Most of us like to think that we are rational beings—that we make decisions on the basis of factual information, interpret observations through an accurate lens, and draw conclusions that reflect the reality of the natural world.
We like to think that in life, but in fiction we seem to favor the magical, spiritual, and otherworldly over the cold, hard facts. I’ve noticed that in stories when a rationalist is pitted against a person with a spiritual, religious or fanciful inclination—the magical perspective beats the rational. Even an emotionally or socially adept person beats the true rationalist in fiction. There’s an allure to the irrational perspective and we all seem to love it!
When you compare Spock to Kirk, I’d say there are a lot of Spock fans in my acquaintance, but when the two go head-to-head, the emotionally developed (psychologically aware and socially adept) Kirk is right more often than the Vulcan rationalist. So much so, that Spock is at his best—and most appealing—when his human side surfaces and undermines his rational point-of-view. We root for the irrational, because it’s an appealing point-of-view.
The same can be said for Sherlock Holmes in most of his incarnations. We love Sherlock and know that his superior mind gets the right answer to any and all puzzles, but his rationalism—his cool intellect—needs the counterweight of Dr. Watson’s soft, emotional, ability to connect with people in order to succeed in the world beyond the solution of a crime. Sherlock observes and processes the minute and illusive facts he amasses, to draw specific, accurate conclusions. But he needs his friend to function in the world. In the originals, Watson is a true ‘kindly doctor’ characterized by empathy and conventional beliefs in God, Country and the innate goodness of humanity.
The allure of the irrational, magical & spiritual comes up all the time in fiction. The cool, rational, character—with an admirable mind and a grasp of the facts—the star detective, top scientist, successful tech innovator, etc.—fights the irrational, magical, spiritual & sometimes religious, inclinations of the less educated, less intellectual, but the more emotionally developed characters. The latter always comes off as superior in the end because they believe in something larger than the facts. It could be God. It could be mythical creatures. It could be magical spells, voodoo curses, or just the power of luck.
In real life we say that we care about rationality, intellect and facts, but in fiction we seem to prefer the magical difference, we root for the vampire hunter, the amateur wizard, the Ouija board messages, the deus ex machina… They all work so well in fiction because we are intoxicated by the allure of the irrational.
We love magic!