I think anyone can take issue with the endings of Battlestar Galactica and Lost for any number of reasons — well, maybe more Lost than BSG — but to me the most dispiriting cause for outrage among the fandom was “Magic?!?! BOOOOOOOO!” As if either show had ever made a secret of its respective brand of mysticism; as if the unexplained was now somehow a synonym with the unexamined or unthoughtful or unworthy.
I would argue that Tolkien himself is on this side of the continuum. In his books, you rarely understand the capabilities of Wizards and their ilk. You, instead, spend your time identifying with the hobbits, who feel that they've been thrown into something much larger, and more dangerous, than themselves. By holding back laws and rules of magic, Tolkien makes us feel that this world is fast, and that there are unimaginable powers surging and moving beyond our sight.
However, there is something you have to understand about writing on this side of the continuum. The really good writers of soft magic systems very, very rarely use their magic to solve problems in their books. Magic creates problems, then people solve those problems on their own without much magic. (George R. R. Martin's "A Song of Fire and Ice" uses this paradigm quite effectively.)
There is a reason that Gandalf doesn't just fly Frodo to Mount Doom with magic, then let him drop the ring in. Narratively, that just doesn't work with the magic system. We don't know what it can do, and so if the reader uses it to solve a lot of problems, then the tension in the novel ends up feeling weak. The magic undermines the plot instead enhancing it.
[M. John Harrison] has a lovely phrase in the opening of Pastel City where he says, “There were some seventeen notable empires in the later ages of man. None of them concern us here.” And I love that. . . . That to me is sort of like the most elegant and funny moment of world creation in speculative fiction in the last thirty years. “None of them concern us here.” That could be the slogan of the epistemologically rigorous world creator.
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