Magic

Lawfare: how Starmer will govern through the courts

40 min listen

This week: Lawfare Our cover piece examines how Keir Starmer’s legal experience will influence his politics. Ross Clark argues that Starmer will govern through the courts, and continue what he describes as the slow movement of power away from elected politicians. As poll after poll predicts an unprecedented Labour majority, what recourse would there be to stop him? Ross joined the podcast to discuss alongside solicitor and commentator Joshua Rozenberg (02:15). Next: we’ve become accustomed to the police wearing cameras, but what’s behind the rise in bodycams in other industries? In her article this week, Panda La Terriere highlights the surprising businesses that have begun using them, but what are

Why we love to be baffled

So much of life is a search for answers. How to get ahead, how to earn more money, how to be happy. But deep down, is there a part of us that likes not knowing an answer? Do we sometimes want to be baffled? It’s a question that’s come to fascinate me as I’ve embarked on a new career leading corporate team-building sessions based around magic. I do the tricks (close-up stuff – cards, coins and the like), then the team has to work out how I’m doing them. People who don’t want to know how a magic trick is done are saying: ‘I want to be three again’ Of

Back from the beyond: The Book of Love, by Kelly Link, reviewed

Kelly Link’s short-story collections bewilder and delight with their sideways takes on fantasy tropes. People might turn into cats, but they do it while texting emojis (dancing lady, unicorn, happy face). In The Book of Love, Link’s debut novel, she revels in upholding and upturning the genre’s conventions. Mainlining Buffy the Vampire Slayer, and with a dose of recent teen Netflix fantasies such as Locke & Key, her setting is a small coastal town in Massachusetts to which three sarky adolescents have suddenly returned home – although not, as is generally supposed, from a short trip to Ireland, but from what they, alongside assorted supernatural beings, know to be Death

A beginner’s guide to witchcraft

Next year, Exeter University will offer an MA in Magic and Occult Science: the first of its kind in a British university. The new course has led to newspaper headlines about a ‘real-life Hogwarts’ and questions as to whether magic is as worth studying as say, economics. The course director, Professor Emily Selove, refused my request for an interview – with polite apologies, although one could hardly expect the convenor of Exeter’s Centre for Magic and Esotericism to be anything but esoteric. A similar tension, it turns out, is at the heart of the debate about the degree. For all the media snideness, the most serious objections come from Britain’s

Our prison culture is more barbaric than it was in 1823: Elizabeth Fry ‘The Angel of Prisons’ reviewed

The Angel of Prisons dramatises the life of the penal reformer Elizabeth Fry, who lived near Canning Town. She married a wealthy Quaker, Joseph Fry, who encouraged her philanthropic work which she managed to pursue while raising 12 children. Early in life, Fry had been a party girl who loved dancing, and this production shows her practising her moves to a soundtrack of thumping contemporary music. The script, by James Kenworth, blends present-day London vernacular with the dialect of the early 19th century. It’s easy to watch and it delivers heaps of information without any hint of lecture-hall formality. When Fry visited the mixed-gender Newgate Prison near the Old Bailey

A magical epic: Moon Witch, Spider King, by Marlon James, reviewed

When the first volume of Marlon James’s Dark Star trilogy appeared in 2019, it was quickly recognised as a masterly work of fantasy fiction, drawing comparisons with Tolkien, Angela Carter and Beowulf. Part quest narrative, part picaresque, Black Leopard, Red Wolf follows a man named Tracker as he weaves a trail through various lands, encountering a magical cast of shapeshifters, witches and powerbrokers in a seemingly never-ending search for a lost child. Yet, already in this first instalment, Dark Star was showing signs of something more complex than is usually found in fantasy, a quality that, in terms of a world culture, distinguishes the great epics of history, in which

The best podcasts to help you become a better painter

There’s a great documentary film on Netflix at the moment about the late artist Bob Ross, he of the happy little trees and friendly perm, and the battles fought over his estate. It coincides with the revival on BBC4 of his Joy of Painting TV programmes, which originally aired in the US between 1983 and 1994, but have lately struck a chord with pandemic–stressed audiences here. They are, basically, free therapy, with a suburban far-out vibe and colour-laden fan brush. I was sceptical about how genuine Ross’s demeanour was until I saw the film, which left me in no doubt that he was exactly as he appeared. When someone is

When family viewing was full of creeping menace

Strange, really, that the scheduled output of traditional broadcasters became known as ‘terrestrial’ television, given that TV is an etheric medium and nowadays exclusively a digital one. Or perhaps it’s not so strange at all. Television is ‘bonded to the earth’, writes Rob Young, whose roving survey of small and silver screen creativity between the 1950s and 1980s seeks to connect those airborne signals to the soil beneath our shoes. Young’s first book, the excellent Electric Eden, rummaged around the untrimmed hedgerows of the British psyche via the medium of folk-related music. The Magic Box has a similar aim. The intention is to ‘gorge on a huge cross-genre feast of

A Danubian Narnia: Nostalgia, by Mircea Cartarescu, reviewed

Mircea Cartarescu likens his native Romania to a Latin American country stranded in eastern Europe. Certainly, his writing delivers not the pared-down parables and ironies of his self-exiled compatriot (and Nobel laureate) Herta Müller, but a rainbow-hued riot of fantasy, imagination and invention. The gender-switching narrator of ‘The Twins’ — one of five linked tales that make up Nostalgia — urges his lover to remember that ‘under the obscene rococo of our world and flesh, our bones are gothic and our spirit is gothic’. That feels about right, although Cartarescu fills his grotesque and hallucinatory scenes with tropical warmth, colour and light on top of the sepulchral chills of old

Why AI will never write a great song

Two years ago, the songwriter Nick Cave told his fans that he’d speak to them directly — not through an interviewer. ‘This will be between you and me,’ he wrote. The letters he has received and the answers he has given are collected online in The Red Hand Files. Here is a selection of the best. Considering human imagination the last piece of wilderness, do you think AI will ever be able to write a good song?Peter, Ljubljana, Slovenia Dear Peter, In Yuval Noah Harari’s brilliant book 21 Lessons for the 21st Century, he writes that Artificial Intelligence, with its limitless potential and connectedness, will ultimately render many humans redundant

Magic and miasma: Mordew, by Alex Pheby, reviewed

Mordew ain’t the kind of place to raise your kids, as Elton John nearly sang. If they escape the ravages of lung worm, then they could stray into the Living Mud — a foul, oozing substance that spawns barely animate beings called ‘dead-life’. That’s if they avoid being packed off to serve the Master, the city’s Grand Inquisitor, who broods in his Manse, demanding regular tributes of children, his magic twitching throughout Mordew. The world of Alex Pheby’s fourth novel is dizzying. But stick with it, and his splicing of Dickensian social satire and rackety, steampunk fantasy is beguiling. The titular city is exuberantly realised, the sort of setting H.P.