Have you ever been in a bookstore and suddenly felt a tug toward a certain book? I’ve come to trust that as everyday magic. C. G. Jung called this phenomenon “synchronicity”, which means meaningful coincidences.
A few days ago, I was in my local library with a lovely, precocious, avid reader. I felt a book call to me, but assumed, since it was in a section for 9-14-year olds, it was likely meant for her. Wishing not to presume, I asked her if she had read it. Without looking up, she said it was best to read the one before that in the series first, but she liked it. So, I figured the urge toward that book was for me.
That evening, I started reading the book, Sophie Quire and the Last Storyguard. I was taken aback when Professor Cake explains to Sophie, his young heroine, that story books cast a magic spell. Trying to be sure she understands what he means, she asks, “So every time someone reads a story…they are actually casting some sort of…magic spell?” Thinking more about it, she figures out that seemingly impossible things first emerge from the “curious mind” and then activate the will to act—which is how the impossible becomes possible.
I write about narrative intelligence, but had not thought that fiction provided a kind of everyday magic. That is why I’m offering this blog to you.
How Contemporary Story Magic Works
Contemporary neuroscientists do not talk about magic when they advocate reading to children so that they become smarter and more imaginative. However, they do explain how, at any age, identifying with one or more characters in a story offers our brains a practice run for living some version of a similar story when it is required or helpful. Here, I add an awareness that children’s books are full of magic, which awakens the power to utilize narrative intelligence in transformational ways.
You may have heard the saying “Change your thinking, change your life”, but if you want transformation, it is your stories that must be discovered and then changed. The brain makes meaning of events, experiences, and even our feelings in narrative form, so it is the meaning of our stories that motivates attitudinal and behavioral change. Sometimes, though, the narratives we tell ourselves may not jibe with the observable facts. (Have you ever remembered an event in your early life and then discovered that others involved saw it very differently? This happens all the time in life because what we remember is the story we told ourselves at the time of that event.)
In Sophie Quire, Sophie is charged with finding and protecting the magical books named Who, What, Where, and When, which are the kinds of questions we focus on to discover the basic facts of what happens. And, by the ages of 3-5, children need to be able to distinguish fact from fiction. In adult life, being able to appreciate both for what they offer is basic to success.
Stories Guarding Authentic Living
I laughed when I realized that these magical books were very like our Internet today. They “magically” update based on new information, but when she searches in them, she initially only learns the basics, a couple of sentences or so. When Sophie is fully claiming her magical powers, she no longer needs the books that focus on the who/what/where/when of magic. She needs clarity about her purpose and role as a storyguard and continued access to magic plotlines. Nevertheless, in real life, all of us need to check the facts against the stories we are told and telling throughout life as we also need to focus on what is ours to do, and what not.
I’ve been following New York Times columnist David Brooks as he reflects on the power of narrative. I was particularly taken with one of his recent columns.Two members of my women’s support group mentioned that they had read the same column. I took the fact that my friends felt the same pull I did as another synchronic tug, a signal to pay attention. And, as luck would have it, it stressed the need for adults to link realism with imagination for the stories we live to be optimal, providing me with a contemporary focus for this blog.
Brooks’s column considers how very difficult it is for us to know why we do what we do. Instead, we make up stories to feel in control. To discover personal meaning, he argues that we need to tell “ever more accurate stories about ourselves,” reaching down into “the complex nether reaches of our minds” to discover our actual motivations. His conclusion? “Maybe the dignity in being human is not being Achilles, the bold, thoughtless actor. Maybe the great human accomplishment is being Homer, the wise storyteller.” 
Of course, I immediately recognized how my work on the heroic journey along with Hugh Marr’s and my work creating the Pearson-Marr Archetype Indicator® (PMAI®) could help readers meet the need Brooks defines. Archetypes reveal deeper narrative patterns that drive attitudes and behaviors—including yours and mine. So do many magical children’s books (and movies), and, yes, you do not have to have children to read them. Much of fantasy and some science fiction for adults offers this, too, not just in books, but also in movies and on TV.
Narratives and the Power of Culture
In the climax of Sophie Quire, Prig, an inspector and villain, who issued an order that all “nonsense” (including fictional and magical books) be burnt in a great pyre at the center of town, lights it. It immediately becomes an inferno and a great monster arises out of the flames and smoke. This monster is named Zeitgeist, which, of course, means the spirit of an age. The spirit of an age often has two levels: the conscious level, what people say their group or nation is; and the unconscious level, which often brings in both positive and negative elements that linger from that culture’s past.
The zeitgeist that Prig said he was evoking was a pragmatic and functional focus on what is and what works. This focus often devalues fiction, even though great narratives reflect truths of the human heart. Without story, hearts harden and life lacks meaning. Once the pyre is raging, Sophie realizes that Prig really wanted to hog all the most magical books for himself to gain power, at everyone else’s expense. However, the Zeitgeist that emerged from all the books in the pyre—books that the citizens had loved—restored life to magical and imaginative stories and saved the town from listlessness and despair. Adding a comic element, the books are imagined walking on their own through the town.
Archetypes, Magic Words, and Personal Transformation
While claiming her purpose as a “storyguard”, Sophie figures out the magic words she and we all need; they are “What if?”
So, whether you are curious about the stories you are thinking, telling, and living or those you are hearing or seeing around you--check out archetypes. You can then discover and have names for the storylines that can help you fulfill your potential, as well as those that may tempt you away from your path. Ideally, such narratives can reveal your authenticity and purpose and provide you with multiple plotlines relevant to how to live your stories in practice.
Then, remember to notice what possibilities tug at your insides, saying “turn here” or “this is your mountain to climb”. And, don’t forget to utilize these magic words to trigger your imagination, intensify your desire, and energize you to respond to what calls you and persevere until you gain its gifts.
 Jonathan Auxier, Sophie Quire and the Last Storyguard. (New York; Amulet, 2017).
 David Brooks, Opinion Column, “Is Self-Awareness a Mirage,” The New York Times, September 16, 2021.
 What Stories Are You Living? Discover Your Archetypes – Transform Your Life offers guidance in utilizing the PMAI and a coupon for taking it free of charge. Center for Applications of Psychological Type (2021).