If you had magical powers, where would you go to learn how to control them? Who would step in and be your guide? In Matt Posner’s book, School of the Ages: The War Against Love, we find out what a magical education would look like in our world–and the sinister foes who wouldn’t hesitate to use it for their own purposes.
A.E. School of the Ages: The War Against Love is the third book in your series, and it immediately caught my attention. Tell me about your group of villains, Gott im Himmel, and why they are the villains of your story.
M.P. Gott im Himmel means “God in Heaven” and is the expression Germans say when they mean “Oh my God!” It’s the name chosen for a group of anarchistic German magicians founded in the 1840s in Berlin who got mixed up with anti-Semitism and Nazism in the 1930s. They have always hated School of the Ages, although the reasons for that remain shadowy (because it doesn’t really matter to the story). So what we have is a group of particularly vile individuals who team up but don’t trust each other and use and manipulate anyone they feel like in order to lash out at people they don’t like for reasons that, other than anti-Semitism, are not really clear. Kind of just to have something to do, basically, or just because they can. Note that Gott im Himmel isn’t a German organization specifically; there are members from many places in Europe. They don’t really care to hang out together.
One of the mysteries of the story is the identity of the magicians, especially of the leader, whose title is Kaiser Petrus but whose real name isn’t revealed until just before the climax.
I think of the war part of this novel as kind of James Bond-ish, with the team tracking down interesting bad guys one by one and working their way up the power structure to the big boss. I love this kind of story and I was pleased to get a chance to write one.
A.E. I’m already sold! Anything with action, magic, and danger draws me in. Can you explain what’s the purpose of School of the Ages?
M.P. The purpose of School of the Ages is to train young people with magical potential to use that potential, if possible in a productive way. It’s essentially an occult not-for-profit organization. Its wealthiest graduates, such as Clive Tinker, the tough father of my heroine Goldberry, support it with donations , really just because they love the place or they’re grateful for what they gained there. In return, School of the Ages students and faculty help out the alumni in various ways through a network of friendships and connections.
School of the Ages has no interest in ruling the world or controlling anyone. It’s just a school.
A.E. Can you give a rundown of your magic system?
M.P. It’s based on real-world magical systems and paranormal events, embellished and exaggerated to make a good story. The powers are primarily mental and are enabled by the stillness of mind obtained through meditation. My system assumes the existence of a spirit world where you can find both the dead and also entities that have never lived. All of these interact with living magicians and can be friendly or dangerous, but are more typically dangerous. My system also assumes that earth’s fundamental forces are managed by elemental beings of the four traditional types (earth, water, fire, air) who can be controlled by magicians and who often appear as relatively quirky characters.
My magician characters have four basic powers. Meditation is one — they can do advanced visualizations which they use to marshal their abilities. Another is universal language, the ability to understand and be understood in conversation with anyone. A third is concealment, which is being unnoticed by people who aren’t looking for you. And the last is continuous defense, which means that they get a chance to react when someone attacks. On top of this, they use hexes, which are attack spells; and divination, which functions exactly like the divination magic you probably know about; and individualized spells. I have a special fondness for tarot, so every book has multiple tarot readings included. At least one of my readers has asked me to please keep including that, and I certainly intend to.
I also put a fair amount of emphasis on Cabala, or Jewish mysticism, about which I wrote recently on Andre Jute’s blog; and I use a lot of Hindu Indian concepts, such as mantras. So my magic system is intended to reflect world magical practice.
I have not included Wicca, but I will at some point if I can find room for it; I have some non-Wiccan witchcraft coming up in book IV; and I have no interest in Satanism or demons, which I don’t believe have any positive value for young people to read about and which, actually, would make me feel pretty uneasy to have on my mind.
A.E. It’s interesting that you mention real world magical practice and how you’ve incorporated it into the story. I agree with you about drawing a line in certain areas, especially if much of your audience comprises younger readers. To what extent is magic integrated into the world of your book? Are there groups of non-mages who fear magic users? Are there any restrictions or separate standards?
M.P. My books are set in our world. I explain in the first book of the series that magic is not really secret, but that no one wants to believe it’s real. I call it “the Cassandra Curse,” referring to the Trojan prophetess. When you tell people about it, they just don’t believe you. No one fears magic-users; they just think it’s all nonsense and will consider you crazy if you talk about it. This is dramatized with the character of my protagonist Simon’s estranged half-brother, Peter Murasaki, introduced at the end of book II, who refuses to be Simon’s friend and hates him because of the influence of the Cassandra Curse. You can’t prove magic is real; if you do it in front of skeptics, it fails, although you can make things happen so long as no one is aware of them.
A.E. How does your teaching background help influence your story (or your writing)?
M.P. Teaching has made me more aware of the way literature functions. I learned more about literature by preparing lessons for my students than I did while I was getting my two master’s degrees in creative writing.
I also think being a teacher has influenced my subject matter. I wouldn’t be writing about a school if school were not so important to me, and I wouldn’t have taken on certain topics, like learning disability which is a major theme of Book II, if not for the inspiration of wanting to reflect young people’s real experiences.
And I further think that because I’m a teacher, I can’t make teachers into villains. All the teachers at School of the Ages are genuinely interested in taking care of the kids and are actually good at their jobs.
I don’t use my students’ personalities or background, though. Pretty much all the kids at School of the Ages reflect my own experience of being their age. They aren’t digital natives like the students I teach. They don’t care about technology or popular culture, except in a sporadic way, and they don’t worry about drugs or shoes. They’re more old-fashioned kids who think magic is much more cool than anything else.
A.E. Teachers rock. ‘Tis all. Please tell me who are your top five most influential or beloved authors?
M.P. Tolkien, Tolkien, Tolkien, Tolkien, and Tolkien.
A.E. That’s cheating…
M.P. For paranormal studies, Colin Wilson. Great content, great stylist.
Classic authors: Shakespeare, and Jane Austen, and the Bronte Sisters.
Comics writers Neil Gaiman, Peter David, and Kurt Busiek;
Fantasists of the 1980s such Piers Anthony, and David Eddings, and George R.R. Martin (I read his stuff as far back as 1979),
Poets including Langston Hughes and Ezra Pound.
And many others that I can’t come up with just now.
A.E. We should be best friends, Matt. Give us your details so we can keep up with your latest exploits.
M.P. My website: http://schooloftheages.webs.com
Twitter: @schooloftheages. My twitter feed is mostly general-interest retweets with some book ads, most of which aren’t for my books.
My facebook fan page: http://www.facebook.com/schooloftheages
My books are available at Amazon, and the book-length ones also at barnesandnoble.com:
The publication order of School of the Ages is: The Ghost in the Crystal; Level Three’s Dream; Tales of Christmas Magic (short stories); Sara Ghost (novelette); The War Against Love.
I also recommend for teenagers my book co-authored with Jess C. Scott, Teen Guide to Sex and Relationships, which is available in paperback and in all ebook venues. It’s a brief but comprehensive advice book from two writers who care about young people.
A.E. Thank you, Matt! I’m looking forward to reading School of the Ages and providing a future review. Good luck!