books like The Once and Future King. Or the Lerner & Loewe musical Camelot.

Music has its own uniquely evocative power. I can’t hear a Star Trek theme (original TV show or films) without feeling tingly, especially if I’m sitting in a theater and the lights are down. I get genuine goosebumps, as though the music, alone, were a call to adventure. When I hear “When the Saints Go Marching In,” I’m back in the bleachers on a Friday night, tasting a clarinet reed and plastic mouthpiece as I play, sweating a bit in my wool uniform in the humid warmth of a Carolina August night. I can see the bugs rising from the football field illuminated by floodlights, can almost smell the chalk from the freshly lined field. The memory lasts only a moment, but a moment that’s real and compelling. That’s magic, too.

The summer I went to England, I traveled a lot with a particular group. This was before cars had CD players, but this one had a cassette player. Someone in the group had Janis Joplin’s greatest hits and one of Linda Ronstadt’s albums. We played them a lot. I can’t hear “Bobby McGee” or “Love is a Rose” without flashing on that summer and those people, sitting for an instant of memory in a Ford Fiesta straight-drive on a narrow British road. It’s sort of time travel, however fleeting.

When the boy was little, he loved Alan Jackson’s “Chattahoochee” and the water-skiing video that accompanied it on the old Nashville Network. I’ll never again hear that song without thinking of the boy standing in the living room at age two, rocking his knees–the toddler equivalent of dancing–to that song or lying in my arms as a baby, almost, almost asleep, so close to dropping off after a bout of colic, only to have his eyes pop open as though the lids were spring-loaded when that video came on TV. That song lyric is a collection of memories, not really a narrative, but it feels like one.

Magic moments come along in life, in music, and in fiction. The meetings of Elizabeth Bennett and Mr. Darcy, of Frederica Merriville and the Marquis of Alverstoke, of Richard Castle and Kate Beckett, of Lord Peter Wimsey and Harriet Vane. The reunion of Rick and Ilsa in Casablanca.

Other moments than meetings can hold that magic, moments like turning points or payoffs. In Australia, Nicole Kidman looks up and sees Hugh Jackman standing in the doorway at the ball and knows she doesn’t have to sell her land. In Music & Lyrics, Drew Barrymore is walking out of the concert but realizes Hugh Grant’s song is directed at her, begging for her forgiveness from the stage. In Beauty & the Beast, Belle decides she’ll stay with Beast. In Romancing the Stone, Kathleen Turner walks down the street to find Michael Douglas on his boat waiting for her. In The Mask of Zorro, Antonio Banderas and Catherine Zeta-Jones duel in the barn and exchange their hearts with their ripostes.

The horns of Rohan echo off Mt. Mindolluin’s sides just when the inhabitants of Minas Tirith think all is lost. Arthur pulls the sword from the stone and sets his feet on the path of “might for right.” Luke Skywalker risks everything on his untried use of the Force and blows up the Death Star, saving the rebellion.

All these moments are magic to me. What’s magic to you? What romance fiction or movie couple do you think has the most powerful magical moment, and why? What other moments in books or films or life are magic to you? Is there music involved? Does a particular place evoke something for you?

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