Reading is a form of enchantment.
Perfectly simple really. It is a kind of magic transmuting by means of little black glyphs a bland piece of paper into an entire world, a place so full and rich and with such images in it, that they are REAL (at least while the spell holds).
And yet... we writers are fairly inept magicians. Our attempts at turning people into newts almost inevitably end up with them getting better (even those who were rather newt-like to start with, tend to return to this state.) While this has undoubtably saved a large number of politicians, bank managers and people who were unfortunate enough sign rejection letters from a life of swimming around in small muddy brooks avoiding herons, it does bring one back to the question of just how reading enchantment is done.
And the answer is not so much by what is written by the author as by what is already in the head of the reader. The writer does not so much put the wonderful world there as to allow the reader's imagination and background to paint a picture so rich and detailed it would take a thousand volumes to describe. It can work for backgrounds, it can work actual things happening. Actually that's what put me in mind of writing this piece - I wrote a bit in my Flinders Island blog about a suicidal tree-frog ( http://flindersfreer.blogspot.com/2010/05/one-for-frog-n-toad.html )
in which I sort of hinted at the possibility of a heavy sofa being dropped on my head. I didn't actually say it was (it wasn't) but the image was conjured... by what was left _unsaid_. Matapam made a comment on what she'd imagined, and I thought that I must actually talk about this.
Tolkein was probably the grandmaster of this. Here is a piece from his "On Fairy stories" - which in its original form was a lecture Tolkein gave at St Andrews University as his Andrew Lang Lecture explaining how the reader (hearer) 'saw' that magic. "If a story says 'he climbed a hill and saw a river in the valley below' the illustrator may catch or nearly catch, his own vision of such a scene, but every hearer will have his own picture, and it will be made of all the hills and rivers and dales he has ever seen, but especially of The Hill, The River, The Valley which were for him the first embodiment of the word."
Look, cinematography has come a long way. There really is no need for those poorly lit scenes where you don't quite know what is happening, you just catch glimpses of it. Hell, there is more of that now than in 1950 movies. You think that's because directors are all plonkers? (well, okay... incompetant then). No. It's because they have learned to hack into what Tolkein writes about there. They've learned they can NEVER give an actual, precise image which is MORE real, MORE convincing, and nearly as 'wide' as the one you conjure in your imagination... given the cues.
And, dear writer, is the true magic-working of the writer. Not showing the pictures but shaping the reader's imagination to show the pictures. Filling in the pieces of framework, often very precisely, so that the image the reader creates in his or her imagination fits the story. Any fool can describe something precisely. And a fair number of people can come up with colorful language usage to do so... but to take the reader into that magical world, you have to frame and direct the reader's imagination to release it.
The trick is running the fine line between too much and too little. And often little cues like the choice of diction can have disproportionately large impacts.
So who does it well? And had you actually realised it was being done?