Waldo and Magic, Inc. Analysis
Both novellas deal with the relation of magic to science. Magic is science in one; magic is a different aspect of the same material continuum in the other. “Magic, Inc.” is the less complex novella. Heinlein places his reader, without explanation, in a world where one key element is changed in relation to the known world: Magic is unquestioned in every aspect of life. Magic, as a means of performing tasks, is first and foremost a commodity. It can be subject to regulation or made a matter of free use, which, for Heinlein’s Everyman protagonist Archie, means responsible use. If this story is an indication, Heinlein’s cosmogony does not include a Satan, or even demoniac hordes bent on using evil magic to destroy humanity. When Archie’s cohorts take their fight against Magic, Inc. to the legislature, they get nowhere. In the underworld, they find an analogous legislative chamber, equally governed by respect for a constitutionally guaranteed balance and order. In that world, as in reality, certain elements arise that seek to monopolize the process. Heinlein celebrates individual resolve and due process of constitutional law in this story.
“Waldo” is far more intricate. It qualifies as a genuine philosophical tale. Throughout his long career, Heinlein grappled with the mind-body problem. Recognizing this duality—typified perhaps by the stigma of original sin and the Fall—as the source of the major impediment to human evolution, Heinlein strives to resolve it by reforging a dynamic bond between the brain and its functioning “home,” the physical body in which it was born. In Heinlein’s later works incorporating Lazarus Long, the emphasis is on endless preservation of a body so that the mind will not die.
“Waldo” offers, in the guise of a Bildungsroman, an allegory of reunion. Waldo’s building of “Freehold” suggests that the creation of pure mind as withdrawal from material extension is the cause of the Fall of humankind. Transposed to the secular plane, however, this Fall can be reversed by an act of will. Waldo can want to be a whole person. Having lifted his body out of gravity, he realizes that he must “fall” again and “resurrect” his flesh, defeating the Christian separation of body and soul.
Once the materialist nature of the story is noted, various models can be applied to explain it. One of the more obvious is psychoanalysis. In terms of human development, Waldo’s space capsule seems like a womb to which he retreats. There are two “fathers”—physician Doc Grimes and hex doctor Gramps Schneider—both authority figures from whom he is alienated but with whom he must seek reconciliation if he is to emerge from his womb as a whole individual. There are also two “brother” figures: Jim Stevens, the physically vigorous engineer, and Rambeau, the sinister rationalist. These, too, must be defeated. Waldo physically bests the dark shadow Rambeau in his dream before gaining the strength to throw the punch that floors Stevens.
The mother (indeed, any female figure) is absent as a character, but she is there as the earth he must embrace and as the magic that Schneider wields to energize his sterile technology. Magic allows contact with the “Cosmic Egg” from which Waldo “sucks” the energy that reunites him with his body. Finally, there is the dream struggle with Rambeau. Rambeau “goes over” to the world of the Cosmic Egg. Retreat becomes denial of access, for Rambeau would seal off this world, denying all possibility of rebirth. Waldo, explorer of his physical brain, now must go in dream into his own subconscious to open a path, on the deepest level, between worlds.
Central to the story is the symbol of hands. Waldo invents mechanical hands, waldoes, to restore in the brain the neuronal matrix through which physical energy leaks. That mind is also a psyche, a vital, dynamic realm. Gramps hexes motors to “reach out” like hands for energy, and his organic magic teaches Waldo to turn mechanical waldoes into fingers that reach out, in dream, to draw mind and body together again.